Meditation has transformed my life. I know that's a pretty weighty claim. And it's the truth. My regular meditation practice has had THE most positive and profound impact on my life and my personal wellbeing. And I do a lot of work on myself, through many modalities. Yet, over and over again, I am blown away by the significant benefits of such a simple practice. I know, it seems too easy and yet at the same time so very difficult, if not impossible. We are too busy. What mom has time to meditate? If you ask me, what mom doesn't?
That is, if she wants to remain calm, present, joyful and at peace in her busy life with the myriad of demands, irritations, and snafus that it brings. Let's be honest, we make time for what really matters, like watching our favorite shows, checking Facebook, reading our emails, texting, and surfing the net. And I understand. We need time to check out, to relax, to distract ourselves. But we also need time to check in. I promise, making an investment in a regular mediation practice will change your life in ways you never thought possible. It is like the parting of the red sea. It truly brings about miraculous results, in ways that I cannot explain. You have to experience it to know it. You have to feel it to believe it. But it does take some effort. I'm not going to beat around the bush about that. But maybe, not quite as much effort, as you may think.
To reap the physical benefits of meditation you need only invest 20 minutes a day, three times a week. And this can be broken up into two 10-minute periods, especially when first getting started. There have been experiments that show that investing a mere 60-minutes a week improves the autoimmune system and the central nervous system, helping to fight disease and ward off hypertension, not to mention stress and anxiety.
And there are profound effects beyond the physical. Those are great, don't get me wrong. None of us want anxiety, illness, high blood pressure, stress related aches and pains, or digestive issues. But it's the presence, the peace of mind, and the ability to not get so caught up all the time that keeps me hooked. The ability to let go and let be, I'd say, is the greatest reward.
Meditation helps me to acknowledge and accept the simple, yet profound truth, that life is change. Nothing stays the same for very long. And this truth can be as relieving as it is disheartening, depending one where you are. There are no absolutes and nothing remains as it is in this very moment. Our children will grow up, our relationships will evolve, we will grow older, the seasons will change, and so will the earth. In the same way, by observing my mind through meditation, I see the constant changing nature of my thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Nothing about me stays the same either. And that can be good news or bad news, depending on where I am at that moment. Or maybe, just maybe, I can learn to let go of the judgments and the stories, and just be with what is. Meditation helps me to do that. And when I am able to be with what is, without my stories and judgments, I can see clearly. A fresh perspective emerges. And from there I can choose to respond, in a beneficial and productive way, rather than reacting through the lens of my past and my habitual patterns.
I really could go on all day describing the benefits of meditation. But words alone cannot do justice. One must experience it and, more importantly, all of the benefits that a regular practice brings to day-to-day life. Because although the time spent in meditation can often be really enjoyable (after getting over the initial discomfort and settling in, both in single session, and over time) it is the personal transformation that takes place in experiencing life that really makes the difference. So I invite you to try it and here are some helpful tips to get you started and keep you going.
You CAN meditate.
If you can breath, you can meditate. Don't worry about getting it right. Just do it. I can't begin to tell you the number of people that have told me they can't meditate. They aren't doing it right. The thoughts just keep coming and cannot be stilled. That's okay. Actually, that's the point. In the same way the lungs must breath, the brain must think. That is simply what the brain does. If your lungs aren't breathing, and your brain isn't thinking, you probably aren't alive. Both are vital functions. The real opportunity lies not in stopping thought, but rather in observing it, getting to know it a little better. Becoming aware of its nature and befriending it. That way you don't have to be so swept away or caught up by whatever random thought happens to pop into your head in a given moment. You gain awareness, that this is just what the mind does. And with awareness comes choice. You always have a choice. You don't have to become carried away with negative thoughts and excessive rumination. You can choose to let them go, in a friendly, gentle, and loving way. Meditation practice trains you to be able to let them go.
Make the time.
