Whether you’re about to meditate for the first or 100th time, it’s great to ask yourself these basic questions: What is meditation? Why meditate? and How do you do it?
As you explore these questions, as I have for the past 27 years, you'll find that there are many answers from many sources, including what may be the most valuable one: your own experience. Without fail, the simple step of asking these questions can be a wonderful way to start or jumpstart your practice of meditation.
Part I of this post takes a look at the first two questions, offering a variety of answers along with some resources for further exploration. Scroll down to the very end of the article for instructions on three basic meditations of varying length to get you started (1 minute, and 2 methods for a 3-5 minute meditation). And stay tuned for Part II, which explores the various components of how to meditate.
Please share your own answers or questions in the comments below! We also invite you to explore this website and discover Inner Splendor's many different supports for your meditation practice.
~ text & illustrations by Lila Galindo
What Is Meditation?
Defined simply, meditation is the act or state of sustaining focus. This means that we are all natural meditators since without the ability to focus, no activity from driving a car to writing an article to listening to a friend would be possible. Knowing that meditation is already an innate skill, however untapped, can help demystify the practice and encourage even the most skeptical among us to give it a go.
Whether meditation is defined in the classic sense of “stilling the thought-waves of the mind” (Patanjali Yoga Sutra) or scientifically, as a sustained period of theta brain waves, the common denominator of any definition of meditation is that, in contrast to all other activities of wakefulness, we turn our focus inward rather than outward. In other words, meditation involves taking a conscious pause during the day to unplug from doing and tune into being. Whether the pause lasts for the span of a breath or for many minutes, that contact with the stillness and spaciousness inside ourselves, rather than the busy world outside of us, is meditation.
Because we frequently encounter a steady stream of thinking when we close our eyes and focus inward, the practice of meditation often comes down to how we deal with thoughts. One of the most helpful things to remember, is that we are normally moving so fast that we don't even realize that our thoughts are racing 100 miles per hour or faster. So just realizing that you're thinking, and then to actually separate the thought from your essential self, is a huge accomplishment!
Jon-Kabat Zinn, pioneer of Mind Body Stress Reduction (MBSR) defines meditation as the “process of observing the mind and body intentionally, of letting your experience unfold from moment to moment and accepting them as they are.” While this may not be easy to do at first, like any muscle, with regular use and gentle attention, little by little, practice does make it easier.
Whether you're building world peace by contributing your own stillness, or your doctor recommended meditation to help lower your blood pressure, the reasons for meditating are as varied as the people who meditate the world over. All reasons are valid, and my advice is to identify and then respect your own reason and that of others.
Whether your approach is Buddhist, scientific, or one of your own creation, be willing to explore what works for you and when needed, change it up.
It’s very likely that your own reasons will change over time as you discover the many dimensions of a steady practice, but the value of identifying your own intention for meditating is that it gives you an easy yardstick for noticing the benefits. At least half of a meditation practice consists in noticing its effects - not necessarily during the time you dedicate to the practice, but upon the rest of your day.
Surfacing your intention – for example, “today I am meditating to learn to still my mind” or “today I will meditate as a prayer that all beings be free from pain” and following through on our intentions not only helps us feel self-satisfied but increases the likelihood of meditating again. Personally, in the face of suffering, whether it’s a global disaster or a family challenge, taking a few minutes to be still has a mysterious way of creating space and releasing feelings of impotency.
Meditating for even a short while will get you to stop for a few moments. Few us of us run our cars or other prized devices 24/7; we let them rest and recharge. Similarly, our most valuable tools - our bodies and minds- need down time in order to serve us well.
Learning the art of pause by tapping into our most inner resources will reveal all the splendor within.
See these articles for more information and various techniques:
HeadSpace's Andy Puddicombe's video on the benefits of meditation
A round up of HuffPo articles on meditation.
Your brain on meditation:this Lifehacker article
Free Mindfulness Resources