The Practice of Meditation
What is my relationship to meditation? Well, as I am a yoga teacher, you may imagine that I'm an expert, that I am able to stop my mind from spinning at will? That when I go to sit on my cushion my mind suddenly stops chattering and birds sing and a rainbow blossoms over the horizon? Right? Wrong. I use my meditation practice not to shut out my mind, but to focus it, sharpen it, and often to lean into those intense emotions that are challenging to sit with; pain, confusion, uncertainty, sorrow, shame.
Most often students who are adverse to a meditation practice tell me they tried "it" once but they couldn't get their mind to shut up. How many of you out there are with me? Yeah I feel you. Most often our first brush with the practice of sitting still results in the mind taking over, hijacking whatever "peace of mind" you thought you might find within the promises of meditation. We take this first encounter as an epic failure and write ourselves off as not cut out for it.
This is where I tell you don't give up. The mind volume turning up like a belligerent chatter box inside of your head is part of the practice and completely normal. I guarantee that even the Dalai Llama has mind chatter when he sits.
I could proceed by rattling off a list of reasons why you should meditate; your doctor told you it would lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of cancer, heart attack and disease of every shape size and color. But you and I both know it doesn't matter how many reasons your doctor, yoga teacher, physical therapist, or your mother gives you. Like an obstinate teenager, you will dig your heels in, and flick it off your to-do list like an annoying fly.
Instead let's get practical with our approach to building your own practice. The key to meditation isn't having super natural powers, nor is it Voo Doo magic, and it does not need to be a spiritual practice. The secret is consistency; a daily habit and behavior, in combination with a willingness to look at your stuff (stresses, worries, to-do lists, perceived successes and failures) in the form of stream of consciousness from the lens of observation. This doesn't have to take place over an hour, or two. It can be a simple 2-5 minute daily practice. It can come in many different shapes and forms. Your meditation can be guided or silent. You can listen to someone else's voice or learn to chant your own mantra. There are several guided meditation apps that I would recommend: Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, just to name a few.
Try it. What do you have to lose? 2-5min out of your day? C'mon that's not a viable excuse. Put down the phone. Close the laptop and commit to a period of time to be with yourself. Below are 6 simple steps to get you started:
- Set your mind to experimental status; remember it doesn't have to be perfect, and your mind certainly won't be silent. Allow the thoughts to be there and float along with them observing what comes up.
- Start small. Set a realistic goal for yourself. For example 21 days for 2'' each day.
- Get help. Use a guided meditation, choose one of the apps above or record your own voice from a book or meditation you've heard before.
- Create space. Set aside a space in your home, or even a time of day. Perhaps you start with your morning commute on the bus to close down your eyes and listen to your recorded meditation. Ideally, overtime, you move towards a still place outside or inside, it doesn't matter which.
- Visualize yourself in meditation. What does your posture look like? What does your facial expression say about your internal state?
- Accept failure. Be willing to fail and start over again. We all have missteps along the way. Don't let one missed day be the thing that stops you from trying again and again.
So go, see what happens. And remember; "On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed. Even a little of this work will shelter you from great sorrow."
- Excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita.