People are drawn to meditation for a variety of reasons. For some it is a spiritual path; for others a way to deal with stress, and still others have found meditation a valuable coping mechanism to deal with chronic pain. Whatever brings you to meditation, my hope is to provide you with tools and enough information to motivate you to give it a try for at least the next thirty days. The best way to learn a new skill is through basic instruction and plenty of practice. Learning to meditate is not difficult. It is pretty simple actually.
When I first began to meditate I loved reading about it, thinking about it, hearing about it – but the actual act of settling down to meditate? That was the hard part. So, although meditation is simple, it requires discipline.
My journey with meditation is not dissimilar to my experience with running. A little over 25 years ago I decided to start running. I began slowly, delighted to complete 12 minutes! I discovered it was never a question of being too tired to continue, it was the boredom factor! But I persevered and soon was running for 20 minutes. Today I run for at least 30 minutes most days. It is a habit and I enjoy it. On days I don’t feel like running, I challenge myself to see if I feel better or worse afterwards; I use running as an experiment. I have discovered I always feel better after a run.
And so it is with meditation. If I wanted to enjoy the benefits of meditation, I had to figure out how to make it a part of my life on a daily basis. I now consider meditation the foundation of my day – as critical as brushing my teeth! Here’s how I got started:
In 1998 I was formally introduced to meditation. At the time I had been studying something called A Course In Miracles, and had been trying, not very successfully, to meditate on my own. There are different methods, or techniques associated with meditation, but meditation is best thought of as a way of being. These hundreds of “techniques” simply orient us. As one of my teachers said, “There are many doors into this room.” We can spend an awful lot of time exploring different doorways instead of just sitting down and meditating! The door I initially entered through was Primordial Sound meditation, which is the practice used and taught by Deepak Chopra. The instructions were simple:
That was it! I agreed to commit to meditating 30 minutes twice a day for the next 30 days: first thing in the morning, and again late in the afternoon. It was truly a case of, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I had the desire and motivation to tackle the commitment.
A year later I found myself signing up for something called “Seduction of the Spirit,” an annual seven day meditation retreat led by Deepak Chopra. The weeklong retreat, held at a hotel on the San Diego Bay, included plenty of meditating, talks by both Deepak, and his business partner, Dr. David Simon, as well as an array of other speakers. Deepak was captivating extolling the benefits of meditation, describing how it raised your vibration. (What does it mean to raise your vibration, I wondered?) Deepak gave examples from his own life on the synchronicities, or coincidences that routinely occurred. He used words like “manifest” to describe the results of setting an intention, letting it go, and then watching what showed up when we open ourselves to the power of infinite possibilities, and pure potentiality. “In the gap between our thoughts lives the power of the Universe,” Deepak enthused.
I loved the magic Deepak described! I was hooked and wrote down the things I would like to show up. I wasn’t looking for a red Ferrari. What I was looking for was a peacefulness and ease to my life. I don’t think I realized this at the time, but what I wanted was to learn how to live in the moment, to welcome what showed up, to live with curiosity instead of fear, to align my choices with my values, to tap into my intuition and learn how to get in touch with the quiet little voice inside of me, that I had come to know as my soul.
Since entering meditation through Primordial Sound I have explored other doorways. A friend told me about a set of tapes she listened to that over time created neuro pathways in the brain similar to the pathways found in the brains of monks who had meditated for over 10,000 hours. I listened to those tapes for an hour twice a day for over a year. I spent a week at the Shambhala Mountain Center, a Buddhist Retreat, listening to Dharma talks, meditating for hours each day, spending most of the week in silence. I listened intently as Pema Chodrun, an American Buddhist nun, shared her wisdom. Her message was along the lines of, “Life is painful; nothing stays the same, change is inevitable. Embrace the pain, feel it.”
I preferred Deepak’s message of unlimited possibilities – whatever I could dream I could manifest, yet Pema’s message resonated with me as I grappled with personal challenges.
How do we learn to “just let it go”? How do we train ourselves to be an observer of our thoughts, and begin to understand we are not our thoughts? How do we learn to push the pause button and respond with grace, instead of reacting with anger?
Meditation has been that doorway for me. It isn’t about getting to some blissful state. When we take back control of our minds, we take back control of our emotions. Meditation is about learning to watch our thoughts, not empty our minds. We are thinking machines. Each day we have thousands of thoughts. In meditation we practice following our breath, as thoughts drift by, we notice them, and come back to our breath, over and over again. This is what changes our brain and increases our compassion and happiness. This is why monk’s brains look different than ours! It is the discipline of coming back to our breath every time we notice a thought.
Perhaps the passiveness of the Holosynch tapes I listened to religiously for over a year work for some, but for me, it is the active discipline of noticing a thought, and coming back to my breath over and over again that has translated to my ability to be mindful, to stay in the moment, to connect with myself.
Several years ago I attended a week long retreat led by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Jon is responsible for bringing a secular form of meditation to the U.S., and integrating it into the medical world. MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) is now taught around the world, and has given thousands of people the tools to live with chronic pain. Jon describes meditation like this:
“Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well.”
When I share meditation with people, we practice Jon Kabat-Zinn’s basic instructions for Mindfulness Meditation. I love sharing tips, motivating ideas, and thoughts I have gleaned from teachers and books I have read. Some things may not resonate with you. Choose the ideas that do and discard the rest. The Dalai Lama suggests starting with 5-10 minutes and build to a longer period, perhaps 20 minutes. You want to create a practice you look forward to, which is why it is best to start with a short period. If 5 minutes seems too long, start with 2. You make the rules.
Remember how I got started running? Sure, I could have read a ton of books and watched videos, but we all know running is pretty simple. Same with meditation. Just do it!