Meditation - What, how and why.
A number of people have mentioned to me that they want to learn to meditate, but having practiced, don't know if they are doing it right. This post will explain what meditation is, how you can learn to meditate, and some of the reasons it is a good idea.
Meditation is in fact very simple, and there are not many things to think about in learning to meditate. It is simply a process of paying attention to something (the object of meditation), to the exclusion of everything else, thus facilitating a connection to the present moment.
The ultimate outcome of meditation is one of training the natural, innate capacity of the mind to focus and concentrate, to hold to one thought or idea without the intrusion of other thoughts.
In today's busy life, with all of the stresses and pressures, this can be very difficult for people to do. The mind tends to jump around, spinning like a wheel from one thought to the next, sometimes with a feeling of lack of control.
By practicing meditation, you are training the mind to settle, so that you can then move on to the aim of meditation - the contemplation of something, drawing insight from it, and bringing learning, awareness, and understanding in to your mind.
There are various objects, topics, ideas and teachings to meditate on, however, the simplest way to begin to feel the effect of meditation, is to focus on the breath.
Sit in a comfortable position. This can be in a traditional meditative pose on cushions on the floor, with legs crossed etc, or in a comfortable chair.
Many people say that they don't know what to do with their hands, and the truth is it doesn't really matter, however, it can be helpful to do something with them so that they are not a distraction to you.
Again, there are different traditional poses for the hands, which can be separated and resting the hands on your lap with index fingers and thumb lightly touching, or the buddhist way of resting the right hand in the left (gesture of equanimity), with the palms facing upwards, and thumbs lightly touching, or you can just rest them on your lap.
Clearly, it is helpful if you are in a calm environment without distraction, and if you wish you can add to the atmosphere with candles, pictures of the Buddha etc. as is appropriate to you. However, there is no requirement.
You can also close the eyes, and if you find you tend to fall asleep as you relax, it can be helpful to keep the eyes just slightly open and gazing at a point on the floor.
Finally, gently connect the tip of your tongue to the palate of the mouth. This aids in stopping excessive saliva gathering in the mouth as you raise the activity in the parasympathetic part (relaxation response) of the autonomic nervous system.
This is happening because as you relax, your digestive system kicks in, and saliva flow is increased in readiness for food.
So to begin, you simply focus, concentrate and pay attention to the breath (Calm abiding meditation). This is not about breathing in a particular way, it is simply observing the breath and keeping your mind focused on the breath.
If you find that your mind begins to wander, or ruminate, which is a mostly normal thing for people who do not practice, then when you notice that you have wandered, you simply and gently return your focus to the breath.
Another helpful way to focus on the breath is to count your breaths. Counting to 21 is a good way to begin, because it is a large enough number to allow the mind to settle, and if your mind wanders from the counting, you simply start again from 1. You just gently become aware of the number of the breath that you are on at that present moment.
Begin practicing for short periods of 5 - 10 minutes at the start, and as you become more practiced, you can extend the practice to 30 mins or longer per day.
Another key element to learning how to meditate effectively is to practice regularly. Like anything, if you want to get good at something, you need to practice. This can be focused practice as described here, as well as active or dynamic meditation, which I am not covering int his post. Maybe next time.
There are a huge amounts of benefits to learning to practice meditation, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and there is an abundance of evidence for anyone who wants to know more about the reasons for learning just a google search away.
If you practice like this for a month, you will begin to realise the benefits starting to become more obvious to you. It is a very effective way to reduce stress, both in the moment, and with time, in your everyday life.
You may also notice that you become a lot more aware of things around you, people, your memory becoming sharper, feeling more energetic etc.
When you feel you can hold your concentration pretty well on the breath, you are then ready to begin the other aim of meditation, raising awareness. This is where you meditate on specific things, pain, teachings from the Buddha, or anything else for that matter, with the aim of developing depth in understanding and a raising of awareness.
There are a number of ways to learn how to meditate including books, internet apps, audio files, and more, but from my point of view, the quickest and easiest way is to learn with someone who can guide you initially.
There are plenty of groups or teachers (including me) in most places, so it shouldn't take you long to find someone who can help.
As an aside, and again in my own opinion, anyone who is talking about emotional intelligence, or emotional maturity as I prefer to see it, who does not recognise the value of practice in training the mind to achieve the calmness of mind, raising of awareness, and the ability to think more clearly, and manage the emotions, is not really understanding the term emotional intelligence.
I hope you enjoyed the post, and I welcome your feedback.
If I can help you with learning about the mind, please get in touch.
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