Our restless minds are a big problem for us. Not only do they tend to be constantly busy with random thoughts, but also many of our thoughts are negative. They are about things that have already happened, or about what might happen in the future, but rarely about what is happening now. Our thoughts wander all over the place, and that is the nature of the mind.
We may think there’s not a lot we can do about this, but we’re wrong. We have choice, and we can select what we focus on. If we want to keep going over the argument we had with our nearest and dearest in our heads, feeling angry and resentful, that’s a choice we make. We might also choose to spend our time worrying about our health or our finances and any number of imaginary fears, missing what each day offers us. Or we can choose to focus on the good in our lives, the blessings we enjoy, and the unique contribution we can make to the world.
Deep within us is a place of perfect stillness, peace and joy. We only have to choose to access it and still the thought-waves that get in the way of us reaching it.
Meditation and other self-awareness techniques like mindfulness, visualization or mantra repetition help us focus our attention on an object of some kind. So too, as we probably know from our own experience, does any kind of meaningful activity where we become one with what we are doing, whether it’s baking a loaf of bread, playing the piano or painting a picture. When we choose to be completely engaged, then the mind ceases its chatter as we concentrate.
We can choose to spend more time trying to reach this place of peace, love and joy in our daily lives. It’s available to us all – it just requires a little effort and discipline, and is worth every moment of practice, for through meditation we develop greater self-awareness, we feel gratitude for what we have in our lives, and are more compassionate towards others - which in turn makes us want to practice more.
How can we best find a way to meditate in the midst of our busy lives? We need to have the desire to do so, and then it’s not so difficult to create the time and space to practise. Ideally we need to meditate every day, even if only for a short time. First thing in the morning is desirable since it sets the tone for the day, but any time of day is possible other than just after a meal or when we’re tired since we may fall asleep.
We sit down and make ourselves comfortable, we close our eyes. Nothing else is necessary, though we may want to light a candle and some incense, but if that is not appropriate, then that’s just fine.
There is no need for us to sit cross-legged on a cushion – a chair is perfectly OK as long as we sit upright, keeping our feet firmly on the ground. There are also small stools which it’s possible to kneel on if sitting for any length of time is uncomfortable. The spine needs to be straight but not rigid, the shoulders relaxed and the chin tilted slightly down. We need to be relaxed but alert, letting go of any tension in the face or jaw and resting our hands in our lap.
We will find that meditating for just 10 minutes a day makes a difference to how we feel, so that we gradually want to increase that amount of time as we begin to feel the benefits.
We will find that a special place is conducive to practice. If we have a room at home we can use then we’re fortunate; if not, perhaps part of a room can be used, even a small corner of a room. We will want to make the area beautiful, keeping it clean and tidy, with perhaps a small vase of fresh flowers and something meaningful for us, perhaps a statue or a photograph. Or we may choose to sit outside in nature each day in the same particular spot that we have chosen.
When we sit, we can choose to focus on an object. It might be a rock, a candle flame, a flower, a photo or statue reminding us of a teacher of some kind, whether Buddha, Jesus, Mary, Kuan Yin, a Sufi Saint – whatever seems most appropriate for us. We might choose to use a mantra (the repetition of a sacred word or a familiar prayer) or we might wish to focus on a picture that we build up in our imagination of a place that is very peaceful and beautiful.
Of all the things we can choose, perhaps the breath is the most natural for us to work with. We can focus on the inhalation, feeling the cool air coming in through our nostrils, and the warmer air flowing out. As we focus on the breath, we notice that it slows, and we can make the exhalation longer, breathing out our stress and tension.
When our mind wanders, we can gently bring it back to the object of our attention – the breath going in and out of our nostrils. There is no need to worry if it goes off at a tangent – it always does, that is the nature of the mind. Each time we can gently bring it back to the practice.
That is all that matters – the process of paying attention to the object on which we have chosen to focus. Gradually we become aware that the mind is quieter and we feel a sense of calm.
It is the effort we make to meditate that is the essence of meditation. The thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise during our time of sitting are not important. What is important is that with the discipline of daily practice, over time something shifts in us and we begin to have more understanding of ourselves and feel more in harmony both within ourselves and with those around us, as well as feeling that we are an intrinsic part of this great, still unfolding and evolving, universe.
It’s good to know that there are proven physiological benefits to meditation - from the lowering of blood pressure and the reduction of stress and anxiety, to increased serotonin levels and the strengthening of the immune system.
We also have greater clarity and focus when not meditating and develop a better sense of perspective. It also helps us become both more intuitive and more creative.
Given all these benefits, who wouldn’t want to try to incorporate meditation into their life?
If you want to read more about meditation and mindfulness, I deal with it in my book The Woman’s Book of Joy: Listen to Your Heart, Live with Gratitude, and Find Your Bliss.