With regard to meditation, I found a kindred spirit in Brene Brown. I loved what she wrote in ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’…
“I’m sure my resistance to this idea comes from the fact that just thinking about meditating makes me anxious. When I try to meditate, I feel like a total poser. I spend the entire time thinking about how I need to stop thinking.”
In spite of such thoughts, Brene pursued an openness to meditation because time and again in her research on vulnerability and wholehearted living she found, ‘men and women spoke about the necessity of quieting their bodies and minds as a way to feel less anxious and overwhelmed.’
I agree with this. Not to mention a mountain of other research…
Remarkable claims have been made about meditation: that it can increase your intelligence and creativity, improve the quality of your relationships, reverse the ageing process and even reduce crime rates in your neighbourhood. While many such claims have not survived rigorous scientific scrutiny, an impressive body of literature indicates that meditation appears to have many physiological and psychological effects that simple rest does not. Most health professionals accept that meditation is an important component of effective stress management programs. Fundamentally, this is because meditation and other relaxation strategies are seen to reduce base line levels of physical and emotional arousal. (Westen, Burton & Kowalski, 2006).
So why is meditation difficult and so often avoided? Sometimes all the busyness of the mind, and all the things we need to do, is a great tactic for not having to face the truth of who we are. If we can find a way to quieten the mind and remove the ‘noise’ what we’re left with is ourselves, and the truth of our lives. On some level we are convinced that that if we stay busy and keep moving, there is no truth to face, no admission about how scared, overwhelmed and confused we sometimes feel. The irony is that the energy required to avoid the truth is what’s really wearing us down.
So I persist with meditation as a means of facing the truths of who I am. Sometimes it’s a great place to be and sometimes it more like hanging out with what Carl Jung referred to as ‘the shadow’. In those moments I get to find out how slimy my mind can be. But it’s always enlightening and, overtime, I experience more and more sense of calm – which I view actually as just less conflict with myself and who I am. The things I reconcile internally do not need to be played out externally in my relationships and/or life goals – so life gets much easier in those areas.
How to meditate
I am not going to give you the definitive steps to meditating. I am here to promote the benefits of quieting the mind and finding comfort with being in that space of aloneness. Following that, I think that mastering meditation is about finding what works for you.
I can share with you what works for me – or at least I can share with you the steps I’ve taken to date to gain greater amounts of quiet in my mind. My journey to meditation mastery is far from over.
I do meditation in two 15 minutes stages, with the first more of a preparation stage. In both stages I set a timer (side note – the first few times I did this I couldn’t resist checking the timer because the 15 minutes seemed to be taking so long that I was convinced that I mustn’t have set the timer correctly.)
I take a few deep breaths and relax all my muscles and think about any tension leaving my body. I then focus on my breathing and start counting backwards from 24. I first learned about the counting back from 24 technique from Wayne Dyer years ago and it still resonates with me so I’ve stuck with it. The way it works is that you begin counting back from 24 slowly (I tend to do this in time with my breathing), and anytime you get a thought enter your mind and move away from the counting, you start again from 24 as soon as you realise that you’ve been distracted. When I first started doing this, I usually wouldn’t get past 20 before uninvited thoughts came in. This is completely natural. For anyone new to this, you are doing well if you get more than 10 counts into it.
The only difference between the two stages of my meditation is a pen and notebook. For the first 15 minutes of mediation I allow myself to jot notes or words down on paper as thoughts come into my head. I have found this strategy works for me because my mind has this interesting trick of bringing thoughts into my head that I feel I really don’t want to forget; it will be something that (I’m convinced) really needs to go on my To Do list, or a creative insight or idea that I don’t want to lose.
Having these ideas coming into my mind was making it really hard for me to meditate because of a sense of fear that I won’t remember them later. So for 15 minutes I allow myself to write these thoughts and ideas down if I want to. Once it is written down, I close my eyes and begin again counting back from 24. So stage 1 is more of a mind-clearing and preparation for some ‘real’ meditation.
At the end of those 15 minutes, I do 15 minutes without allowing any note taking. My brain seems to be happy with this trade-off and I can often get through the second 15 minutes without too many unwanted thoughts.
I view giving myself permission to write notes for the first 15 minutes as a crutch while still learning the art of mediation but I don’t care because I’m already reaping benefits.
How long should you mediate for? As long as you can. If you start at only 5 minutes a day that will be fine. I read a suggestion from Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman about needing to do 20 minutes a day of meditation to see real benefits. You will likely get more benefits the longer you meditate, but 5 minutes is better than not doing it at all. In their book ‘Eight Steps to Happiness’, Dr Anthony Grant and Alison Leigh support this, saying: “If you decide to make mediation a regular habit, start off gently and build up. Five minutes once or twice a day is a good start. You can build up from there. Ten minutes twice a day is a good and achievable goal for most people.”
So give yourself those five minutes (at least). To increase calm, yes. To decrease stress, sure. But most of all, take the time to get to know all aspects of your inner self – the strength and the divine beauty that lives beneath all the noise.
“It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside out, when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” – Oriah