WHAT YOU READY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MEDITATION
Article by Jenny Arrington
We’ve all had someone tell us, “You should meditate!” with fangirl enthusiasm. It can seem like a chore, a nuisance, or just one more thing to add to the “to-do list.” So why should we meditate? Really, why?
You may already know all the physical health benefits. Meditation has been proven through scientific study to lower tissue inflammation, (which we know is the source of many diseases), lowers blood pressure, improves sleep quality, decrease the symptoms of alzheimer’s, help release addictions, alleviate depression, and soften the grip of anxiety.
Is that not compelling enough?
If you feel invincible and aren’t worried about any of the above, you may be happy to know meditation helps still the crazy fear thoughts and “I’m not good enough” mantras that are constantly swirling around your head.
Many of us allow our fear-based thoughts to drive our body and spirit, taking the lead on our life’s path. Meditation helps us put our spirit, our highest self, our true essence untouched by ego and fear, back in the driver seat.
Why bother putting our fears in the back seat?
The Dalai Lhama said, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
I believe this to be true. If we all were able to watch our crazy thoughts as an unattached observer and not get carried away, there would be a lot less anger and fear fueled violence.
Meditation stills the tumultuous waters of our mind (wavy, frothy, and kicked up with silt), so that we can’t really even see what’s going on. When a storm stops and water becomes still, we can go snorkeling and see clearly with hundreds of feet of visibility. When our mind stills, we can see everything that’s in there clearly.
The goal of meditation is not to eliminate all thoughts, it’s to not let the thoughts control us. Seeing what’s going on in our head clearly is the first step to contentment, happiness, and joy.
We may see a bunch of “I’m not good enough” thoughts, fear-based thoughts, while in meditation, but we can practice gently releasing them and coming back to the focal point, whatever that may be. This trains us to have control over our thoughts and not get carried away with them.
Once you’ve got a handle on those thoughts, we can start to experience some really amazing things in meditation. We start to connect with our highest self, our spirit, our soul.
Then we start to connect with the infinite source of creativity and the collective consciousness. All of that may sound crazy, hard to grasp, and incredibly esoteric. I promise that with some time practicing meditation, these things will begin to come into focus.
I’ll let you in on something that not many people know: There are hundreds of ways to meditate. The breath doesn’t always have to be the focal point. Anything can be a focal point, your pulse, a clock ticking, the sound of a gong, or even a jackhammer. The key to meditation is just choosing a focal point, or two, then continuing to come back to them when the mind starts to wander.
When you notice you’re thinking thoughts, you gently release them and come back to your chosen focal points. By practicing releasing them, we practice not being attached to them, and not letting them trigger certain feelings, or actions.
We can pretty good at this through meditation and then we are out engaging in the world, we can do the same thing. We don’t get carried away into fear, anxiety, or depression because we were triggered by something.
We can just say, “Oh, I see you, fear thought.” And even if we begin to start feeling fear, or it triggers new fear thoughts, we can still stay in that position of the observer, unattached.
There are even more ways to meditate. Pranayama (breath practices) can be meditations, chanting mantras can also be meditations. There are countless mantras and pranayama to choose from so there is really something for everyone. It’s worth trying all sorts of ways to meditate to figure out what resonates with you in the most compelling way.
What’s the best way to start? I highly recommend using guided meditation when starting out. I like the apps, Headspace and Calm, but the best is to go to a class with a good meditation teacher.
A good local meditation teacher may be hard to find so it’s ok to start with the guidance on Headspace or Calm.
They also have little illustrated videos before their meditations that help explain the concepts really well. (I’m not paid by Headspace. They don’t have a clue who I am) Another solid choice is to find your local Kundalini Yoga studio and take a Kundalini Yoga class. Built into every KY class, there is always meditation, and most likely it will involve chanting.
Every savasana has gong or crystal bowls too. Kundalini Yoga provides access to the most diverse array of meditations.
If you’re on your own without class or an app, a quick trick is press your index fingers into your thumbs and feel your pulse, then add a mantra, mentally vibrating it repeatedly to the beat of your pulse.
I use “Sat Nam” which comes from the Kundalini Yoga lineage and means “true spirit” or “true name”, calling to mind your highest self and your true purpose. The focus on the pulse gives a focal point, guiding yourself away from crazy thoughts, and the mantra elevates your focus to what’s really important, letting “not good enough” thoughts drop away.
What should you expect from meditation?
First of all, we don’t go into a meditation with any goals or expectations of a particular end result. That just sets us up for failure. If we don’t come out of meditation feeling a body buzz, calm, and refreshed, we may think, “Dammit that was a waste of time!” and then never try meditating again.
New meditators can expect that it will be challenging to not get carried away in their thoughts, and an effort to keep coming back to their focal point. It truly is a practice and the more we practice, the easier this gets.
Remind yourself that this practice is also improving your cognitive function, your focus, creativity, and grit. It’s best to start out with shorter times (5 min) and work up to longer (20 min). Knowing that it’s only 5 minutes improves the level of engagement. Beginners can think, “I can give it my full attention for 5 minutes. That’s not too bad.”
Some other effects of meditation aside from body buzz, calm, and refreshed, are seeing colors, lights, and shapes, feeling the whole body pulse, feeling a sense of deep knowing and connectedness, and having helpful revelations or ideas. All of these things are just “sparkles at the bottom of the rainbow” as my teacher calls them. They’re pretty and nice, but not the main point.
When should you meditate?
Morning is best because it sets up a clean slate for the day. Meditation can help us process and remove a lot of subconscious garbage that is hindering our productivity and authenticity.
It’s such a fabulous way to start the day because it helps quiet that loud voice running down the list of all the hundreds of things we should do. We can walk away from meditation knowing the one or two most important things we should do. If mid day or at night is the only time you have to meditate, that’s great too.
A mid-day meditation can give you the rejuvenation needed to make the second half of the day meaningful. A night meditation will most definitely help with sleep. Quiet places without distraction are best places to meditate, but if you can’t find one, at least turn off your phone. You don’t want to hear buzzes of notifications.
The parked car is one of my go-to meditation places when I need a boost, some centering, or I just need to fit in my meditation and I know there’ll be no other time. If you’re sitting in your living room on a meditation pillow with a candle lit, but there’s someone using a jackhammer outside, don’t let that ruin your mediation session.
Any sound, even the ones that are generally perceived as the “worst”, can become your focal point for meditation.
Using this example of the jackhammer, get really curious about the sound, and bring all your awareness to it. Hear every nuance and beat to it. Hear it as if you’ve never heard it before and it’s fascinating. I know it sounds strange, but truly, you will find that after 5 minutes of all your focus on it, your mind will be more still. You will be in meditation.