Learning how to meditate is deceptively easy. Many people can see the apparent benefits and say, ‘I know I should be doing this.’ But when the time comes, too busy, not in the mood, something else. So the time never actually comes. Here lies the problem. The first step towards meditation practice is to make a resolve. Perhaps dedicate five minutes every day. Five minutes just for you and your mind isn’t much. Compare it to approaching a diet. A theoretical diet will not work. It may be a little tricky in the beginning. But once the benefits become apparent, meditation, like a diet, becomes a valuable addition to life. You feel the diet bring health to your body. You will feel meditation bring health to your mind. It is for sure. You can rely on it. It is an intelligent thing to do
Before starting, inform yourself. It is easy to find information about meditation. Understand what you are undertaking. Be clear as to what you want to achieve. Set a modest, achievable goal and commit to it. Start with a week or a month. Don’t aim too high. Again, it is like a diet—no point starting unless committed to following through. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time, and it will be twice as hard to start again against the background of initial failure. Your mind is your greatest asset, take it seriously.
Often people start ambitiously only to find that their goals are unachievable. It is much better to create a modest, achievable time limit. Lack of continuity is the primary reason for failure. Meditation is essentially a habit, a good, beneficial habit like cleaning teeth. Approach it this way. Plant the seed and let it grow naturally, slowly in its own time. All sorts of excuses will come up. ‘I don’t have the time.’ Of course, you have the time. You have time for TV, play around with stuff, talk to someone—plenty of time for distraction. With meditation, you invest in yourself. Meditation is a form of self-respect. Meditation is the opposite of distraction.
We all know the world vibrates with action, everybody endlessly busy, crowds, noise, demands. How can one find a location to be still and quiet? It isn’t easy, and you need to be creative. If you want to find a place, you will find it. If you can’t find a spot, you are not looking. Make it your secret. Nobody else needs to know. If you disappear for five minutes, who cares?
Twice a day, you clean your teeth, and all the stuff you need is right there. You don’t search for a toothbrush or paste; no, it is all in front of you; you can find it in the dark, no problem. That’s how it has to be with meditation. Be organised. The chair, the cushion, maybe a candle, lighter, whatever you require, needs to be at the ready, familiar, in place. No time and energy wasted on peripherals, straight into it. That is the way it works best. Set yourself up simply but adequately. It works.
For meditation, a timer is indispensable. Without using a timer, your mind becomes preoccupied with the flow of time. It happens to everyone; maybe very experienced meditators don’t need timers. I don’t know for sure. Use a meditation timer app on your phone. Set a starting bell and an ending bell. That’s is all your need, and you can forget about time. The bell sound can be very soft so that only you can hear it. Avoid watching the time counting down. Put the phone out of eyesight to bypass this distraction. I have used Insight Timer for many years. It is easy to set up and free.
Meditation is a very personal activity. Not everybody will understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. A single negative comment can put you off. It is like planting a seed. One has to take care with a seedling. Protect it, feed it, keep it moist. A seedling has potential, but what is there to talk about when there is just a seedling? Protect your meditation effort just like you protect the seedling. Before talking about it, allow it to mature a little first.
The Tao Te Ching describes two states: thoughts and thinking. Thoughts are like the sky, and thinking is like the passing clouds. We can’t stop thoughts but can do something about thinking. Maybe it has always been like this, but certainly, thinking activity has the nature of addiction in today’s world. The wandering mind becomes very apparent during meditation. Thoughts become chains, chasing each other, building on each other. They evolve into self-perpetuating stories, addictive narratives. Be prepared. As it often has been said, the best way is not to struggle. Thoughts arise, let them; it doesn’t matter. Become aware of this thought, bring it right into your consciousness and then let it go. Concentrating on the out-breath helps. The in-breath comes automatically. Follow the breathing-out sensation. Feel it, hear it. The thoughts will disappear. Soon the next one will come. Engage and disengage. And so on. Progress will take a while. You have been thinking and thinking all your life. The mind doesn’t want to be still. Be patient and confident that you have control over your mind rather than your mind over you.
Many people feel compelled to fill their time with any old thing as long as there isn’t a gap. Time voids frighten people. They are confronting. ‘I am too busy; I waste time to do nothing.’ Think about it, are you actually doing nothing? You could say sleep is doing nothing? Can one do without sleep? Seemingly in sleep, one does nothing, but the body needs the rest to regenerate, stay healthy. Similarly, during meditation, body and mind are still. A lot happens in this stillness. It is like letting go of tension, relaxing the grip. Remember, the meditation state is natural. Nothing forces or manipulates. You are allowing your body and mind to find their natural state. It is impossible to do this in any other way. Consider it. Your meditation time is most productive. Just because it seems you are doing ‘nothing’ doesn’t mean nothing is happening. The contrary is true. Don’t kid yourself with silly excuses. You have the time.
Sometimes people compare meditation with relaxation, like having a drink. They sit and meditate a bit, relax and fall asleep. When this happens, it is almost the opposite of too much thinking. It is an escape. Remember your motivation. Why are you meditating? Drowsing off makes your mind dull and unresponsive. You want the exact opposite. Your mind needs to be sharp and alert. Utterly relaxed but fully aware. If you are tired, go and rest somewhere. It is not the right time for meditation. Of course, sometimes you may feel a little exhausted. Then check your posture, straighten your back, lift your chin. Bring back your attention to the breath. If your body is tight, get up, stretch and walk around the room a couple of times. If nothing works, then it may not be the right time for meditationg—it doesnt matter. Let it go and start again tomorrow.
There is nothing spectacular about meditation as there is nothing dramatic about brushing your teeth. One does it to maintain good health. Teeth will rot and decay without daily cleaning. What happens to your mind if you don’t look after it? Are your teeth more important than your mind? Is your mind under constant tension? What do you do to release this tension? Many times the things that you consider ‘relaxing’ do no more than mask tension and anxiety. During meditation, you don’t want other sensations. You don’t need entertainment. You don’t clean your teeth for enjoyment. Expect nothing of meditation, and something will come to you. Looking after your mind as much as you look after your teeth is a big step in the right direction.
Humans have lost the ability to be still. As stated before, modern life thrives on activity, action, seamless movement—no surprise the body reacting to the stillness meditation brings. When you sit still, the body responds to this new state. It messages with an itch, a tingle, a cramp or an irritation; it is a new sensation. Your body is so used to action it will need some time to adjust. The best thing is not to react instantly. Before you follow the urge to scratch:
- Give it a bit of time.
- Wait long enough, and the itch will pass anyway.
- Gently wrestle control back.
You are in charge of your body. Once your body gets used to a state of stillness, it will help you rather than hinder you. You can also rest assured that this type of irritation will disappear over time. Don’t hesitate to get up and walk around and stretch. Force nothing. Gentle direction without oppression is the right measure.
Some people endure a life of chronic anxiety. Calming down, standing still seems impossible. This permanent tension impacts their lives and relationships. Often medication is necessary. A commitment to meditation offers a natural alternative. You will need to have faith in the practice. You will need to have patience with yourself. Stick with it. Good results will happen faster than expected. It may take a little while, but the results are worth it.