To start meditating, you don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel, empty your mind or chant like a monk in Tibet at 5 in the morning. Nor do you have to learn Sanskrit mantras and sit like a statue for hours a day.
When I was first attempting to meditate years ago, I got so frustrated that I quit. Many times. I was at a place in my life that I desperately needed to shut off the world around me and be with peace and silence even for just 5 minutes. I needed to meditate like I needed air. Except, there was one problem: I didn’t know what how to do it; in fact, I didn’t even know where to begin. I thought, I just sit on the floor, sit in lotus position and shut off my brain for a while, right? Wrong.
First of all, that lotus thing? It turned out I couldn’t do it. Well, I could, but I had issues with my knees for which I occasionally took medication and when I sit on the floor Indian style (much less the lotus), it would take a certain amount of time, effort, and….pain…to uncurl my legs to their normal position again. So, like any self-respecting, innovative thinking person who invented something and sold it on a home shopping channel, I thought: There’s got to be a better way! And, like a determined 21st-century spiritual truth seeker searching for answers, I turned to the wisest teacher I know—Google.
As I went through the endless information that my “guru” gave me, I quickly found out that the inventors of meditation (and yoga, but that’s another story), when they came up with this fabulous practice, did not think about me. (I know, right? How selfish of them!) One tip I read was to imagine locking up my thoughts in a vault and wrap it in chains. But my thoughts escaped that vault faster than Houdini. Clearly, that did not work for me.
To make the long story short, I was determined to learn how to meditate and so I decided that I would try different things and see what worked for me. And I want to share this with the intention that, if it could help just one person get started with meditation and integrate it in their life, then the angels in heaven may sing hallelujah. Mission accomplished (not quite).
I will not go over the benefits of meditation here as I’m pretty sure my guru can point you in the right direction for that. But I do want to describe meditation as I understand it because people (by people, I mean my husband) use the word meditation as if they know what it’s about only for me to find out later that they had no idea what they’re talking about.
To om or not to om
When I searched for the definition of meditation online, some of them are so deep and convoluted it made my brain hurt. So, I’d like to define this in my own way, through my own experiential understanding of it, in plain English. In my simple terms, meditation is a process of directing the chaos in your mind to experience a silent, calm and focused state where you no longer react to and engage with your own thoughts or be affected by what’s going on around you.
The most common misconception about meditation is that you need to empty your mind or switch off your thoughts entirely. This is where most people give up because…well, guess what?...that is not even humanly possible. Not even the Buddhist monks (well, maybe some of them) can clear their mind entirely. The mind is there to think, whether in controlled analysis or drifting reverie. So how exactly do you “calm” your mind if not by turning off the tap from which all thoughts come?
Simple: I use the Cesar Millan technique. Yes, the dog whisperer actually had the answer all along. He said that one way to get a dog to redirect its attention and excessive energy is to give it a job—a task on which it can focus. You might be saying, “My mind is not a dog. That’s insulting!” But that’s the simplest way to describe meditation—you give your mind a job—something to focus on, like your breath, certain parts of your body, saying a mantra, the senses¾instead of it planning your outfit for when you become a guest at Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday or imagining the day you finally meet Channing Tatum and declares you as his soulmate.
It doesn’t mean that your mind will not drift away because it will. So, what do you do when thoughts, sounds or other distractions break your focus? This is the part where you then ‘observe your thoughts,’ meaning, when the thoughts come in, you don’t engage them. Say for example you are focusing on your breath and being still and you hear your stomach rumbling. You think to yourself, I’m hungry. You then let it go and get your focus back, instead of thinking, Hmmm…I’m hungry. What am I in the mood to eat after this? Oh no, I forgot to buy some bread. I better hurry, the store closes soon! That reminds me, I’d better get on my to-do list. Oh god, I have so many things to do! Do you get the idea?
The thoughts will ebb and flow and those ‘ebb moments’—the silent gaps where your mind is focused and still—is where inner peace resides. And if you make it a regular practice, you become more skilled at directing your thoughts instead of letting them escape from you like a runaway train, and those gaps stay longer than the thoughts that interrupt them.
Sit, lie, stand?
This is so fundamental you’d think it’s self-explanatory. You’ve probably often seen meditation represented by that all-too-familiar lotus position. But guess what? What they don’t show you are the other ways that some people do it. In reality, some people (and by some people, I mean me) might have back issues that they cannot sit down without proper back support; or like I mentioned earlier, there might be something problematic with their knees; and others simply will not be comfortable or even able to sit on the floor (enter chair yoga).
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting or lying down or hanging from a trapeze as long as it puts you in a place of comfort that enables you to focus. One might argue that lying down would not be a good position to meditate because you might fall asleep. That could happen. But it could also happen while you’re sitting down. Heck, I know someone who can fall asleep standing up. I once fell asleep with my torso on the couch while my legs were hanging off it supported only by my feet on an ottoman. True story. I have a picture to prove it.
The bottom line is, you find a position that works for you, whatever gets the job done. Don’t get too caught up in the “rules” and the “proper way” of doing it. Just like any other skill, you get started at your own level and take it one step at a time. Start with five minutes a day and then build up on that. You don’t have to do it for hours on end—15-20 minutes is usually enough, but you can stretch it if that’s what you want. It takes patience, perseverance and dedication but in the end, you will reap the most wonderful benefits that you could ever imagine and perhaps experience inner transformation you never expected to happen in your life.