Many things have shaped my life, but one stands out from the rest. I started learning to sit still over four months ago, and now I can’t stop.
Meditation has been around since the beginning of recorded time. Buddha taught that sitting quietly was the key to understanding life. However, having its roots in spirituality has in my opinion, tainted it’s perception to many as a Zenful act that only the spiritual ‘woo woo’ do.
From a realist’s perspective, there is nothing spiritual about meditation in itself; it is quite simply the act of learning to sit still and understand your mind. While many do use meditation as a spiritual process, I think for its broader adoption dissociating the two is important.
So just sit still hey? You might be thinking that meditation sounds like detention back in school, but it’s far from it. At first, it may seem laborious and ineffective, but that is only because your mind is so accustomed to it’s unrestrained and fickle nature. After thirty days of daily meditation, I assure you, reverting back seems absurd.
Part of the barrier to adoption is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to start meditating and no way of understanding if you’re doing it right. This is, unfortunately, part of the quirks of meditation; it is a very general description for quieting your mind and reflecting.
Ok so we get what it is but how is it life changing? The biggest and most notable benefit from regular meditation is clarity of mind. There are several scientific studies showing that decision-making abilities are improved from meditation. There’s no magic in this; your mind is clearer so you can better see the problems and hence choose better solutions.
Another perk of meditation is awareness of how your mind works. As you spend time sitting quietly with your mind and watching your thoughts from the outside in, you start to understand where the everyday feelings that drive your life come from. You sit back and clearly see the tension between you and your co-worker is partly driven by jealousy on your behalf. Or that your passive aggressiveness to your partner is because you’re feeling devalued. When you look at your mind from the outside in, it’s easy to identify these emotions and judge them from a rational viewpoint and act accordingly.
I’m not saying that people who meditate don’t get jealous. I’m saying people who meditate see the jealousy that arises from a situation, but don’t let it drive their actions. There is a great quote by C.G Jung which relates well to this:
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will guide your life and you will call it fate.”
This quote captures the essence of meditation, looking into your mind and understanding the thoughts and emotions that sit within so that you can make more informed decisions in life.
For myself, meditation has brought more than just clarity of mind & self-awareness. It’s changed how I view life. Meditation helps me slow down my brain and hence live a more present life. This means appreciating the wonder of each day and hence finding happiness through inner peace. This is why meditation is usually paired with gratefulness exercises because as you clear your mind and become more present, you begin to see how fortunate and beautiful your life is.
Not only does slowing down improve your happiness but in this modern day of ultra-connectedness slowing down is the only way to stay human. I love my work and often spend more than twelve hours a day doing it. What I’ve learnt from countless burnouts is that whatever you do, it has to be sustainable. Learning to slow down the time when I’m not working through meditation and marvel in the wonders of life is my way of achieving this.
Talk and ideas without action are useless. So here are some practical steps on how to start meditating:
Sit upright in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for 10 minutes. You don’t need any special pillows but somewhere soft like carpet makes it easier.
Sit in a relaxed position, crossed legged if you like, with your arms relaxed in your lap. Overlap your fingers and touch your thumbs into a V shape or simply place your hands on your knees.
Simply relax your eyelids and allow them to close 90% of the way so that they are open a little slither. If you find that your eyelids are flickering that’s ok, as you learn to relax your whole body will calm down.
Close your mouth and take in long deep breaths in and out through your nostrils. Focus your mind on the air rushing through your nose, this will help you clear your mind. A technique that worked well for me is imagine breathing in through the left and then out through the right nostril, alternating as you go.
Now with your eyes virtually closed and your breathing long and slow, quieten your mind. The purpose of meditation is to look at your mind as a third party bystander. If you try and block your thoughts it won’t work, instead, think of your thoughts as if they were floating past on a river. As they come in, let them go out.
Some people use mantras in the same way as they use breathing; to focus on something very simple and repetitive to stop their mind jumping to other thoughts. You can use one of the common ancient Hindu mantras or any short calming phrase. I sometimes use: “I am here now, present in this moment.”