Meditation. In last week’s post I talked about how practicing Yoga is changing my life right now (read more about Yoga here) – now I will dig even deeper. Meditation. But what exactly is mediation? Or rather, what is it not?
No idea about mediation?
For the longest time, I had no idea what the word actually meant. And I know a lot of people are still confused about the concept as it has remained mostly unclear. I, too, was convinced the ultimate goal of meditation was thinking about nothing, emptying your mind and just sitting there without any thought disturbing your silence. Which is impossible. So, now we know what meditation is not. But, what is it then?
What meditation really is
When you meditate your goal is not to empty your mind and think about nothing at all. Emptying your mind like a trash bin with a remaining black hole of nothing won’t work. When I still had no idea about how meditation really works I tried it out many times only to discover that it just doesn’t work. Even for Tibetan monks in the Himalayas who have practiced meditation for decades this is impossible. No matter how calm and focused we are, our mind will always interfere with thought eventually. So, the goal of mediation is not to disappear into a black hole of nothingness. It is to focus. To focus your attention on something you choose. This can be your breath, which is the most common focus in the beginning, or a mantra, or anything you want to bring your attention to. The most important thing is to stay focused during the time of your practice.
Where to start?
We all have to start from somewhere. I would recommend to start meditating at home in a quiet environment without any distractions. Choose an environment where you feel comfortable and can relax. Tell anyone who might be at home to not disturb you for the next 10 to 15 minutes. This is the time frame I would set if you are just starting without any experience. In the beginning, it is extremely hard to focus. Maybe you will also get bored, starting to think why you are even doing this. Don’t get discouraged if that happens to you. In the beginning, it will be hard, so a little bit of discouragement is normal. The most important thing is to keep practicing. I mediate every day and this routine has helped me a lot. Set a timer for however long you decide to meditate. I would take around 10 minutes to start out. If try for a shorter time, you will barely have time to get into it, if you try half an hour right at the start you might get bored and discouraged. So, 10 minutes will be a good start.
What do I do when I meditate?
Start by sitting down on the floor on a pillow. Invest either in a pillow that is made for meditation or – if you’re on a tight budget like me – sit down on a big and hard book. That does the job as well. Either way, you want your bottom just to be a few inches away from the floor. If you opt for the pillow choose a hard one as you will not be able to maintain a straight spine on a soft one. Now sit down on your pillow / book and cross your legs. Put your hands on your knees and straighten your spine. What you do with your hands can vary. You can rest your them on your lap, left and right thumb and and left and right index finger touching and forming a triangle. You can also place your hands on your knees with thumb and index finger forming a circle. The other fingers are kept straight, resting on your knees. Or you can rest your hands on top of your knees. I always opt for the second version. This way, there is more tension in your body. You don´t feel too relaxed, but also not too uneasy. Your body needs to be a bit tense to being able to focus properly. Keep your spine straight at any time. Keep your head straight as well, your eyes looking to the ground, closed. Sitting in this position try to feel your body, try to avoid any discomfort that could disturb you in your 10 minutes. Adjust your position, set your timer and start. Take a deep breath in and breath out exactly as deeply. Breathe through your nose, in and out. Focus all your attention on your breath. Just concentrate yourself and lead your attention to the air that is flowing in and out of your nose. Without any distraction, just you and your breath. For the next 10 minutes that’s all you should care about.
Staying focused on just one thing like your breath can be hard, especially if you are just starting to meditate. Once you sit down to concentrate yourself, you will see how hard it is to focus on just on thing, just on your breath. Your mind will constantly try to interfere and sometimes you will get carried away from your practice. You will be thinking about tomorrows lunch or the meeting with your friend this afternoon. Once you get distracted it is important that you are not too hard on yourself. We all get distracted from time to time. Once you realized your thoughts are occupied with something completely different, just go back where you were and try to focus once again. Try to observe all thoughts that emerge, but without judging them. Simply acknowledge them, accept them as what they are. Don’t try to evaluate them, don’t try to read meaning into them. Don’t get worried and think “Why am I thinking about that now?” Simply accept your thoughts. Your thoughts are part of you. You should never have to apologize for having them. Accept their essence as what they are. Then focus again.
Sometimes you will be distracted more often than other times. Sometimes, there will be a baby crying in the neighbors flat with his dog barking, other times it will be completely quiet. Try to stay focused even with a lot of distractions around you. I have to admit that I myself am also struggling with that every single time. I can concentrate very well when it’s peacefully quiet. But when there is a lot of noise, or a lot of flies whirring around me I am losing my patience as well. It’s all a matter of practice, of course, but it does take time. I am sure that it will still take me a long time until a fly can dance around on my nose while I continue my meditation unbothered – and don’t even notice her anymore.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Now you might ask yourself: Why should I follow this practice every day? What’s in it for me? I can tell you, there’s a lot in it for you. I will only speak of my personal experience here as this is something I can explain in further depth. The following are the benefits I experienced. They might be slightly different for every other person. What I experience so frequently is that I always feel more at peace with myself after my meditation. As well as when I practice yoga, I feel more centered, more at ease with myself and the world. Meditating has helped me to become closer to my true self. If helped me discover what I want and where I want to go in the long run. In the short run, you cannot expect to sit down for 10 minutes and having all the answers to your questions afterwards. It will take a bit more time. However, it will lead you were you need to go. At least that’s what happened to me. Just the simple act of sitting down and focusing on your breath can bring such an intense clarity into your life. After a good mediation during which I was fully focused on the here and now I feel incredible afterwards. This is the ultimate goal of meditation. To be in the moment, in the present, not in the future, not in the past. To appreciate this moment and just this moment on its own. Purely. Truly. Gratefully. Once you appreciate this little moment for what it is, you will become incredibly grateful. For your life, for everything the world has to offer you. That’s the true beauty in meditation.
Forming a routine
Once you decided you want to follow the path of meditation, try to do so every day. Since I formed my routine of meditating every morning right after I wake up, I feel so much better in the morning. For me, it´s the perfect way to start out my day – peaceful and unhurried. I wake up a bit earlier than I need to every day. It’s just 15 or 20 minutes – but it does make a big difference. Meditating in the morning is beautiful. It is quiet and it´s way easier to focus than at any other time. When everyone is still sleeping, and the world is just slowly waking up you will find a certain, peaceful atmosphere which makes it easier to let yourself into the state of meditation. You feel the world is not busy so far, everything is just about to start. The quiet before the storm. And you are there to breath in the calmness the world has to offer you in this particular moment. It´s even more beautiful to meditate out in nature. In the morning, when it is still cold, when the sun is about to rise on the horizon. The perfect time to appreciate this beautiful moment. The perfect moment to take time for yourself, to show yourself that you love yourself fully and that you are willing to take this time just for you. This way of treating yourself is so simple, yet so important. Something only few people do nowadays living our busy lives in our busy world.
So, consider making letting mediation into your life. Remember, starting out might be hard, but there will be so many long – term benefits. You will feel more at peace with yourself and with others. You will feel more comfortable in your skin, more comfortable on your way. If you are a bit lost and don’t know where you’re going, it will become clearer with time. Meditation, as well as yoga, has helped me so much and is still changing my life for the better. That´s why I want to share this with you, that´s why I would recommend everyone to try it out as well. It will have effects on you you would never have imagined.