Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

I was reading a book (yes, I start a lot of posts like that) on meditation in Buddhist monasteries. The nun in the book was describing how everything seems harmonious and how many people are inspired by the outward appearance of peacefulness and simplicity of monastic living. But, she went on to describe, how living in a monastery can be a lot like living in a pressure cooker. She talked about how it's very common that once fellow nuns get into the routine of daily living that the come to her and confess that something as simple as seeing how another nun put a lid on a pot makes them angry to the point they want to get violent. It struck me as both funny and reassuring. After all, the nuns had this violent a reaction after meditating for hours. The mind, no matter how hard we try, does not want to be controlled!

As master mediators explain, it's not about suppressing thoughts but surpassing them. I'm not controlling my mind  - I'm training it.

When I started meditating, I began by using the Headspace App. It's a guided app and the narrator is a former monk, which I think explains why his tone is so soothing. With the app, you can choose how long you meditate, the shortest duration being 10 minutes.

At first, that was the longest 10 minutes of my life. I'd wander and wander and wander around in the fields of my mind plucking flowers, making grocery lists, thinking of inconsequential things and things I needed to do and listening to the sounds of the garbage truck. It was painful and seemed pointless.

But, over time, I've come to find that the 10 minutes goes very quickly. My mind still wanders massively, but I can now recognize it when that happens and am able to focus on my breath. In particular, it is helpful for me to focus on the source of the breath (determining whether I am breathing more deeply from my mouth or nose).

Some people describe having these amazing flashes of focus or clarity while meditating. That's never happened to me. I've never meditated and then felt "enlightened." In fact, sometimes when I meditate, I wonder what kind of a buffoon can't focus on her breath for 10 minutes without thinking how hard the ground is or how much her foot itches.

But then there are those random times after that fact when I'll be sideswiped by some focused idea or grand thought that seems to come from no where. Of course, I get smug and congratulate myself on being so wonderfully brilliant and insightful, basically undoing much of what meditation was meant to do.

If you're looking to quiet your mind for any reason, then meditation is a wonderful place to start. It's a very forgiving practice because you can't do it "wrong." You can only learn to do it better.

So how exactly are we supposed to surpass our thoughts, especially when one thought leads to another? For me, the idea of "catch and release" from 8 Minute Meditation is particularly helpful. This is the idea that when meditating when you have a thought, instead of being "hooked" by it, you just let to go by. You tell yourself "That is a thought" or "This is a thought" and then you focus again on the breath.

Try it today. Even if it seems hooky or aimless. You'll be surprised by how often your minds travel either to the past or to the potential future instead of staying in the present. Give yourself the gift of having your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds!

1 comment:

  1. Great info on meditating! This is our Monthly Mission for June! :)