ONE SIMPLE SHIFT TOWARD STILLNESS
Many of us are curious about the concept of meditation, but we often feel we’re not cut out for something so passive. In fact, the most common reason I hear for why people can’t or don’t engage in meditation is because it “sounds pointless.” This misconception is often based on the idea that meditation has no real benefits unless you’re naturally calm and good at sitting still. People also 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 principles is necessary for meditation.
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 a goal. Instead, it focuses on an intention, such as stilling the mind. This is a process and a practice, not an outcome. Meditation is about becoming the observer of your thoughts, not getting rid of thoughts. Meditation is about developing ways to quiet the mind, not suddenly entering a trance. In fact, in the Buddhist community, the “trance” is what we consider our warped perspective when we’re not present. When meditation becomes a regular practice, we learn how to move away from that trance. We can find a quieter mind, fewer thoughts, and even a calm mental state. Those are natural consequences of regular meditation.
To meditate, we simply seek some level of stillness of mind. We embrace curiosity, not judgement. We detach from outcome. We become the gentle witness of the mind. We just observe our thoughts and the emotions attached to those thoughts. We separate ourselves from our thoughts, so we don’t turn them into chains of thoughts or stories, in which we are trapped. We repeat this separation process over and over. This is the practice.
As we meditate, we intentionally train the brain to create a habit or reflex of finding stillness. 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 usually choose an anchor, such as our breath. Each time a thought arises, we learn to release it and come back to the anchor. As we notice the thought arising, we can tag it, deeming it a “thought,” and releasing it. This is meditation; 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.
Meditation is always a practice, and never a perfection. For this reason, meditation is beneficial for everyone. The most daunting meditation is likely the first. The battle is getting your tush on the cush (meditation pillow.) 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.