When I first started getting in to meditating and researching the different ways that you can do so, I found an overwhelming amount of techniques and dos and don’ts all coming from a million different directions. Looking back I think a lot of these are distractions from the main point, so I figured I’d write my second entry here explaining what has worked for me. I’ll go step by step here describing what to do, which all in all is very simple, and what the reasoning is behind the step. This is in no sense the only way to go about the practice of meditating, this guide is simply what I have found to be best for myself, maybe it can work for you as well.
Take a seat… or don’t!
There’s no exact way to sit when it comes to your practice, and on the contrary, I think walking meditation is a very good choice. Yes, there are poses such as half and full lotus and they are great for your posture, discipline, and keeping you awake while you’re meditating (I fall asleep easily get off my back!), but they are in no way the only method to do this. Being in your comfort zone is key, and if you like to take walks or sit around the coffee shop, these are great times to practice, just walk alone (yes, without the doggo) or close the laptop and give a few minutes to yourself.
This is the first step of my guide here, you’ve meditated a million times before, and you might not have ever sat cross-legged on the floor in your life! Have you ever been at work or doing a hobby (especially video games and books, etc.) and sank so far into your task that you forgot about the world around you, and maybe even about yourself? Perhaps you were reading and all of a sudden thought “oh shit, I’m running late!” because you lost track of time falling into your task. Well, boom! There you have it, you’re already better at this than you thought you were. Yes, there are different kinds of meditating and becoming one with your task isn’t the only way to practice, but a big part of this is to practice your concentration and attention to detail, and upon developing these skills, being able to call upon them for every given moment. To practice meditating, to me, is to practice being who you really are, the observer of your own life, and of your own thoughts. Take a few minutes to concentrate on what is, and just be. From here, I’d like to mention a few different types of meditating that I think are very beneficial.
Meditating for Concentration
There are always a million thoughts running through our minds at any given moment. Appointments, work, friends and family, you name it. When it comes to getting what you want to get done finished and finished well, concentration is key, and meditating is a marvelous way to practice this. When all of these thoughts are buzzing around us, we find ourselves distracted from the task at hand, and this is counterproductive. You are not dealing with these things this very moment, so take a second to remind yourself while you’re out and about to keep your mind right there with you.
To practice meditation in a form that will help boost your ability to concentrate, here is what I recommend.
Get comfortable and pick one thing to focus on
It doesn’t matter, as I said earlier, if you sit or stand or walk or what have you. Just be comfortable and choose somewhere to center your focus. I like to choose a sense, maybe a smell (hence why people meditate with candles, or they watch the flame which would be sight), a sound or a picture in my mind, or as most people choose, the breath.
**sidenote** The breath is so great and so popular because it’s such a peaceful and reliable thing to concentrate on, and yes, I do recommend it as a starting place (but as with everything else, this one method is not mandatory). With the breath as our focal point, we can only be right here, right now, and this is a beautiful thing. While concentrating on your breath, you cannot be on the previous or next breath, or on the exhale and inhale at the same time, you can only be right where you’re at. The breath will slow as you relax if you chose to sit and after a few minutes you’ll really feel the tension leave as your mind slows down with your breathing.
Once you have chosen your focal point, it is time to begin. Just relax and focus, that’s it, seriously. Sounds simple, yes, but it really isn’t. I will use the breath for my example, but as I have said, use whatever is best for you. As you sit and breathe, notice everything there is to notice about the breath. Every time a stray thought enters your mind, and they will come, especially on the more anxious days, just wave goodbye to it and send it on its way, bringing yourself back to your root, the breath. Do this until you feel that your restlessness is counterproductive then feel free to dismiss yourself from the session.
Meditating this way is much like walking our dogs in this sense. We just want to walk our route, and doggo wants to stop and sniff or mark every five feet. A gentle tug on the leash pulls our minds back to the focal point so that we can continue on. If we keep practicing, soon we will no longer have to tug on the leash as we will have instilled some training and gained a piece of mastery over ourselves. Our mind is powerful, and gaining the ability to direct it’s power towards what is needed for every given moment ensures that we will give every task the attention to detail it requires, and in turn, do a better job than we would have otherwise.
