Meditation is the single most basic activity that you can do which will support and encourage your personal growth and development. Why? Because meditation works and grows the most important part of our brain. The pre-frontal cortex. When we use this part of our brain, it literally grows. (Our brain changes according to how we use it. This is called neuroplasticity.) So think of meditation as going to the gym to workout your highest self.
The pre-frontal cortex does many important things that will support our work. One of the jobs of the pre-frontal cortex is to facilitate the connections between the rest of the brain. (More precisely, it is the mid pre-frontal cortex that does this, but we don't need to get too deep into the neuroscience. If want want more scientific information, please read Dan Seigel's wonderful book, Mindsight.) Why is that important? A healthy brain is an integrated brain. The more balanced and harmonious our brains are, the more balanced and harmonious our lives are.
In our work, we seek to witness aspects of ourselves from a place of openness, compassion, and curiosity. We seek to experience and empathize with these parts while not being identified with them. The part of the brain that is able to do this is the pre-frontal cortex. We want to always be building that space. Our goal is for you to be able to live your life predominantly from that space of openness and compassion. Sound good? Great! Ready to meditate? I hope so!
This is the easy part. Meditation is not hard. It is extremely simple. Most importantly, there is no wrong way to do it! I can't stress this enough. I'll explain that in a bit.
First, find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed for a period of time. I recommend starting at twenty minutes a day. If this seems like too much, start at whatever feels comfortable and slowly build up to twenty minutes or more.
Set a timer. Then sit. You can sit in a chair, or be cross legged or whatever is comfortable. I recommend you do not lie down, because it is too easy to sleep from that space. A comfortable yet upright and alert position is what we are looking for. Now that you are sitting, your instruction is to simply focus your awareness on your breath. This will be the object of our meditation.
We could focus on anything really, while meditating: candle, sounds, a mantra or phrase. There are many different types of meditation in the world. I have picked and modified one that works best for the personal growth development I do with my clients. This is not the way to meditate, just one way.
The object of meditation we choose is the breath. Keep your awareness on the sensation of breathing, wherever you feel comfortable sensing that. You can focus on your abdomen or your chest, or on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nose. To be clear: we're seeking the sensation of breathing—not thoughts about breathing. However, it often takes time to build up to a place where you can just feel your breath, rather than experience your breath through the screen of your thoughts about your breath. So if you can only focus on your thoughts about breathing at first, that's fine. (I had a client once report early in our work that when he meditated, he needed to say, “In” and “out” as he breathed, in order to stay with his breath. “Was that ok?” He asked. Absolutely! It is a starting place, and a great one. This client made his focus his thoughts (via language) which were connected to his breath. Think of that like training wheels. Because by the next session he had already been able to drop the words and just experience his breath for short periods of time. If you've never experienced this before, it can be life altering. If you have, then you know what a breakthrough it can be to experience life beyond language or thoughts. The same client later reported, “It's like those few seconds I'm not thinking, and just being, it's like, it recharges me.” Exactly. It recharges us. It gives us rest. It feeds our higher selves. It fact, it is our higher self. And our ability to be in that space grows the more we meditate.
Now this is important, so read carefully: I have found that the single most common misconception that prevents or stops people from practicing meditation is the idea that they are supposed to be “not thinking” when they meditate. They say, “I can't do it! I am always thinking and I can't clear my mind. I'm just not good at this meditation thing, it's not for me.”
Oh, but that is meditation! You see, no one can “clear their mind.” It is the intention that matters. Even if you spend nineteen minutes and forty seconds of your twenty minute session lost in a daydream and unaware—the one moment where you realize, “Ugh, I'm not focusing on my breath, I'm thinking about my job (or whatever)”...that's the magic moment! That's exactly the moment we are seeking. We gently let go of our thoughts, return our awareness to our breath, and feel happy—not self critical—because we have just become self-aware. We have just grown. Matured in a very small but significant way. Reward yourself for this moment.
In fact, I'm going to ask you to experience this right now. When you are done reading this sentence, stop reading, take a breath, and be aware of the sensation of breathing. Do this now.
How was that? That breath, that moment of awareness is a gift in and of itself. So reward yourself now for allowing yourself to experience it. When it comes up spontaneously in your meditation, enjoy it. Enjoy the time you get being with your breath, before the next thought comes and takes you away. And let me take the mystery out of the process for you—more thoughts will come, and one of those thoughts will take you away. That's not 'failing at meditation” that's being human. Moreover, it's exactly this process—of getting lost in the thoughts, and then becoming aware, letting go, and returning to the breath—this is exactly the process that grows our ability for self awareness, for compassion, and for healthy living. The moments you catch yourself lost in thought are your victories, not your defeats. So relax! You cannot do it wrong. In fact, your time sitting might just be the only time in your day where there are the no expectations on you to perform in any way. Whatever shows up while you are sitting is exactly what is supposed to be there. A successful meditation session is one where you set an intention to focus on your breath and do your best to do that until the timer goes off. That's all! If you set the intention and follow through until the timer is done—you've done your job.
The more regularly you practice the more you will find you are becoming more self aware. And you might start finding yourself becoming more self aware at other times in your life—in the middle of an emotional reaction, for example. This is wonderful and exactly the type of thing a regular meditation practice will enable in your life—the ability to become spontaneously self-aware—because with that, we can make decisions from our “higher selves”. This is the basis of “responding, instead of reacting.” It is the pre-frontal cortex, that wonderful little spot behind our foreheads, that is our seat of this ability to stop, reflect, and make an executive decision.
So now you've got your Why, and your How. If there's something still holding you back from your practice then, there could be a deeper fear or belief driving that resistance. So bravo! If this matches you, what you have discovered is an doorway into a deeper level of growth and enrichment for your life. Congrats! If this is still a struggle for you, let me know, and we can take a deeper look—with compassion and curiosity—at what it is inside you which is resisting meditation.
Some more suggestions to help you on your way:
Pick a regular time and place for your meditation. This builds habit and the more habitual you can make your practice, the less it will feel like “work”. Things feel like work often when they are novel experiences. It takes a certain amount of energy to decide when, where and how I will meditate. Just the process of figuring out how I will squeeze meditation in to my daily busy life requires energy. Often, after working all that out, we don't have enough energy left over to meditate. So make things easier on yourself—take all that work out of the question by automating the place and time for your meditation. Doing this also can create a ritual for yourself. Ritual is another powerful tool that can reinforce your meditation habit, and become rewarding in and of itself.
I often use a powerful tool that helps me. Binural audio. I don't want to get into all the theoretical details about that, but basically it is a series of sounds that help the brain get into a deeper meditation state. It is imoportant that they are used with headphones. Nothing about your practice would fundamentally change, except that you will be allowing the audio to be in your experience as you focus on your breath. You may even choose to make the sounds themselves the object of your meditation, rather than the breath. That's fine as well. Here is a link to the audio that I use: https://www.iawaketechnologies.com/ If you put in your name and email address they will send you a free twenty minute sample. That's all you need! I've been using that free twenty minute sample for the last two years. It's made a profound difference in my life and meditation.
I hope this primer has been helpful for you. If you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear them. Look forward to our next session!