Now it could be my little social media echo chamber, but last year, it felt like there was a real shift, culturally, in terms of mental health related issues – in both how they’re spoken about and how they’re perceived. Whenever this topic is discussed, guaranteed, you’re only ever a hop, skip and a jump away from chat about meditation. Whether you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, dealing with stress, or if you just want to know what the fuss is all about, here are some initial thoughts on how to get (and keep) a regular meditation practice.
I mean, I don’t know your personal circumstances, but I do know from experience (as a student and as a teacher) that it is well within your power to shift your state and find calm and clarity through stillness, concentration and meditation. To really understand the benefits to be gained, you have to experience it first hand and like most things in life, if you want to see results, consistency is crucial. Start today and get it done.
It’s actually very simple to train the mind when it comes to the details of the work involved. That said, as humans, we complicate things in order to make our lives seem “fuller” and as a result, we justify doing something, anything, other than the work that will heal us. Fortunately, there are many solutions if you find it difficult to stick to your daily meds…
The aim of the game
We cannot control the outcome of anything really, but we can control our intentions. When meditating, the intention is not to stop the mind from thinking, but to provide stillness, space, and time for quiet reflection. That is it. These conditions enable us to engage with ourselves and it’s that link to the Self that is missing when we feel lost or overwhelmed.
Whatever your lifestyle, it’s so important to take time to come home to your true self and set the tone of how you wish to move through your existence. Without this, you can get swept up in other people’s s**t, taking on their stresses and concerns and in so doing, lose your connection to who you are.
Below are some thoughts and tips that will help you get into the zone and cultivate a daily practice. Because it needs to be daily. Don’t get me wrong, none of the work is wasted, but to really feel the benefit, it needs to become a regular part of your life.
First things first
There are many different types of meditation and over the coming weeks, we’ll explore a whole range of techniques. It’s important to know that whichever perspective you’re exploring, they all have one thing in common – concentration is at the root of all meditation. Concentrate on an object, a thought, a mantra, a sensation, a sound, your breath. Concentrate on anything and allow this concentration to focus the mind, clear the clutter and help you slow down. If you understand this principle and more importantly, if you practise it – you are well on your way.
Concentration in a digital age
The trouble is that our concentration spans really aren’t what they used to be – which is what I think makes this simple practice so difficult at times and also, so popular at the moment. We’re craving simplicity, purity and truth. As sophisticated as technology is becoming, we actually don’t need it to help us get back to these things.
It couldn’t be easier to begin your self-practice (it’s the commitment/discipline that’s the tricky part). Once you make the time, a good starting point would be to carry out the following exercise… Find somewhere cosy and sit comfortably. Set a timer on your phone for the amount of time you’d like to practise. Close the eyes and simply observe the breath as it enters and as it leaves the body. Notice the thoughts that pass through your consciousness. When the mind wanders (and it will), observe this fact and then gently return your focus to your breath.
Context is key
Wandering out into the expanse of the mind can sometimes not be the most attractive prospect – it can feel overwhelming, unachievable and more faff than it’s worth. It’s useful to give your meditation practice a framework within which to exist. Spend 30 minutes one day a week (Sunday evenings are perfect) to get your imaginary ducks in a row and think about how you want to feel during the week ahead, how you’d like to conduct yourself and where you want to place your focus. You can set a theme or intention that will help you stay dialled into your values and even create an affirmation or a mantra for the week ahead. This will give your practice context and also allow you to observe the shift in how you feel week to week.
This is incredibly useful in terms of helping you stick to a frequent practice. At the start of each meditation, articulate to yourself how you would describe your headspace, how you feel emotionally and how you feel energetically. You can write these words down, or even just clarify them in your mind. Once you have completed your practice, do the same again and make note of any changes. The practice really does work and once you begin to observe the ‘progress’, it makes it so much easier to commit to a regular basis.
The wonderful thing about the current popularity of meditation is that there’s a lot of support out there if you need some guidance. There are some brilliant apps, there’s plenty on YouTube/Instagram and there are also meditation classes and groups popping up all over the place. Get googling (ironic as I just declared the digital landscape overrated, no?) and start finding things that might supplement your own practice. You may need to try a few different approaches/sources before discovering what resonates with you, so be open-minded going into your endeavour.
Each time you sit down to meditate, you will experience something different. Sometimes it will be difficult to get into the groove of things, sometimes you’ll take the lift straight to the zen den. The point is to never give up. If you started learning an instrument, you wouldn’t expect every practice to be flawless – the principle for this is the same. Don’t give up if you hit a bum note or fail to find the rhythm. Make a commitment to listen to your heart, bring stillness to the body and give space to the mind. Every. Single. Day. This simple commitment will help you stay in tune with your true nature and your experience of life will be so much fuller. The answers always lie within.