What is meditation?
In everyday life, your mind is constantly processing a barrage of information, sensation, visual impressions, emotions and thoughts. Meditation helps train your mind how to limit the stimuli bombarding your nervous system, calm your mind, and make you like a pimp who got her thoughts under control.
The word meditation doesn’t have a single concrete meaning. At the present time this word is used to describe a variety of activities and mental states but the act of meditation has existed since time immemorial in one form or another in every culture in the world.
In the most basic sense, meditation is the process of focusing your attention on a particular object- generally something simple like a word or phrase, a candle flame or a geometrical figure or the coming and going of your breath.
Your mind is your most valuable asset. Your judgements about things can make you happy or miserable, successful or broken, energetic or lifeless. As A.R. Bernard puts it, “the quality of your thoughts determines the quality of your life”.
Meditation increases the presence of mind, which we use to recognize thought and behavior patterns that are bad for us and calmly redirect ourselves to thought and behavior patterns that are good for us. In a biological sense, it is restructuring the density and connections of various brain regions associated with attention, body awareness and perception just like how routine exercise changes the physical state of the vascular and muscular systems.
Aside from the many scientific benefits of meditation, it will also equip you with four skillsets that you can use in all spheres of life. Let’s dive into it!
- Focusing- Meditation improves
your ability to focus. Focusing means that you can narrow down your
attention on anything, and sustain it there, ignoring distractions. It’s quite
evident how the ability to focus is essential in all spheres of life: career,
education, finances, and performance. We live in times of constant distraction.
Our attention span keeps getting shorter and our mind easily gets dispersed
everywhere. Focusing allows you to:
- be more present in your daily activities, rather than getting lost in your mind
- be a better listener and communicator
- not fall into the trap of multitasking, enabling you to become more time and energy efficient
- enjoy your life more
- When there are competing voices in your head (such as the voice of fear and the voice of confidence) you can shut off the unwanted voice and focus on the voice that is most empowering to you.
- Zoom out- Meditation can also improve your ability to get perspective. It’s the ability to not get sucked into the emotional and mental stuff. It’s the ability to view the world with clarity and serenity.
There are times when we don’t want to focus on something because they can get overwhelming and messy. Maybe it’s a traumatic incident from your past, or an addictive emotional pattern such as victimization or negative self-talk. Perhaps everything is going well with your day, until someone says something that triggers you to fall off the wagon of confusion, anger, and doubt. Or maybe it’s just your thoughts bullying you into interpreting things through the lenses of fear and pessimism. In situations like these, zooming out comes in handy. It frees your mind, allowing you to see the bigger picture. It won’t stop those pesky thoughts and feelings but meditation can help reclaim your attention by removing it from that thought-funnel.
- Pause- As the world becomes more and more autonomous, we become the product of our environment. We react, rather than respond. In this mode, we are acting on the loudest impulse in our heads. We’re reproducing our past conditioning.
Living a creative and fulfilling life requires just the opposite. It means to be intelligently present in the moment, acting fresh. For that, the ability to pause is essential.
Pausing gives you space to:
- Prevent you from acting on anger or other destructive impulses that ruin relationships and lives. (In a way we can say that when pausing is absent, regret takes its place.)
- Break bad habits
- Find clarity about what’s really going on
- Make wiser decisions based on the needs of the moment
- Re-align your actions in life to your core values
- Think less, worry less, and be more
Reacting without thinking is easy – it’s the path of least resistance. Pausing is harder – it’s a skill that needs to be trained, a virtue to be developed.
- Change channels- The powers of pausing, focusing, and zooming out come together as the ability to “change channels”. Think of your mental world as a TV with several channels. Some of them are informative, entertaining, or useful. Others are full of bad shows, even though you might find them addictive.
The problem channels that you despise randomly pops up and doesn’t even allow you to mute them. Sometimes you try to change the channel, but after five seconds you find yourself back to the old channel. The more you develop the abilities to pause, zoom out, and zoom in, the more you fine tune your remote control. As a result, your favorite channels get more screen time, and the crappy ones end up being discontinued due to lack of attention. The formula for changing the channel is:
- Notice that a channel that you don’t like has come up. It could be fear, anxiety, self-hatred, etc. Sometimes labeling the feeling can be helpful.
- Pause it. Breathe in and take a step back. Don’t fight with it, but rather realize that you don’t really need to be watching it.
- Zoom out. See the bigger picture – your consciousness is larger than this thought/emotion. Let the thought be there, but realize that you don’t need to zoom into it.
- Switch channels, and then powerfully zoom into a more helpful or enjoyable channel.
This is changing channels. It is a natural exercise of control over your attention – reclaiming the power to decide where it should be focused on. It is not repression, and doesn’t involve any self-violence.
In meditation this ability is trained every time we gently return our attention back to our chosen object.
How to Meditate?
First off, you have to pick a standard time in your day you can regularly designate as your time to meditate. It should be a time you can find a quiet place, without distraction or interruption.
If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to meditate for long. Just five minutes a day is a great place to start. If that’s too much, you can just start with two minutes. Also, be sure to set a timer before you begin. Time tends to slow down when you’re meditating. A five minutes meditation would seem like an hour.
For a quick taste of meditation, here are five steps you should follow:
1. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably with your back relatively straight.
2. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and relax your body as much as you can.
3. Choose a word or phrase that has special personal or spiritual meaning for you.
4. Begin to breathe through your nose, and as you breathe, repeat the word or phrase quietly to yourself. You can whisper the word or phrase, subvocalize it (that is, move your tongue as though you’re saying it, but don’t say it aloud), or just repeat it in your mind. If you get distracted, come back to the repetition of the word or phrase. (If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, by all means breathe through your mouth instead.) As an alternative, you can rest your attention on your breath as it comes and goes through your nostrils, returning to your breathing when you get distracted.
5. Keep the meditation going for five minutes or more and then slowly get up and go about your day.
Apps that can help as you embark in your meditation journey:
Here are 5 resources that may help with guided meditation:
- UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center – Simple and effective mindfulness guided practice.
- Ohio University guided meditations – a variety of styles to try.
- UC San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness – a list of long and short guided meditations.
- A compilation mostly mindfulness audio and guided meditations.
You are now ready to begin your meditation practice. Moving forward, if you want to establish meditation as a habit (as you definitely should), you should start small and be patient, never miss three days in a row, don’t quit just because you think it’s not working and stick with the same routine. Meditation is a way to still the mind. A lot of today’s problems; depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, stress, etc. are all due to the superfast pace of our lives. If the mind doesn’t sit still for a while, it can’t stay healthy. Meditation also goes well with a healthy lifestyle and will help you develop an overall healthy and spiritual lifestyle that will ensure that you remain stress free and live life to the fullest.
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