An ancient practice stemming from many traditions, meditation has recently gained attention because science suggests that we can alter our brain chemistry by practicing regularly.
Many people are interested in meditating, but wonder if they can do it. How many times have you sat down and tried to just “empty” your mind, only to feel you couldn’t focus, and then quit, thinking you’re just not able to do it?
When people try to meditate, this is often what they do. But meditation is an advanced skill, one that comes with a lot of practice—and even so, it’s not for everyone. Its purpose is to achieve a quieting of the mind, and there are many methods, some of which may be more accessible to you and your particular personality. Before considering some of these methods, set yourself up for success by doing some groundwork:
- Identify your expectations of the practice and yourself, and be willing to “let go of the fruits of your labors.” In others words, focus more on the process than on the outcome or you will likely be disappointed.
- Be willing to try something for 30 days or so before giving up. It takes time to get something into a routine; five minutes a day at the same general time for a month will be more effective to start than trying to force yourself to find 45 minutes here and there.
- Seek a mentor, group, or retreat so that you can get feedback and share your experiences. Otherwise, you are likely to practice to your own neuroses and feel stale or even stuck.
According to Robert Butera, whose book Meditation for Your Life: Creating a Plan that Suits Your Style I am mostly drawing from, the many types of meditation can be reduced to six categories, which I’ll review briefly.
- Breath: Focus your attention on the sensations of breath—counting breaths, etc. This is a great way of stilling the monkey mind.
- Visualization/affirmation: Choose an image or series of images to focus on. Or you can sculpt an affirmation and repeat it aloud or silently. This category also includes loving-kindness meditation, a unique and beautiful practice.
- Mantra: Repeat a meaningful syllable, word, or phrase over and over. This can be soothing or even boring, depending on the person. It can also be vocalized or repeated internally.
- Devotion, prayer, and intentionality: This can be exemplified in many ways, but includes prayer to a higher power or to any other inspiring form, such as nature.
- Mindfulness: Allow the mind to be where it is in the moment without necessarily “buying into” the chatter. This technique can include walking or eating meditation. For example, walking and just taking in the feel of your feet against the ground and observing the subtleties of sights, sounds, and smells can be a great form of mindfulness.
- Contemplative inquiry: Choose a concept or question and explore it deeply. For example: “Why do humans suffer?”
Meditation can be invaluable to your life, but it will take time to develop a practice that works for you. Be patient and gentle with yourself … you may even have fun!
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