For many of us wannabe meditators, the hardest thing is just getting started. We read all the books and blogs, and follow the gurus on social media, but somewhere in-between having a deep understanding of all the benefits and actually getting our butts onto the meditation cushion, there seems to be a block.
As a collective, it seems we're really starting to wake up to the power of using meditation as a tool for personal and emotional development. However, there are still many of us still trapped in our minds that meditation seems like a pipe dream.
As human beings, we desire peace, calm and a general sense of well-being. But as "human doings," we look for our happiness in distant goals and material possessions. The mind is an amazing tool, but without adequate training and left to its own devices, it can cause chaos.
To get the most from your meditation practice, it is beneficial to get a clear understanding of the process. Put simply, meditation is pressing the pause button on life and just sitting down comfortably. It's a focused awareness of the present moment.
But before we can begin to get the most out of our meditation practice, I think it's important to clarify the following false expectations:
1. It’s not about having a clear mind with no thoughts.
During a meditation practice, it is pretty common to have lots of thoughts! There's a common misconception that we are somehow supposed to clear our mind of all thoughts while we meditate. The key however, is to observe your thoughts in a more detached manner, and not get overly involved in the stories.
2. It’s not about sitting in bendy yogic positions.
If you are super flexible and find it comfortable to sit with your legs and arms entwined in double jointed positions that look like a Tantric sex move, that’s great. But for the rest of us, sitting comfortably with our back supported on a chair or crossed-legged on the floor, is more than satisfactory.
3. It’s not about being happy all the time.
Sometimes when we sit down to meditate, whether for five minutes or an hour, it can seem like pain rather than pleasure. Even people that have meditated their whole lives can get comfy in their meditation positions, but feel physically and mentally irritated. Having a meditation practice that is based on focusing the mind in the present moment is simply about being aware of how we are. And if we happen to be pissed off in that moment then that's just the way it is.
Meditation is the process of sitting noticing thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and accepting them as part of our experience in the here and now.
So now, how can we begin to develop a regular meditation practice and reap the most benefits?
1. Pick a time of day to meditate and stick to it.
Make it part of your daily routine just like brushing your teeth. You wouldn't go to work with stinky breath, so why go into your day without spending a little time caring for your mind?
2. Set an alarm or timer.
As much as I would love to meditate for hours a day, I have three kids, a husband, and a business to run. So when I get up first thing in the morning, I set my alarm for 10 minutes and get right to it. By setting an alarm I know that I won’t be thinking, man, this is taking forever, nor will I go off into a blissed-out state and forget to take the kids to school.
3. Have a focus point to stay present.
To stay in the present moment the mind needs something it can focus on, and as we have this wonderful body with all of its senses we can simply pick one of them. Before you practice, decide whether you are going to focus on your breath, listening to sounds, watching thoughts, whatever. If you’re a beginner, I would suggest you focus your awareness on your breath.
What will happen during the meditation is that your naughty mind will forget it’s meditating and take your awareness either back into the past or the future. However, the magic of meditation is recognizing that you have wandered off into this mindless thinking, and then coming back to your focus point.
4. Have no expectations other than expecting the unexpected
As long as you set your alarm, sit comfortably with your back supported, and stay with your intended focus point, that’s pretty much all there is to it. When you expect a meditation to be a certain way, it's just setting yourself up for disappointment. No one meditation practice is ever the same as another. Some feel good, some are OK, and some are just a pain in the ass. The key is to go into your practice with a childlike curiosity, and really notice what is going on in that moment.
5. Know that the benefits are found in your daily life, and not on the cushion.
The wonderful thing about meditation is that it gives you the natural superpower of learning how to respond to situations, rather than react. You will naturally start to handle life in a calmer, cooler way. Right now, maybe your boss pushes all your buttons, but after a while, with regular meditation, he/she won’t bother you anymore. Become aware of how you are changing while your daily meditation practice grows.