If you have read my ‘Why I Meditate. It May Not Be Why You Think.’ post, you’ll know that, as always, I am on a journey of self exploration.
To steal the advertising slogan from the well known wood staining company Ronseal for a moment… this post ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. It’s all about ‘how’ I meditate.
I have been encouraged to write this because, well, for one, I promised I would if people asked. Secondly, I know I love to find out how people do stuff I am interested in doing myself. Hopefully, it’ll help some readers take the first step into meditation, and others, who are further down the road, can compare notes with mine. I have added links to everything I mention at the bottom of the post.
I need to say a few things
I feel like I need to say something for clarification. And that is… I am not saying this is the way everyone should go about meditative practice. I think it’s really important to say this because, more than anything in life, I feel meditation is something we need to figure out on our own.
On a separate note, we all have days that are better than others and, from memory, I remember when starting out, that there were days when meditating was just… ‘easier’. If I had a big deadline, or a relatively heavy emotional burden, the ten minutes spent ‘meditating’ may as well have been replaced with me sprinting around the room yelling my to-do list at the wall.
Lastly, I would like to touch upon the notion of ‘being present’ as it’s a term used heavily in the meditation world. The term might be pretty self explanatory to most, but for me, it’s taken some time to truly connect with it’s meaning. A passage from a book I read recently paints the picture perfectly, and I’d love to share that with you here. It outlines a time in our lives when we were ‘living in the present moment’ by default, and not ‘lost in our thoughts’. Dan Millman (the author) takes his thoughts back to his infancy:
My eyes open wide. They gaze intently at shapes and colours beneath my hands as I crawl on the tiled floor. I touch a rug and it touches me back. Everything is bright and alive.
I grasp a spoon in one tiny hand and bang it against a cup. The clinking noise delights my ears. I yell with power! Then I look up to see a skirt, billowing above me. I’m lifted up, and make cooing sounds. Bathed in my mother’s scent, my body relaxes into hers, and I’m filled with bliss.
Some time later. Cool air touches my face as I crawl in a garden. Colourful flowers tower around me, and I’m surrounded by new smells. I tear one and bite it; my mouth is filled with a bitter message. I spit it out.
My mother comes. I hold out my hand to show her a wiggly black thing that tickles my hand. She reaches down and knocks it away. “Nasty spider!” she says. Then she holds a soft thing to my face; it talks to my nose. “Rose” he says, then makes the same noise again. “Rose.” I look up at her, then around me, and drift into the world of scented colours.
The book is called ‘The Way of The Peaceful Warrior’ and I highly recommend it.(1)
To create the environment, I always open a window so I can hear the sounds outside and feel the cool breeze that flows through: an immediate stimulation of the senses.
Most of my practice involves sitting. At the moment, I’m not fortunate enough to live on a beach and so I sit, mostly, on my living room floor. My back is against the wall and my legs are out straight. I’d love to do the whole crossed leg thing, but my arthritic hip and wooden hamstrings won’t allow for that.
I close my eyes and aim for a posture that is relaxing, but doesn’t encourage me to crawl back upstairs to bed.
I purposefully use thoughts that focus my attention as I find this currently works best for me. As far as I’m aware, I think this points towards the ‘transcendental’ approach of meditation which uses focussed attention, normally in the form of a mantra or chant, to be present (i’d love someone to confirm that for me). However, my go-to thoughts are the breath, the body and external sounds.
I will cycle through a mixture of the following:
Becoming aware of the sensations of the breath. I’ll note the sensations of the air as it enters the body, from the skin to the expansion of the rib cage and stomach.
From time to time, I’ll also count the breath… something I picked up from Andy Puddicombe on his iPhone app ‘Headspace’ (2) when I started out. Counting ‘one’ for the in breath and ‘two’ for the out breath. Restarting when I reach ten.
I can also focus on sounds from outside, or nearby. I live in quite a peaceful estate, but the mornings can often be filled with door slams, dustbin lorries and children crying their way to car. It’s taken some time but I have managed to reassign these (once called) ‘disturbances’ in my head as ‘part of my environment’. I must give props to my Tempo Wellbeing co-director and psychologist Hannah Wilson for helping with this in particular. I hear her soothing words of “it’s okay” over everything that shouldn’t be, or once wasn’t, ‘okay’. Acceptance of ‘what is’ is ‘what is’ is quite an illuminating journey.
I’ll also note the sensations in the body, specifically the hands, as these seem to have the most activity. If that sounds crazy, do it now… sit back and relax your forearms and hands on your legs. Sit still, give it a few seconds, and you’ll be able to feel your hands come alive. Well, they’ll tingle a bit at the very least.
Something I picked up from well known American psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation Tara Brach, is “allowing your eyes to smile”. This can also lead to the corners of the mouth and down to the heart. This simple thought can stimulate quite a positive change in emotion. I also often use some of her guided meditations which you can download from her website (3).
Sitting outside, in the sunshine, with only the sounds of the natural environment is a beautiful (and ‘easy’) place to meditate. The difference between this setting and my living room floor is remarkable. I recently spent a week in Portugal and every morning I’d sit on the cliff edge, with the sun on my face and the refreshing sounds of the waves crashing below. My ability to manage my thoughts increased dramatically and it has outlined just how differently my mind works when I’m living my ‘normal’ life. When I’m home, monkey brain comes out to play.
Whenever I speak with people on the subject of meditation, they say one of two things:
- I don’t have the time
- My mind is too “all over the place” to do that kind of thing
Thoughts about those statements:
- Paraphrasing author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss: ‘if you don’t have time for thirty minutes meditation, you need three hours’
- Join the club
The world we live in governs a lifestyle of no time and a million thoughts. In my opinion, this is why we have to find a way of sticking with meditative practice. There are days when I don’t fancy it, when I momentarily question the value in it, and when my mind has churned out enough thoughts to fill twenty five encyclopedias within ten minutes of waking. But there is no doubt that even in my early stages of this journey, my day is different after I take the time out. I feel much more peace and meditation is getting ‘easier’.
On the subject of habits… imagine if we only just realised that cleaning our teeth on a daily basis was beneficial? Now THAT is a thought.
As always, I’d love to hear thoughts and experiences. Please leave me a message on Facebook or wherever works for you.