I often hear people say they can't find the time. Well, there's no such thing as finding time. Time cannot be found. We all get 24 hours in a day, for however many days we get. Time is spent. It's a really valuable resource. If you ask me, it's the most valuable. Because it's finite and none of us really knows how much time we have. What we do know is that once time is gone, we can never get it back. The time we've got is all that we have. We SPEND time for that which we value. Or we don't. Some of us choose to squander our time away with distractions and in many other ways that don't support us in having a more fulfilling life. But again, we always have a choice. To get started all you need is five minutes, three times a week. That's 15 minutes a week. Commit to that and work your way up from there. If 15 minutes a week feels like too much, then your life is really squeezed and tight and you would greatly benefit from meditation.
Keep it simple.
I am going to share a really simple practice to get you started. But do what works for you. This is simply a recommendation. Keep in mind that whenever you start something new, complexity is the enemy. Complexity just creates more opportunity for resistance to creep on in. With meditation, as with anything in life, when creating change, keep it simple. Make it workable. Set yourself up for success. So, here we go.
1. Start small. If you are brand new to regular meditation start with five minutes three times a week. That is because this is manageable. As you begin to reap the benefits you will want to do more and you will be motivated to find ways to spend more time.
2. Pick a time. Think about your life and your normal routines. Think of activities you do every day, or almost ever day - like wake up, go to sleep, eat lunch, take a shower, brush your teeth, take your kids to school, go to work, etc. Think about before or after which of those activities you can spend an extra five minutes, three times a week. Make that your standard meditation time. Pick the activity and pick the days. Create a basic structure and adapt on an as needed basis.
3. Pick a place. Based on your standard meditation time, pick a place that is easy and makes sense. Don't think you can only meditate on your special cushion, next to your personal shrine. You can meditate practically anywhere. In your car (not while driving, though), in your bed, at your kitchen table, or on a park bench. Make it workable. If your time is after dropping the kids from school, then do it right in your car. The less opportunity to get sidetracked, the better.
4. Sit or lie down. It is best to sit or lie down. The key is to keep your spine as straight as possible and to be comfortable.
5. Breathe. That's right. All you have to do is breath and focus on your breath. You will experience thoughts. That is unavoidable. Once you notice a thought, or that you are caught up in thought, simply acknowledge the thought, let it go, and return to your breath. Do this with gentleness, compassion, and loving kindness. Meditation trains us to be kind and accepting of our humanity, our perfect imperfection, and ourselves. To remain focused on the breath I find it helpful to say IN on the inhale and OUT on the exhale. But do what works for you.
6. Consider using a timer. But don't let this be a complexity that gets in the way of meditating. If you want to keep time, there are creative ways to do so. You can use an alarm on your phone, your watch, or the digital clock in your car. I used my iPhone to record five minutes of silence and at the end of five minutes I use my own voice to bring myself back. You can even call a friend and ask them to phone you in five minutes.
Consider guided meditation
For some people, when first starting out, focus can be a really challenge. Especially for those with a quick mind, who are often caught up in thought (and these are often the people that are most in need of meditation and receive the most benefit). I was one of those people and I found it really helpful to work with guided meditation and brain wave sound technology. You can find all sorts of guided meditations on audio. There are even audio meditation apps for your phone or other device. I also love some of the new brain wave technology products, which are special music/sounds that bring your brain waves into an ideal state for deep meditation.
Seek support and fellowship.
For those that don't want to go at it alone, there are many meditation groups. Some are associated with a Buddhist or Tibetan tradition, and there are non-affiliated groups as well. The Internet is a great resource to find a meditation group in your area. If you can't find one, consider starting your own. And if a group seems to daunting, partner with a friend that is also interested in meditation. Along with joining a group or partnering with a friend, comes the benefit of accountability. This can help foster commitment to a regular practice.
Start now and don't give up.
Waiting for the perfect time to get started often results in nothing happening. Don't fall victim to that mindset. Start now. There will never be a perfect time. Life is always happening, and with it comes all sorts of unexpected surprises, which can sweep away the best of intentions if you let it. And once you do get started, don't give up. Although meditation is magical, it doesn't have instant results in the same way a magic spell might. It takes time and commitment. It is a practice. And I promise, practice won't make perfect, but it will make for an experience of personal growth, transformation, and a happier and more fulfilling life.