Meditating for Awareness
This is another great practice for meditating and goes hand and hand with working on our concentration. Awareness is always helpful to us as it is the ability to notice what is going on around us using the information our brain is giving to us. We can always hear our surroundings but we don’t always listen and pay attention to what’s going on in our vicinity. Just imagine the benefit gained if we were to practice paying attention to everything going on around us, especially when doing things like driving or doing chores while watching the kids, or what if something dangerous were to happen and we needed to react or seek an escape. With these things in mind here is how I like to practice awareness through meditation.
I think the biggest sense tied to awareness is listening. My favorite place to do this one is at work, as I work in a restaurant and there are always a hundred things going on within five feet of me, but it’s easy to do no matter where you’re at. Just sit and listen to your surroundings. There are 360 degrees of sound at any given moment. Hear. each. one. Where is it coming from? How close does it sound? What is its pitch? Do you recognize the sound? Close your eyes and really dive in. Outside at the park or something of the like is a great place to practice this. Birds will move and chirp from different places, cars drive by from all kinds of angles, and a whole spectrum of sound will come to your ears from all over. Just think about where you fit into all of this. While you’re walking and a cyclist comes up to pass you, even though the sound of his approach was there, how long did it take you to notice that you were in the way? Tie what you are noticing going on around you into how you are interacting with it.
While listening to our surroundings, this is a form of concentration in itself, but instead of choosing one thing, we are paying attention to all that surrounds us. In both methods, however, here come our thoughts, and as they enter our minds and pull our attention away from our surroundings, we lose our awareness and concentration and fall into ourselves, our biggest distraction. Just the same as when practicing on our focal points, let’s wave goodbye to the thoughts and bring ourselves back to what’s going on around us. Over time, another piece of mastery over ourselves can be gained, and we can always be present and fully aware of the current. Once you get good at being aware and concentrating, combine them! While you’re doing your task at work or your hobby at home or whatever it may be, stay aware of all of the sounds and movements around you, and with some work, we can all begin to gain control over our own minds.
Meditating for thought
With all of this talk about pushing our thoughts to the side so that we can be present at any given moment, I think it is important to mention a thoughtful meditation. I find this especially useful when I am at a fork in the road and can’t seem to make a decision about something. Give yourself a few minutes to turn away from your phone and all of the distractions of the world so that you can think. If you have something stressing you out, really go at it. Tell yourself you’re going to sit down and think this through for ten or fifteen minutes, and afterward, that you will let it go and regain your presence. Sort through the pros and cons of something, think about how we can’t escape death so we should value every moment (this is often a Buddhist thought technique to gain perspective and finding value in each given moment), think about what you want to get done today or just think about how you can better yourself in some way shape or form. You don’t have to reach a conclusion, just recognize this set of time you have given yourself as an opportunity to deal with any thoughts or bothers that may have been tugging at your concentration. It is a moment to deal with our bothers and stresses head on instead of running from them and towards your next task. Sitting and concentrating on the breath for the first few minutes is a good idea here as you are able to settle in and relax before diving into your own thoughts. Remind yourself to take a step back and consider all paths, disregard your biases and stay true to yourself and the people that you care about and care about you. Our actions affect other people, and if we give ourselves some time to think about that, a more compassionate choice is likely to be made.
Make sure you pick a time where you can go off into your mind without being an obstacle to others. The distraction here will be anything that pulls you away from thinking about whatever it is you have chosen to think about.
To conclude here, don’t make things too difficult, there is no wrong way for us to meditate. While I do recommend sitting in a quiet and comfortable space, none of this is the ‘proper way’ or anything like that. All there is to do if you would like to meditate is to give yourself the time and to do it, with some practice, we will always be meditating. A good seating position if you can’t get into half or full lotus is to just bend your knees and sit on your feet with a cushion under your butt. Another way is to sit in a seat with your back straight.
I have had several people ask me if they can listen to music while they meditate. Sure! The only time I would avoid doing so is if you have a goal in mind that distractions would not fly with. Like I said, to practice meditating is to practice just being, and music is great for that. It is not great for working on concentration, however, as in music there are a lot of things going on and you’re not really given the chance to pick a focal point. For awareness, however, I think music is great. I work a lot with mixing and recording music and I find it very meditative to sit and search for all of the background sounds that every listener might not notice.
Thank you guys for reading todays entry and I hope it has helped you gain some insight into your meditation practices. Continue to check back for more posts. Peace and love!