Think about nothing.
You must be perfect today
and never ever stray.
Just kidding. I’m not doing this.
Also, not a single syllable of that poem is true about meditation.
Let’s stop wasting breaths and dive right into meditation: myths, facts, how to start, and how to continue!
What have you learned so far about meditation? What does popular media tell us? And, if you’ve never read about or tried meditation, what does it seem like to you?
Here’s what meditation is NOT:
Thinking about nothing
A quick fix for anything
Perfection and bliss
Strictly spiritual (and it’s also not strictly from or for eastern religious or medical practices)
Depending on how you grew up, what TV shows you watch, and what doctors you go to, those are the impressions we get from society about meditation. However, there’s hardly even an ounce of truth in those!
It meditation were easy, everyone would do it.
We would all be leading our best, most fulfilled, most emotionally aware, connected, Zen lives.
But, in this economy, we all know that’s not the case!
A skill to be learned.
No one is born or wakes up just knowing how to meditate for hours. Like any physical skill, it takes practice to do it well, and even more diligent practice to reap the rewards.
About presence and awareness.
You and I live in the same world. It’s crazy out here!
What meditation helps us do it become more aware of ourSELVES, our feelings, our thoughts, themes in our lives, and where we are in the moment. It forces us to stop, for one minute or 20 minutes, not think about the next step or next 20 steps, but consider where we are now.
Think about it like a daily check-in. How often do we just sit with ourselves, alone, in silence, with no expectations?
Girl… not me! (Until I started meditating. Now I do it for five minutes every morning, and I can’t explain how helpful it is.)
Clarity of thought
As we already covered, meditation is not about thinking about nothing, immediate bliss, or perfection. It’s actually about clarity, about peace, about calmness, about inspiration.
When we are able to quiet our minds and bodies for a period of time and open ourselves to whatever pops up in this blank slate, we get the unique opportunity to notice things hidden in our brains or feelings in our souls or experiences in our bodies.
Not every meditation session has to be geared toward finding your life purpose or dealing out life trauma. It could be as simple as being quiet enough to remember something great you forgot, or some innovation from a new, expanded thought that just popped up. Just because you were quiet. Just because you weren’t moving to fast to see it.
Perhaps you’ve heard that “meditation is connecting to yourself and a higher power” and that freaked you out. It doesn’t have to be about that.
One way to consider meditation is a chance to connect and add to yourself and your fulfilment in life. What brings you joy? Are you putting in your daily 100%? Or are you just scraping by?
Meditating can be a way to wipe off the clutter of thoughts and revisit/connect with why you go through your exhausting days in the first place. It can also be a place to renew your motivation to do it again.
How to start.
Change your expectations
Hate to break it to you. The first time (read: first 100 times) you meditate won’t be perfect.
You’ll get distracted and bored.
They key is to not give up. It’s a skill, remember? It gets better and more rewarding with consistent practice.
Dedicate time regularly & start short
In my experience, 2-5 minutes per day is a good starting point. It will keep you from getting bored and allow you to set the habit. Once you’ve conquered 5 minutes, move on up (slowly).
Think about the breath
Again, don’t think about “nothing”… whatever that is.
Start by focusing on breathing. Try to inhale for as long as possible, hold it for a second, and exhale slowly.
Notice where you feel your breath first. Does it touch your nose? Do you feel it first in your throat? In your lungs? How does it feel as you fill your chest? Do you breathe into your stomach or your chest?
Thoughts aren’t evil. Let them pass.
Your thoughts will come. Some might spring up when you least expect them.
Instead of judging your mind for being busy and cluttered, step out of the midst of those thoughts. Let them pass. Acknowledge their presence and their weight, and let them move along.
Some people imagine their thoughts as a parade, passing by. Others imagine them coming in one ear and out of the other. When I began meditating, I imagined myself passing my thought on the street, tipping my hat to it, but not stopping to say “hello” or strike up a conversation about our stress and worries - we both have places to be that aren’t here.
When you do start getting distracted, simply redirect your thinking to your breathing. Getting distracted is not failing. It’s just sharpening your skills.
Don’t worry about perfection
There is no perfect or “right” way to meditate.
If you literally think about nothing, that’s okay.
If you’re really imaginative and float off to your happy place, that’s okay.
If you’re not comfortable with silence, that’s okay.
If you always get distracted, that’s okay.
It won’t happen overnight. It takes practice, but people have reported the positive effects of meditation after just a few weeks of daily meditation.
I strongly suggest a short meditation as part of your morning routine, as it allows you to wipe your slate clean for the day, accept what has passed and what is coming, prioritize your day, check in with yourself, and start fresh and clear-headed.
The app Headspace is available for iOS and Android download. It offers guided mindfulness and meditation practices, along with categories (sport, stress, sleep, etc.). It also keeps track of how much and how long you meditate, and sends you reminders to help you set the habit.
Guided meditations are available in mass quantities on YouTube. Find someone with a calming voice that fits your goal (stress, sleep, focus, healing, etc.).
Calm music can help you relax or get comfortable if you’re not a fan of silence. However, it should be neutral music, so as not to hype you up or conjure up additional thoughts.
Nature sounds also offer a neutral background. If you enjoy calm images in your meditation, nature sounds may add to the sensory experience or sharpen your focus.
Record yourself doing a guided meditation and replay it.
Whatever you choose to help you meditate, or whether you opt to do it at all, I wish you the best in your quest for focus, calmness, and optimization.
*Header photo by Burst on Pexels.