From an outside perspective, watching someone meditate is hardly riveting—it’s more like watching paint dry. In a culture where action trumps stillness and more is always more, it’s easy to understand how meditation, a deliberate choice to get quiet and still and do nothing, could be dismissed as a waste of time. However, when we decide to venture inward to assess our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, the experience can be action-packed and profoundly elucidating. Perhaps this is why many Eastern healing systems refer to the headspace as a wild elephant, a jungle, or “the monkey mind.” Proponents describe the process of meditation through elaborate analogies of battlegrounds, and consider the goal to be spiritual transcendence. For thousands of years, contemplative practices have explored the nature of existence, which is believed to be hidden beneath the chaos of our illusory thinking. Heavy, right? So, think of it this way: Meditation is considered a type of inner technology designed to detoxify the mind from the binds of faulty perception. In this light, if we can recognize its potential to ease suffering and cultivate positive attributes like patience, clarity, compassion, forgiveness, and love, meditation can in fact be the most productive part of your day!
No matter which meditative practice you choose, the goal is the same: to calm your mental chatter, create suppleness in mind and body, expand your personal limits, and ultimately, heal your soul. Yes, the end result seems lofty, but the way to get there is quite simple. The first goal is to notice what’s happening in your internal environment, or “be a witness” of the here and now inside you. The idea is to nonjudgmentally observe what transpires within you, and eventually learn to create space between your thoughts. This can’t be forced—thoughts have power, and trying to stop their flow will hamper your efforts to learn more about them. As the “chatter” of cluttered thoughts subsides, you will discover insights into what’s been occupying your mind. Over time, creating more space between your conscious and underlying thoughts will calm your mind, relax your body, and give you clarity about how to direct your energy.
Meditation teaches you to embrace the present moment and call upon your inner resources for guidance and strength. When you’re faced with a challenge, meditation may feel counterproductive because it requires you to slow down and sit with what’s bothering you, rather than take immediate action. When you bring your attention inward and take time to reflect, you’ll become more clear about what you need and how to resolve whatever may be holding you back. The insights discovered during quiet contemplation and stillness can empower your next move. Meditation connects you with your ultimate wisdom—a reservoir of life force from which you can fuel choices and develop a spirit of peace in your heart.
- Seek from within. Through the ages, wise people have said that bliss, heaven, and everything you need is already within you. Many of these sages refer to the breath and the core as important expressions of sacred truths. Take a page from a sage: The next time you need guidance, a mood boost, or a break from the daily grind, pause, get quiet, place your hands on your belly, and feel yourself breathe. The first time, this may feel strange, but over time, this practice will become natural and enjoyable.
- Create a practice. The magic of meditation comes from a consistent routine. Over the next few weeks, gather information about what type of meditation practice interests you. Treat it as if you were starting a new hobby. Get the gear (if needed), take a few lessons (highly recommended), do a little research (even Google) and meet your new pastime with enthusiasm and knowledge. Commit to carving out a few minutes (or more) of meditation each day.
- Study your meditative state. The shift into meditation is subtle and soft, and may go unnoticed. When it’s accessed, you will feel similar to “zoning out,” but instead of dropping into a trance, you will actually become much more alert. Think of it as a lucid trance or a deliberate daydream. When you notice yourself entering a meditative state, take note of how your body feels. As you become accustomed to meditation, try to describe the feeling(s) as a color, image, or word. Become fluent in how the meditative state feels, so you can draw upon it on command and even apply it outside of your practice in your daily life.