Meditation is gaining popularity. As a result, there are many options for those who want to try meditation. As suggested previously we are starting by defining meditation as being with what is, which can be understood as meeting yourself where you are and exactly as you are.
In order to make things easier for ourselves, it is a good idea to let go of our expectations about how the practice should unfold as well as about the potential benefits we may receive from our practice. It may be more helpful to recognize that cultivating the skill of being present (meditation) is in itself a way of fulfilling our most important duty, showing up to our lives. In addition, being present also enables us to notice the distractions, limitations and restrictions that may be interfering in our meaningful engagement in our lives.
In other words, meditation, is a way of enriching the quality of our relationship with ourselves, with the people around us and with the world.
The following steps can be valuable in establishing a sustainable meditation practice:
- Keep it simple
- Distractions will happen
- Release self-judgement
- Persist gently
- Enjoy the effects
- Repeat often
Keep it Simple
Make it easy to practice. We do not need any special equipment to meditate. Just allocate some space that is ready so that we can take a brief meditation break whenever we get a chance. If we feel pressed for time, we can just start with a 1, 2, 3 or 5 minute practice. Consider if it would help to remember that this moment we are in is new and irreplaceable and that the moment will never come back or be repeated, therefore it makes sense to choose to give this unique moment our undivided attention.
Release. Let’s give ourselves permission to be here and trust that the world will be able to survive without us. Whatever is not part of this moment can remain outside, if only for the practical reason that we cannot be effective in a place we are not. To relax, we pay attention to the sensations in our body from head to toes or toes to head noticing if there are any areas where we can release holding or tension.
Feel the sensations, emotions and thoughts. We tend to spend a lot of time in our heads, thinking, remembering, planning, regretting, predicting, etc. Instead of living in the story we have created for ourselves (and others) we can choose to shift into feeling mode, just connecting to whatever sensations are happening right where we are. Be aware of the tendency to put words into the sensations. Rather than describing, liking, disliking or judging what we are feeling, can we just feel what is happening?
Observe what is happening and notice that whatever we sense is changing constantly. As we pay attention to the ongoing flow of sensations, thoughts, feelings and emotions we may notice that certain ideas, attitudes and memories emerge in our mind. Are we trying to label, describe, judge, like or dislike what we are feeling? Are those sensations keep changing from one moment to the next. As you stay with the ongoing flow of sensations, feelings, emotions and thoughts notice the words that might come up in your mind.
What is your attitude as you observe yourself in this moment? What happens if you invite a gentle smile? Does the experience change in any way? Is the change helpful and/or welcome? Is it possible to keep a gentle smile on your face?
When we recognize that this moment is changing contstantly it can be helpful to have an attitude of curiosity, noticing that there are many things happening as we remain still and silent. This curiosity can help us remain focused on being with the experience that is unfoding right where we are.
Distractions will happen
As a normal human being living in the 21st century we are probably well-practiced in keeping track of many ideas, thoughts, events and lists of things to do. We have trained ourselves to keep our attention switching back and forth between different activities and mental processes on a regular basis. So, it may not be surprising that we find it difficult to stay focused on just one thing. Even when we have chosen something interesting to focus on we find that our mind will get distracted sooner or later. In fact, we may get distracted many, many times. From this perspective, meditation is not a contest to see who can last the longest without any distractions. Instead, a very useful skill to develop is our capacity to keep coming back to this moment after every single distraction regardless of the frequency and length of the distractions.
As we bring our attention inwardly it may happen that we notice a familiar internal voice constantly offering judgements. For instance, that voice may immediately point out how we get distracted quite easily, maybe even going to the extent of deciding that we are not good at meditation. At those points, it may be helpful to remember that meditation is being with what is, even if what we are experiencing is distraction, boredom, impatience or frustration. Be curious to experience what happens when you give yourself permission to be free from your own judgement.
Just as it has taken a long time for us to develop our postural, mental, emotional and respiratory habits, cultivating the skill of being with what is, like cultivating anything that is valuable, will take time. The best approach is to persist gently, without any strain or struggle, at a pace that we can handle. One of the most valuable aspects of the practice is the capacity to keep coming back to this moment again and again.
Enjoy the effects
No meditation practice is wasted, even if it seems like we were constantly distracted throughout the whole session. Learning to validate our experience can free us to enjoy developing a more intimate and meaningful relationship with ourselves. Our experience is valid because we are having it, even if it doesn’t go according to our expectations. Enjoying the process, and its effects, is a good way to keep generating a positive change towards clarity and inner peace.
Look at any person who is good at something, it is highly unlikely that they developed all their skills overnight. Actually, what we will find is that increased quality results from persisting again and again in a systematic, conscious and deliberate way over a long period of time. So keep trying to dedicate a little bit of time to meditate as often as it is possible and with a gentle and friendly attitude towards ourselves and towards the whole process.
Put it into practice
Below is a 7 minute video that offers you a clear focal point to put these ideas into practice. Be curious to notice what happens if you try this exercise every day for one week or longer. Enjoy!
Simple guided meditation with Rubén