Gianna Vallefuoco

One Small Shift Toward Stillness

Many of us are curious about the concept of meditation, but we may feel we’re not cut out for it or we don’t understand what the benefits could be. In fact, some non meditators have even expressed to me that it looks like “pointless suffering.” This misconception is often based on the idea that meditation is intended only for those who are naturally inclined to sit still. I assure you, I am not one who ever found stillness to be a natural or easy state.

Some assume meditation means having no thoughts, and knowing how to enter a deep state. That would indeed seem difficult for any of us who aren’t monks living in the mountains. Fortunately none of these traits is necessary for meditation.

Meditation is a practice for all humans. It is simply a deliberate training of attention, which benefits all who practice, especially the most fidgety people like myself. It is a practice of a shift toward stillness of mind. For those of us who live amidst real life stressors like work, other humans, and life’s expectations, then sitting still without thoughts would be near impossible. Meditation is not about achieving stillness, or any goal for that matter. Instead, it is based on the act of practice, which seems strange in a culture that often strives for an end game that’s close to perfection. Meditation values process over outcome. Meditation is about becoming the kind witness to your thoughts, not getting rid of thoughts. Meditation is a practice to quiet the mind, not to suddenly enter a trance.  In fact, in the Buddhist Psychology perspective, the “trance” is what is considered to be our warped perspective when we’re not present and connected to ourselves and others; a trance of separateness. When meditation becomes a regular practice, we learn how to move away from that trance. We begin to know ourselves better, feel more compassionate and connected to others, find a quieter mind, fewer thoughts, and even a calm mental state. These are natural consequences of regular meditation. This comes from practice.

To meditate, we embrace curiosity, not judgement.  We detach from outcome. We create distance from our thoughts and emotions, so we are no longer trapped in the stories of the mind. We repeat this distancing process over and over. This is the practice. As we meditate, we intentionally train the brain to create a habit or reflex of a gentle single focus. The brain has the capacity to change in response to repeated experience.  This ability is called neuroplasticity. The more we meditate, the more we are able to strengthen circuits in the brain to make meditation easier.

In meditation we can choose an anchor, such as our breath, to be our single focus. Each time a thought arises, we learn to release it and come back to the anchor. As we become more aware, we notice the thought arising, we can then name it, deeming it a “thought,” and releasing it. This is the ongoing process of quieting the mind, without judgement, with curiosity, and with compassion.  Self compassion is an important quality of meditation. Go easy on yourself as you meditate.

Remember; meditation is always a practice, and never a perfection. For this reason, meditation is truly for everyone. The most daunting meditation is often the first. The battle is getting your tush on the cush(cushion.) Once you’ve meditated even one time, you’ve begun the practice. You cannot fail at meditating. You can only fail to try.

If you’re ready to start, try a meditation app like Insight Timer or Headspace or join me in this short video INTRO TO MEDITATION WITH BODY SCAN.

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