I remember clearly one day, while visiting friends in Charlotte NC, sitting outside in a chair with my eyes closed. When I walked back into the house, my friend asked me if I had been meditating. I replied yes ... but quite honestly I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
Meditation, in conjunction with Mindfulness, is much trendier now than it was when I started to look into it. The practice, although relatively new in the Western World is actually quite old, considering that both are over 2500 years old. So why is it that it’s taken so long for the West to get into it?
Our North American culture is based on “ doing” ... We feel better, more confident, even more important - dare I say - when we are busy. Even when we enquire how someone is, our questions are often more on the doing side such as How are you doing?
Let’s talk about meditation first.
Meditation carries many misconceptions, not the least is the one of someone sitting, with their eyes closed, legs crossed and well .... apparently not doing anything. But in fact a lot is happening.
Another myth is that the objective of meditation is to have no thoughts at all and that one must strive to achieve this state. I often hear people tell me that they can’t meditate because their mind is too busy, that they have what’s called a Monkey Mind - the one that jumps from one thought to the other.
Yet another long standing misbelief is that meditation is too touchy-feely.
None of these ideas about meditation are really true.
In its most basic definition, devoid of any religious, spiritual or touchy-feely connotation, meditation is training for the mind. As you can train your body to be fitter with regular exercise, you can train your mind to be fitter with meditation. So although it may look like meditators aren’t really doing anything, they are training their minds to be calmer and more focused. They are developing an ability to handle life’s challenges with less stress. Paradoxically, this calmness and focus of the mind translate into greater productivity so one can accomplish more things.
Meeting our Mind ...
Considering that the brain generates approximately 60,000 thoughts in a day, trying to have no thoughts at all seems to be a lost cause. This is one reason why many people give up on meditation after a few attempts. The good news is that the “monkey” can be trained, not so much to have no thoughts at all but to jump less from one thought to the other and allow the thoughts to go by without grabbing onto them.
A more realistic approach is understanding that, like wanting to be fit requires more than a once a week visit to the gym, having a calmer, more focused and resilient mind requires consistent practice. This regular practice allows for the space between each thought to expand, providing this sense of calmness.
As for the spiritual component, it is absolutely not necessary to be spiritual or religious to gain all the benefits of meditation. A quiet mind is a quiet mind, no matter what your religious orientation is. Many people who start meditating do report a greater connection with their inner core and with life.
Mindfulness is another training of the mind
Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s going within ourselves and around us in a very conscious way. It is about being in the present moment instead of letting our mind wander away and be distracted. It is about knowing what we’re thinking about instead of being on autopilot. For instance, if I asked you about what you saw on your drive to work, most of us would not be able to recall. We do know we drove because we arrived at our destination but we don’t necessarily recall how we got there. Another example is when we eat, we may know we are eating but our mind may be busy with many different thoughts instead of experiencing eating in a conscious, mindful way.
Scientific evidence has been emerging for many years now, showing the numerous benefits of practicing mindfulness and meditation. From lowering blood pressure to managing chronic pain and handling stress, to knowing yourself better, these practices are the perfect antidote to life’s challenges, without side effects ... well, perhaps a happier life!
Because of these benefits people of all ages - from school children to business people - are now engaging in a mindfulness and meditation practice.
So how does one meditate?
Although there is a formal posture to adopt when we meditate - straight back, sitting on the floor or on a chair, body relaxed yet alert, there really is nothing complicated about meditation. There are many different types of meditation but one of the most powerful and foundational meditation and mindfulness practices is connecting to your breath, becoming conscious of the breath going in and out. The biggest difficulty is in persisting - much like going to the gym!
There’s a lot more that could be written about meditation and mindfulness, and this blog will delve into different aspects of integrating these practices into your daily life.
Mindful Wisdom for Well Being …
For now, I invite you to connect to your breath. At different times during the day, stop what you’re doing and become conscious of your breathing. Bring your attention to your breath by focusing on the rise and fall of your stomach as you breath in and out, or by noticing the air coming and out of your nostrils. This conscious breathing is particularly effective when we feel overwhelmed or experience a high level of stress.
I’d love to hear about your experience of connecting to your breath.
To your WellBeing