I consider meditation important enough to give it a page of its own. Taking some time for reflection, introspection, and centering is vital for well-being. There are several well-conducted scientific studies that link contemplative practice to happiness, resiliency, and clarity of mind. These calming, uplifting qualities affect our whole body health. Think of how good you feel when you are happy (high energy), and how easy it is to get sick when you are stressed (low energy). People extremely experienced in meditation have been known to produce powerful, measurable brain waves, indicating they are using large parts of their brain that are not used otherwise, (1) thereby literally increasing their vibration (qi, prana, energy). What potential exists there?
Choose any comfortable position that you can maintain for at least 5 minutes; usually seated or lying flat on your back. Rest your hands comfortably on your lap, your knees, by your sides, or adopt a mudra. Set a timer, then relax. Focus on your breath. Don’t change your breath, just notice it. Maybe even think, “Inhale. Exhale.” When thoughts start to crowd your attention to breath, honor them and let them pass, then come back to your breath. After 5 minutes, take one more long, deep breath and bring attention to your thoughts. Maybe journal what you uncovered, if anything. Don’t judge what surfaces, or doesn’t, just notice it. Work your way up to 10 minutes or more a day.
Meditation doesn’t mean your thoughts are completely quiet for the duration of your session. You just have to siphon them in a direction that works for you. Focus on your breath, give your mind something to grab onto so it isn’t flying around knocking things off of shelves. Remember, this is a practice. Perfection isn’t the goal.
Now, I’m not asking you to become a hermit in a cave and go without food and water for 30 days while you sit in Lotus position and chant Om. I’m saying, start with 5 minutes a day and sit quietly with yourself. If it makes you feel more comfortable, think of it as having a sit and think, or taking time out for prayer. I would challenge you to find 5-10 minutes during your morning routine to start your day off right with this simple exercise. I mean, push the snooze button one less time or set your alarm 10 minutes earlier. You can do that.
Once you have established your connection with your center through your breath, begin to think of what you are grateful for. It is very hard to be negative when you are being thankful. I have many things to be grateful for: My family, my friends, my dogs. Even when things aren’t peachy, find the silver lining. I’m thankful for this floor I am sitting on. I’m thankful for my warm bed. Begin to list the reasons why. Then really feel it. Feel your heart swell, feel warmth snake its way from your center into your periphery, feel a smile come to your face. This is an especially good practice right away in the morning. It starts your day off on a high note. Do it while the coffee is brewing, and see how much better your day can be when you start it with gratitude!
Loving-Kindness or Compassion Meditation
Through feeling compassion for others, we find our own inner peace. Shantideva, an 8th Century Buddhist scholar, said, “Whatever joy there is in the world, All comes from desiring others to be happy, And whatever suffering there is in this world, All comes from desiring myself to be happy.”(2) This concept is directly related to karma. Think of someone you may have been harboring negative feelings towards. Maybe this person has acted unfairly towards you, took credit for something you did or didn’t acknowledge your hard work. Maybe you don’t even know the person, like someone who cut you off in traffic. It is worth your time and energy to let these negative feelings go. Meditating on compassion could also reach out to someone who needs your help. Maybe someone you know is sick, has a difficult problem, or is struggling otherwise could use some loving kindness. Begin with basic meditation, then begin to feel warm, loving thoughts about the person you wish to be compassionate towards. Avoid giving them excuses for acting negatively towards you. Be neutral about their actions, loving and kind towards them. To put it in a Christian perspective, love the sinner, hate the sin. Imagine sending light and love to them. It is not their actions which determine your fate, it is yours. So even though it may be difficult it is important to practice loving-kindness and compassion towards others. The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is helpful for compassion meditation. I once used it during a marathon, sending it out to the universe in general, in order to fill myself up and make it through.
The Practice of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of finding meditation in the form of deep concentration in everyday life. Noticing intricacies in everyday objects or in nature can be a form of mindfulness. Doing your job with attention to detail. Being present and attentive to mundane chores. Mindfulness is noticing the sound behind the sound. Your friends notice the silence of the forest, you notice the gurgling of the stream, the birdsong, the rustling of the leaves. Staying present and appreciating seemingly ordinary things can bring great happiness and contentment. Alan Alda once said, “If you’re bored you’re not paying attention.” This practice is how meditation fits into the rest of your life.
Often, people find old emotions pop up when they sit quietly for a moment. These emotions may be quite intense. People are often surprised when they suddenly start sobbing two minutes into their meditation. If this happens to you, you are not failing, this is completely normal and healthy. We live in a culture that wants us to keep a stiff upper lip rather than experiencing emotions in the moment. We stop listening to our gut, so what we really feel gets buried rather than expressed. When we give ourselves the opportunity to finally explore the undercurrent of ourselves, feelings we didn’t even realize we had may start flooding to the surface. One of my teachers likened our consciousness to an iceberg: What is below the surface is much larger than what we can see. Whenever we do something that opens up hidden doors to our subconscious—like yoga, meditation, or a massage—the water line lowers and a little more of the iceberg is uncovered (3) You may not be aware of repressed feelings. They may just surface as generic sobbing. Or they might not. Either way, it’s okay. Keep your journal, and some tissues, handy and let the feelings flow.
This page is likely to change and grow often. Keep checking back for more ideas.
(1) Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, M.D. (find it on Amazon)
(2) The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. (find it on Amazon) Though, the original quote was taken from A Guide to the Boddhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva.Lecture by Melody J. Francis, BHS, eRYT 500, LMT, NCBTMB, CBP. Black Hills Yoga School, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training. Rapid City, SD.
(3) Lecture by Melody J. Francis, BHS, eRYT 500, LMT, NCBTMB, CBP. Black Hills Yoga School, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training. Rapid City, SD. June, 2016-December, 2016