Friday, April 29, 2016

Be Still : A Beginner's Guide to Beginning Meditation

Years and years ago, I read a book that discussed meditation.  All I remember is that you were supposed to close your eyes, sit still and chant the same word over and over again.  I don't really know why - you were just supposed to do it.  This weak introduction coupled with religious suspicion  that emptying your mind of thought would let the devil in didn't serve my foray into meditation well.  I tried it a couple times out of curiosity and decided there just wasn't anything there except for being still, for which I had little appreciation.

Maybe you've noticed it, too, but meditation seems to be making a comeback.  The mysticism has been turned way down, and the most compelling sources indicate that a meditation practice is connected with greater productivity, clearer thinking, and ability to be fully present and in the moment all day long.  Increased ability to be present is what got my attention, as I constantly find myself days and days down the road without ever having looked up to appreciate what a blessed life I live.  I'm focusing on attentiveness in 2016, and working on it five minutes at a time seemed like a good idea, so into meditation I've gone.

It's difficult to explain exactly how or why, but after about six months of attempting to practice meditation, I believe the positive reviews are true:  even just a few minutes of meditation a day can deepen your experience of every day life, and give you a little extra calm.

Here's my Beginner Teaches Beginning Meditation Guide:
  • Sit somewhere quiet, with your spine straight and uncrossed legs and arms
  • Check your surroundings, so you can be confident there are no pests close by that might bother you while your eyes are closed.  For me, this means assuring myself there are no snakes lurking in the grass :)
  • Set a timer - not more than 5 minutes.  Press start, and make sure you see the numbers begin to count down.  Otherwise, you'll have to stop meditating to make sure you really pressed start and that the minutes really are counting down.
  • Close your eyes and just sit for a moment
  • Check out how it is to be right here.  Can you feel the breeze blowing?  Do you feel sunshine on your face?  Are the birds singing?  Are your thoughts flinging around the inside of your brain like a game of ping pong?
  • Consider your thinking self and your body to be two parts of the same whole, and locate where your thinking self is inside your body (I promise this will make more sense in a minute).  For me, my thinking self is usually tightly compressed into a ball, just above my right eye.  Or maybe it's left eye.
  • Now, start to stretch your thinking self down into your body.  I imagine it's kind of like how Peter Pan presses his shadow onto himself when he finally manages to catch it so Wendy can sew it back on.  Or like turning the honey jar upside down and letting the honey slowly drip down the inside of the jar, or like pulling a window shade down over a window.  Your thinking self is stretching down into your body so you're inhabiting and feeling your entire body.
  • Consider your body as you work your way from your head to your feet.  Think about how it feels, and notice if you're tense anywhere.  Think about how grateful you are for every heartbeat, every lung full of air, every task your hands perform, all the stairs your legs climb, and all the steps your feet take.
  • When you've made it to your feet (it doesn't matter how long this takes you - it doesn't necessarily have to be a long time), take a few seconds to feel present throughout your entire body.  How many times a day do you feel wholly present?  If you're like me, probably not many.
  • Now it's time to focus on your breath.  Breathe in deeply through your nose, and let the breath go as far down into your lungs as possible.  Feel your chest expand with the breath.  Pause for a moment at the top of the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.
  • Continue to focus on your breath until the timer goes off.  Please note:  this will feel like approximately 27 years.

While you're trying to focus on your breathing, your mind will wander.  That's perfectly fine.  Just sync yourself back with your breath, no judgment.  This is the thing:  you're teaching yourself to focus, and your focus muscle may not be particularly buff in the beginning.  Just keep working it out, and you'll find that the more reps you do, the stronger your focus muscle becomes.  This is where the benefits of meditation seep into real life.  You'll find that - kind of magically, because it doesn't seem to be related, but somehow it is - your ability to hold focus and your ability to bring yourself back to focus more quickly grows, whether that focus is on balancing the budget, pushing through a complex issue, maintaining concentration in a room full of wild and crazy toddlers, or remembering why you walked into this room.

Another benefit of meditation is that it helps you internalize the moments when absolutely nothing is wrong, which is most of your life, by the way.  We all know that we don't have the past and we don't have the future - we only have the present.  If you take the moments of meditation and isolate them from all things past and all worries future, I can say with just about 100% accuracy that in this moment:
  1. no one is harming you
  2. you are not upset with anyone
  3. everything in the right here and right now is absolutely, completely, wholly, totally just fine
The ability to be in the present, like the ability to focus, rather magically stretches into other moments of your life beyond your quiet meditation.  You'll find you can face situations with a deep down chill that might once have turned you upside down.  Why?  Because your understanding that everything is fine has expanded outside of your meditation sessions and into everyday life.

I  won't be running away to climb a far off mountain and sit in constant meditation anytime  soon ... life here is too good and there's too much to do.  But I can't explain the unaccustomed sense of calm that's undergirded me as I've contemplated a very crowded calendar the last few months and negotiated the unavoidable curveballs of life, except for this new practice of being still for a few minutes a day and focusing down to the very simplest of things: breath and being.  When you get those basics lined out, paying attention to the rest of life gets just a little bit easier.

Shared joy is doubled joy ... let's double the joy for both of us - what are you most grateful for today? Click below to leave your comment. I'll go first :

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