Modern technology is great but it really takes its toll on us as human beings. Our cell phones are practically surgically attached to our hands. We spend long hours working. We spend every day constantly texting, tweeting, emailing, or responding to constant pings of notification. Our minds never rest from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep at night and let our subconscious take over again. To live in the modern world is essentially to live in total and complete chaos 24 hours a day! No wonder so many of my clients are often stressed out. Fortunately, meditation is something simple we can all do to counteract the modern chaos.
There are innumerable sources that can teach you how to meditate. “The Meditation Bible” by Madonna Gauding is a nice, accessible yet comprehensive source that I recommend. It covers many types of meditation as well as the “how to” aspect of them. And I believe truly understanding and believing that our “self” is not our body, our emotions, or (especially) our thoughts is the easiest way to achieve the greatest benefits of meditation. I strongly recommend books by Eckhart Tolle such as “A New Earth” to help understand that concept deeply.
But outside of the basics I often hear people say they have tried meditation and it didn’t “work”. Or they couldn’t clear their mind. Or they were instantly uncomfortable with being truly alone with themselves. (And how sad is that if you think about it?). So I decided to share some of the key tips that I find work best for me to get the most out of meditation.
1. Set Expectations
While I am a big believer that meditation can benefit everyone, it is important to understand it is not an instant fix for everything in your life! What many meditation guides often don’t tell you is that meditation results can be subtle and only seen with time. If you go into meditation expecting to be the happiest, healthiest, most centered person in the world every minute of every day, you will likely be quickly disappointed. You will spend the entire time you are meditating thinking “This isn’t working! I’m doing it wrong! This is a waste of time!”. A better approach may be to commit at least 10 minutes every day (preferably 20-30 if you can) for 3 months. Don’t analyze results day to day, or even week to week. But after 3 months look back and see if you feel better off overall than you did before you started. Not that particular day or week. But are you a calmer person? Are you better able to deal with stress? Is your health improving? Do you feel better about yourself? More intuitive? Do you have greater insight into yourself? Have your relationships improved?
2. Leave Roles Outside
While I highly recommend dedicating a small room to your meditation practice, even if that is not possible this next tip still works metaphorically. When you find thoughts about the past or future churning around your head – and virtually all thoughts will be about one or the other – consider the role you are playing in it. Then commit to gently leaving that person outside your meditation area. So, if Lisa is meditating and starts to worry about her kid’s getting to school on time, Lisa would calmly remind herself “I am going to leave Lisa the mother outside this room until I am done meditating.” Next, she might start to get angry about something her boss said to her yesterday that made her feel small. So she will think “I am going to leave Lisa the employee outside this room until I am done meditating.” Then “I should probably pick up some groceries this afternoon” and she can gently tell herself “I’m going to leave Lisa the homemaker outside this area until I am done meditating”. This allows you to give yourself permission to be your essential self: the true soul that lies at the heart of each of us. This is the you that you want to be in touch with when you meditate! And I find this is a great way to understand what it feels like to be in touch what your higher self.
3. Eliminate Distractions
Every book will tell you this one but in our overstimulated lives this simply cannot be emphasized enough. This is especially important at first when meditation is new to you. Later on, you’ll become more used to blocking out distractions. But at first it may take a nice pair of earbuds and some calming music. I highly suggest instrumental music – the kind you hear in spas, some yoga classes, or when you get a massage. Try some beforehand – anything that makes you feel calm or relaxed. No matter what is going on around you, if you hear calming music and can close your eyes for a little while it will become easy to go inward into a meditative state. Leave that cell phone off or in another room. And if you can get up just a bit before the rest of your household rises, once you adjust your sleep schedule accordingly you’ll find remarkable peace in starting your day this way.
4. Just Breathe
If you find you are distracted or having too much trouble getting into a relaxed state, always remember to come back to the breath. Sometimes all your meditation will consist of is deepening and slowing down your breathing and that is just fine. Keep focusing on that and count to 5 on each inhale and exhale as a way to keep your mind occupied if you need. There are all kinds of meditations and methods but it all comes back to this in the end. Without this one, nothing else works.
Peace and light.