A Beginners Guide To Meditation: I will not start this article talking about what meditation is or how it is beneficial to you. There are tons of articles out there on that topic. However, I found that it was rare to see articles on the actual practice of meditation itself and how to overcome the challenges everyone comes across as they begin their journey of meditation.
This article tries to address those challenges.
I had started my meditation journey around three years ago. Relatively speaking, it is quite a short journey. I do not pretend to have gained any expertise in meditation. However, I do believe I am making progress and would like to share tips and techniques that I had learned or discovered.
Challenge #1 – Lack Of Time To Meditate
The first challenge most people face when they begin their journey of meditation is finding time to meditate. Initially, I found every excuse under the sun not to have time to meditate. I could not meditate early in the morning because I felt groggy from sleeping late the previous night. Or I would have some urgent work that I needed to complete. Everything else felt more important than meditating.
Meditation is essentially an exercise in trying to neutralize the ego. When our mind realizes this, it will come up with all sorts of reasons to not sit down to meditate.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to make a conscious commitment to just sitting down every day – even if it for two minutes. Do not think of it as meditation. Just sitting and breathing. When you sit down and breathe for a few minutes every day, you will slowly find that you are not as apprehensive about meditation as you started out with.
Challenge #2 – Too Difficult To Just Sit
Another big challenge one comes across when starting out is the feeling of not being able to just sit without doing anything. The concept of just sitting may sometimes feel alien to us. It would be considered as wasting time. Our culture has drilled it into our consciousness. This may also be perceived as impatience. As we sit and breathe, our mind will constantly tell us to stop and get up. We start to fidget and be tempted to look at the clock.
To overcome this challenge, I started to count my breaths. Start at one and count to ten. Then start over from one. Do not force your breaths to match your counting. Instead, count the breaths as they happen naturally. Breathe naturally and fully. Learn to breathe into your belly.
Challenge #3 – Impossible Not To Think
It is an accepted notion that the purpose of meditation is empty the mind of thoughts so that we can connect with our inner self. So, the beginner practitioner of meditation attempts to empty the mind by force. That does not work. You can not use your mind to stop your thoughts. It is like trying to use your hand to twist itself.
Over hundreds of sessions, I came to realize that thoughts will slowly start to cease if I did not engage them. For instance, as I sat, a thought about a particular client may arise. I would then start thinking about what I should say in an email to this client the next day. I may play out a possible scenario where I have a conversation with the client and what I would say to them. This is engaging the thoughts.
Instead, I learned to recognize a thought and then go back to my breathing. The mind would pull me back and try and show me the scenario. I simply would recognize that and then say to myself “so how is my breath doing” which took me back to my breath. I would feel the breath and my belly extending and then feel the out breath and the belly contracting. A couple more times.
This way, with practice and patience you will slowly start to let go of thoughts. But as I mentioned before, you can never have a state of mind completely devoid of thoughts. There is the notion that Buddha perhaps had this complete void but I doubt that since there is no written evidence that Buddha said anything about a completely empty mind.
Challenge #4 Relaxing While Meditating
People are so caught up with the preconceived notions of meditation and the expectations of what one should do during meditation that they tend to forget one of the fundamentals traits of meditation – to relax. Relaxing the mind is tied to the previous challenge about not thinking.
The key to right meditation is relaxation – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Imagine for a second that the gravity of life – the burdens of responsibilities, of desires, of sadness, of joy, of anything and everything that you experience in life – is pulling your spine downwards towards the Earth. Much like Earth’s gravity. Relaxation in meditation is akin to sucking up the energy in your spine away from the Earth and towards the top of your head and away into the sky.
You may think that this metaphor adds another layer to the expectation of what should be done during meditation and create the opposite effect – one of anxiousness. You are right in thinking that.
When I talk about sucking up the burden of life through the spine towards your head, I do not mean in a concentrated and focused way. I simply mean mentally letting go of things so that you do not feel the crushing weight of the burdens dragging your soul down the spine.
To relax during meditation, simply again focus on the breath. Start counting the breaths. Feel the abdomen rising and falling. Do not force the breath but rather let it flow naturally. Feel the air flow in your nostrils. Don’t consciously try and breathe.
Relax your body slowly. Starting with the feet and then slowly moving up the body. Relax the muscles of your back and your chest. Then your arms and shoulders. If you doing Zazen (sitting meditation), you may slump a little when you are letting go of the tension in your shoulders but that is ok.
If you are meditating lying down, then you will feel yourself melting into the ground. Just be careful you do not doze off into sleep!
Relaxing is very important not just during meditation but also during every waking moment of your life. You can achieve this by being in the moment. When you are in the moment and you are not thinking about the past or the future, you will not be anxious. Your body will be relaxed.
Challenge #5 – Letting Go Of Illusion
This one may throw a curve ball at you. Letting go of illusion may sound like spiritual mumbo-jumbo. But letting go of illusion is one of the fundamental tenets of meditation.
So what is this illusion I speak of?
People think that what they see around them and what they think about the world is the reality. But that is quite far from the truth. Most often we often see the world as we want it to be.
Here is an example to illustrate the point: in a dark room, you may look at a rope and think it is a snake. Or you may have had a small argument with a co-worker at work and then you come home and constantly think about what the other person may be thinking about you or perhaps planning to do. In reality, the other person may be sleeping or doing something else and not thinking about you at all.
When you are meditating, let go of all thoughts that may be prompting you to react. A bill that was not paid – thoughts of penalties associated with that. A task that was not completed – thoughts of your client asking for a refund. Anything that troubles your mind and creates anxiety is not reality. That is just your mind “ego” creating stories to scare you.
Reality hardly ever corresponds to the myriad of things that your mind may be showing you. When a loved one does not call or is not reachable when out at night – this creates a ton of morbid stories in our minds. Always the worst case scenarios. But usually, nothing bad is happening at the moment of your thoughts.
Let go of the illusions your mind is spinning and look at things as they are.
I hope you found these beginners guide To meditation addressing these challenges insightful and hopefully they would help you with your meditation journey. Leave a comment below of your experiences.