Meditation Can Be Simpler Than You Think
Let me tell you a story. When I was first introduced to meditation by a boyfriend, I was an eager student, ready to learn everything about his eclectic lifestyle! He’d studied meditation in college and had a lot of advice to share. He positioned me cross-legged on a folded blanket laid neatly on the floor of his living room. “Breath,” he explained, “in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let go of all thoughts and feelings. Don’t get sucked into your body’s discomfort. That’s just your ego trying to distract you.”
In front of me, he lit a candle that I was to focus on for the next half hour as my back screamed out in agony from muscle spasms. I felt like I’d been put in the corner on time out – as an adult! My right eye began twitching and a foot cramped up, my big toe trying to defect from the rest of the bunch. Oh God, I thought, I’ll never make it to the half hour…and I didn’t. After that, I had a lot of excuses for why I couldn’t meditate with him!
In that half an hour of sheer torture, nothing happened beyond my mind wanting to escape this weird and awkward form of torture. No amazing insights or apparitions to fuel me on. Just boring silence and random thoughts I couldn’t control, try as I might. I quickly made the assumption that the magic of meditation was reserved for people more spiritual than me. I was no swami and never would be. Why was I bothering with meditation anyway?
I’ll be honest. At the time, I avoided things I wasn’t very good at. If I couldn’t prove myself quickly and easily, that meant I’d have to experience some degree of failure first and that was out of the question. Meditation was one of those things that didn’t come easily. The rules and regulations (as my boyfriend explained them) became real barriers that scared me away from meditation when I really needed it most.
It would be years (a lot of them) later when I made the decision to try meditation again. The first thing I had to do was throw out all of those rules and preconceptions I had about how and what it means to meditate.
If you’ve wanted to meditate or are trying to, but feel like it’s just too hard, I want to encourage you to do the same. Let’s begin with…
Your Not-so-Sacred Space:
There are no sacred places when it comes to where you practice your meditation. Any place that feels safe and comfortable for you is always best. I use my bedroom, sometimes my screened porch or the family room – any place where I’m pretty confident I won’t be disturbed. I don’t want anyone watching me, wondering what I’m thinking with my eyes closed, so I usually try to find someplace semi-private.
I use a chair, but you can sit or lie on the floor if you want. You don’t need an altar or a candle to stare at. No special blankets or pillows to sit on, no oils or incense, no spiritual beads or pictures are necessary. Keep it simple, quiet, and comfortable. Those are the perfect ingredients for getting started. The less setup you need, the more likely you’ll be to just step into the moment and meditate.
What you should do…or not
Everyone has their advice about how to “do” meditation, but everyone will have their own best way to quiet the mind. I can only offer some ideas, and after that, I encourage you to explore what works best for you. It’s a common practice to let go of the thoughts that occupy your mind. It’s important to note that the mind does not give up its ownership of you that easily. Even if you practice “watching” your thoughts float by, they’ll continue, an incessant parade of words and images to keep your brain occupied sufficiently for hours. Just be ready for that to happen and don’t judge it.
You can also practice simply listening to sounds around you, even your mind’s chatter. You can have a word or image you focus on. As thoughts try to carry you away, gently return to your focal point. I also like guided meditations designed to lead you to a particular form of awareness. There are tons of these online and in the app store. They are a great way to take the pressure off of your “doing it right.” There is no right way to meditate. Find what works for you…start small. Go slow.
(BPS) Bodily Positioning System:
Do you know how many people (especially men) who can’t sit cross-legged? A lot. Just go to a yoga class and take a look around. Hips don’t lie. For a lot of people, they simply don’t bend like they used to. So now what? Should I just scrap the idea of meditation if I can’t sit like I’m supposed to? I say let’s get rid of the rigid postural constraints associated with meditation!
Sit on the floor if you want to, but it’s not required. I need back support and so a comfortable chair with a pillow is what works for me during meditation. I encourage you to adjust: sit, stand, kneel, lie down, whatever helps you relax and let go. Your body needs kindness during meditation, not strict requirements that lead to mutiny. Experiment until you find a position where you can relax with your body at ease.
Length of Time Commitment:
When most people hear that meditation should be thirty minutes to an hour, they immediately balk and retreat. I can’t blame them. I remember my first half an hour trying to meditate, my body throwing a tantrum, and how all I wanted was to escape. My ego was no dummy! Few of us spend that much focused time on anything, much less something as unfamiliar as meditation.
I think the “time commitment” can be the biggest turnoff for beginners. It certainly was for me, so I recommend trying two minutes for a while. Get used to being still and relaxed. Two minutes are enough, then work your way up to 5 minutes. Stay at the time that works for you as long as you want. I spent almost an entire year at twelve minutes. It was perfect at the time.
What should happen…or not:
Nothing specific needs to happen during your meditation. What are we doing this for, and what can we expect, are ridiculous questions when it comes to meditation. Even though they might apply to every other activity we undertake in life, meditation is different. Expecting less seems weird, but that’s exactly the kind of approach I recommend.
Don’t try to be holy or anything. Wanting something to happen is a recipe for disappointment, a reason to make you want to quit. Know upfront that nothing seems to happen during meditation for the majority of people. If you can be okay with that, you’ll get a lot more out of your meditation than most. A lot happens under the surface, beyond our awareness. Trust this. If you can still your mind for five seconds, that might be a friggin’ miracle.
Meditation is anti-goal oriented, so I can’t offer you an end game for your efforts. The only purpose for meditation is to give us an opportunity to recognize that we are not our thoughts. Those take place in our minds, but they aren’t who we are. They belong to us, they don’t define us…unless we allow them to.
Give Yourself Some Credit
There are many non-traditional ways to meditate that are equally as valid if you approach them with some intent. Taking a walk to quiet your mind, painting, drawing, gardening, dancing, skating, and playing music all have the potential to quiet the mind and allow Spirit to flow through us more freely. If you’re doing any of these on a regular basis, I simply encourage you to notice what happens when your thoughts slow down. What else is there?
Make a commitment to yourself to visit these practices more often as a form of self-care, as a way to connect with your authentic being-ness.
You won’t know the real benefits of meditation until you establish some form of regular practice. But I feel confident in saying that once you do, you’ll miss it on the days you forget. You’ll realize that your life is different on the days you meditate even though nothing other than your mind’s laundry list of complaints shows up. Meditation is one of the most valuable tools we have to find peace and contentment. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as some people make it out to be.
So take a few minutes today to sit still somewhere and try it. Set a cell phone timer, two minutes or three, that’s all. Don’t do anything, just be. Hit me up in the chat below and tell me how it goes.