What even is medation?
There are many different ways to understand what meditation is, and what it is for. According to most lineages of Buddhism, meditation is for learning about the nature of the mind. That said, most contemporary, Western mindfulness traditions treat meditation as a practice that emphasizes relaxation and stress reduction.
Either way, meditation is a practice of awareness that trains the mind on a single point of focus. Along the way, we end up encountering all of the myriad thoughts, feelings, and experiences that show up on the way to that single point of focus.
Most of what we call “meditating” is really just dealing with those thoughts, feelings, and experiences, continually observing them, and setting them aside, while returning to the intended point of focus.
In our age of distraction, meditating is a profound practice. It can help us access an experience of peace that isn’t so easy to come by. Practising meditation is great for grounding, for gaining clarity, and for peacing out. It’s not the only way to self-awareness and consciousness development, but for most people, it’s a very good approach to learning about, and developing a relationship with, our inner selves (which is key for developing your intuition, trusting yourself, and loving your life).
How to actually meditate
First, find a time and place where you can have 10 minutes to yourself, without interruption. Contrary to the image above, you don’t need to be near a body of water, or overlook a beautiful view. You don’t need to be outside at all. For me, I sit on my unmade bed, propped up by a raggedy bolster. I’m not wearing special clothing or jewellery. Most often, I’m in my pyjamas.
Take care of basic needs, like going to the bathroom, or drinking some water if you are thirsty (hint: you probably are thirsty). I like to keep a cup of water nearby, for when I’ve finished my meditation session. Drinking or eating a little something afterwards is grounding; It signals to my body and mind that we are done with meditating for now, and to come back to ordinary consciousness.
Next, find a comfortable seat. Everyone’s body is different, so find a posture that works for you. Figure out how to sit with the least amount of resistance, but while keeping the spine straight(-ish). If you’re in a chair, put your feet on the floor. If you’re on the ground, floor, or a bed, sit cross-legged or in a kneeling position (tuck your legs under you and sit on your ankles – this posture is known as seiza in Japan, or as the yoga posture vajrasana). You don’t have to do anything special with your hands, but you can if you want. I usually rest my hands in my lap, or on my thighs. No matter how you sit, adjust your posture so that your heart sits over your hips, and your head over your heart. Settle in.
Once you are comfortable, tell yourself that you are about to meditate. Make a commitment with yourself that any tasks, worries, or distractions can wait for the next 10 minutes. Then, start to focus your attention inward. Close your eyes, or de-focus your vision so that you are not looking at anything.
Focus attention on your breath. Without changing the pace or depth of your breath, observe your exhale as it leaves the body, through the nose or mouth. As you follow the next inhale with your awareness, watch the breath as it moves up into the nostril, through the sinuses, down the trachea and then down into the lungs. Picture (or feel) the breath expand through the lungs, and then watch as the lungs deflate as the breath again moves out into the world.
Following the breath is, in itself, a complete meditation practice. Keep going. If you notice that your attention wanders away from observing the breath, simply return your attention back to the breath. Honestly, you might catch yourself being distracted a hundred times or more in a 10 minute session. That’s okay. That’s the practice. Just gently (and with compassion for your distracted mind) shift your attention back to the breath. No judgment!
If it makes sense and feels good to you, you can experiment with focusing your visual attention inward to the space up and between the eyebrows, and observe that space while you continue breathing. Or, you can focus your attention inward in the direction of the body. You can scan your body from head to toe with your inner awareness, noticing what you see, feel, and experience by visualizing your form, in space.
Throughout your practice, notice what you experience, but know that there’s nothing that is supposed to happen. When your practice is over for the day, tell yourself that your meditation is over for now. But – this is important – commit to coming back tomorrow. The benefits of meditation grow from the discipline of a consistent practice.
p.s. Don’t tell anyone, but I consider myself a ‘bad meditator’. There are some times when weeks or even months go by and I haven’t done it. But I always feel better when I do take the time to connect with myself on a soul level.
If you’re interested in learning how to meditate, or deepening your practice, make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter. That way you’ll be sure to receive an invitation when I start to lead regular meditation circles later in 2021!