To celebrate National Meditation Week, we are talking about why meditation can be difficult, but beneficial to your everyday routine. I can’t begin to count the number of times over the years I’ve tried to commit myself to having a daily meditation practice. Life kept getting in the way, you know how it is.
After finally committing to some amount of daily practice over the last few months though, I’ve managed to cross over the great divide and reach a point where it no longer requires focused effort to reach a quiet mind. Sure, I still have random thoughts and lingering emotions to brush away, but what I’d like to share with you is that it gets easier. The more you practice just being still, the simpler and more enjoyable it becomes.
Why meditation might be difficult:
The basic structure of modern culture has been transformed from earth-bound and small communities into crowded, yet somehow more isolated urban living environments. Our minds, which used to be dominated by thoughts of survival, are now more focused on obligations inflicted upon us by both ourselves and others. Technology has only increased the rate at which we are forced to keep up with the fast-changing pace of life. It makes perfect sense that our minds have evolved to operate as efficient computers.
The brain not only regulates our body’s functions and rhythms in perfect harmony (a miraculous feat in its own right), but it must perform complex thought processes for our professional lives, remember birthdays and soccer games, manage finances, maintain social engagement, and carry out a countless number of other tasks. With all the rapid-firing synapses required just to live in the 21st century, is it any wonder that turning this mind-computer off, let alone finding the time to actually do so, can be a challenge?
Despite all that, at our core, we are concentrated and pure potential energy. Once we find a way to separate all the extraneous minutia of existence, connecting with our inner essence should not only be accessible, it should be quite natural.
The benefits of meditation:
Reduces stress and inflammation
Promotes hormonal balance
Promotes mental clarity and good decision-making
Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
Creates a positive outlook on life
Slows down the aging process
Reduces free radical activity
Decreases risk for all diseases
Above all, at least for me, it provides an even temperament and a way of seeing all situations and all people as perfectly okay, just as they are.
Give these techniques a try:
Focusing on the breath is often the recommendation given to beginners. But in my experience, eliminating all thoughts is a slightly more advanced technique, and the other forms of practice that require some mental activity are a more practical and gradual approach to becoming used to quieting the mind.
Do a few gentle stretches to prepare yourself to be motionless for a short time, settle down and get comfortable, make sure you have privacy, take a few deep breaths and then try the following techniques.
Repeat a phrase or a positive affirmation in your mind over and over. Choose something for yourself that reflects your positive aspirations. Make sure to use the present tense. Something like ‘I am happy, healthy, and abundant’ or ‘my mind is at peace’ or ‘I give and receive love freely.’ Just invent something short and positive to repeat. This activity keeps you thinking, so it’s harder for other thoughts to interfere, yet you are sitting and breathing and experiencing the benefits of just being still.
Visualize something peaceful that makes you happy. It could be an image of your childhood home, a pristine nature scene, the faces of your loved ones, or an image of yourself smiling and surrounded by light. Try to hold your attention on an image that makes you happy for as long as possible, and delve into it with your senses as if you were there. What sounds might you hear, or what smells, textures, or colors? Truly focus on the image and every little detail it entails.
Breathing techniques are a great way to relax the mind, while engaging the body and increasing oxygen and circulation. Here are a few excellent techniques to try. These techniques are good for beginners because the mind is more actively engaged than when focusing on simple quiet breath.
Movement is one of my favorite ways to practice meditation and is related to the practice of qi-gong. You don’t have to sit perfectly still to meditate. Standing up, or staying seated, take your arms out to the sides as you bring them upwards, so your palms approach each other, imagine that you are taking in all the good and beautiful things of the universe. When your palms almost meet above your head, lower your arms down in front of you (elbows bent, so your hands are ‘floating’ palms down, closer to your body), imagine that you are absorbing these good things into your body, that they are penetrating your skin, muscle, tissue and bone. Repeat this action over and over and research qi-gong if this style appeals to you.
When thoughts do enter your mind, it’s okay that they are there. Simply acknowledge them and allow them to pass through instead of becoming attached and following the thread from one thought to another. I like to imagine a broom that sweeps the thoughts away, or encapsulating them in a bubble and then bursting it.
How you choose to practice is entirely up to you. I experiment with all of the above and choose the one that most appeals to how I’m feeling in that moment. Usually after 5-10 minutes of practicing any one of those, I am able to just sit in silence and breathe. Afterwards I feel more connected to the real essence of living: health, happiness, and love.
Hopefully that helps, and you’re inspired to give meditation another try!