How to meditate
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. –Deepak Chopra
When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal. –Pema Chodron, in How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind
Before I started meditating, some years ago now, I resisted doing so for a long time. The instructions all seemed inane–“Just focus on your breath. It couldn’t be simpler.”
When meditation is difficult for me now, my favorite method is to focus intently on the sounds around me. The clock’s pendulum, back and forth. The barking dog outside. A dog breathing at my feet. Leaves being raked. Whatever’s happening–there’s always something.
A common misperception is that you need quiet in order to meditate. People often tell me that they have to wait for more perfect circumstances to start meditating. The apartments where they live are too noisy, or their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes.
The bad news, and the good news, is that life never gets perfect. You should also know that someone, somewhere, is always using a leafblower. You must simply begin.
Meditation is a way to create peace and quiet in a noisy and imperfect world, not to mention a noisy and imperfect mind. When I describe to people what meditation is, sometimes they’ll tell me there is never a break in their stream of thoughts.
If you meditate, though, there will be.
I remember being dismayed when I started meditating that it seemed I wasn’t very good at it. There’s still the occasional day when that seems true. If you find that you’re not either, remember that the beauty of meditation is that you don’t have to be good at it to reap its benefits. And, you will get better.
Key to the whole process, I believe, is dropping judgment about having thoughts. There seems to be a belief that meditation involves turning off your thoughts. It does not.
It involves becoming aware of your thoughts, and gently releasing them. As this process continues over time, more space opens up between your thoughts.
When I become aware during meditation that I’m thinking, I let the thought go, like cutting the string to a helium balloon, or releasing a bubble to the surface of water. There is less than no point in thinking, “Oh damn, thinking again,” because that is creating more of what you don’t want. So release any judgment along with the thought.
Thinking is what everyone is doing, even during meditation. However, those who meditate are having fewer useless thoughts, even when they’re not meditating. The habit of creating mind space (as well as of dropping judgment) carries over into real life. Thank goodness.
Besides creating calm, peace, and tranquility, a major point of meditation is to create space for guidance and wisdom to come to you. If the noise of your busy life is preventing you from hearing your inner wisdom, meditation clears space to allow it to come through loud and clear.
I typically meditate 15-20 minutes (I set a timer), both morning and evening. If work is really pushing my buttons, sometimes I’ll take 10-20 minutes to meditate at lunch as well. I keep Doreen Virtue’s Archangels and Ascended Masters on my coffee table, and often ask for the help of an angel or ascended master as I meditate. I also keep a journal nearby, so that when guidance comes to me I can write it down. It’s encouraging to flip back through my journal and read so many positive and encouraging words.
I find that meditation really centers me in the morning, preparing me for my day, and calms me at night, preparing me to sleep.
I’ve just recently started a 40-day x 40-minute meditation challenge. I’m still meditating 2-3 times a day, but extending one of my meditation sessions to 40 minutes. So far I’m finding the 40 minutes quite long, but I also have a sense that the extra time is benefiting me in ways I don’t fully understand.
If you aren’t yet meditating, I encourage you to simply begin! Even 5 minutes a day will benefit you. And if you’d like to meditate longer, please feel free to join the challenge!