The modern world (especially the Western world) has increasingly become one of busyness, information overload, status (career, materialism, physical perfection, etc.), goal setting, extroverts, travel and entertainment. We are mostly judged by what we do for a career, what we possess and how we look. Youth is worshiped and the most famous people are often entertainers and business tycoons. Education has increasingly become specialized (for example, my during my 4 year university engineering training only about 10 percent of my courses were non-technical). Few students get espoused to philosophy, inquiry or contemplation.
With the added stress of coronavirus pandemic, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the fearful thoughts that shout for our attention. This is where meditation comes in for it is the discipline for detaching from thoughts and feelings of anxiety and fear. For most beginners, meditation doesn’t come easily. Initial efforts quickly demonstrate the insane and ceaseless chatter of the mind. No wonder we want to stay busy!
There are many meditation techniques and you will find what works best for you (and may change over time), but it is best to start simple. It is important to realize that the only measure of a successful meditation is intent and effort. Obtaining an experience of bliss is very rare. Gaining more calmness will typically happen unless you have an image of what you should experience.
A successful meditation practice requires both commitment and discipline. In addition, it is best to let go of expectations on what the experience should be. It is very rare to drop into a deep peace or bliss. A meditation is successful when there is an intent carried out for a committed period of time (e.g., 15 minutes) without quitting because of discomfort or discouragement. With disciplined effort it will get easier and you will feel more calm from the practice. I suggest that you start with two meditations a day with each being about 15 minutes. If possible, do the first shortly after you wake up, and the second near the end of your day. Whatever schedule works for you is fine. Make sure you don’t get upset when you miss a meditation, just recommit.
It is a good idea, if possible, to have a designated place for your meditations. With practice you will find that you can meditate anywhere, even with distracting noises and activity. Again, it is the intent and commitment that matters most.
There are as many ways to meditate as flavors of ice cream. You just need to find the flavor best for you (and have some backup flavors). A meditation partner or group can also be helpful for some people, but there are no hard and fast rules. You will find what is best for you, no need to compare with anyone else.
I suggest you start with a simple meditation technique. Here are a few to consider:
· Focus on breathing, possibly with counting;
· Use of a mantra;
· Use a recorded guided meditation;
· Soothing music (no works);
· Visualization – for example, imagine dropping each interfering thought in a bucket.
You may consider get some training, but it isn’t necessary. Last year, after 25+ years of meditation practice, I was trained in Transcendental Meditation and found it help me deepen my meditations. Just allow yourself to be guided on what is best for you.
Meditation can also be done with movement and when doing repetitive and mindless tasks. However, I suggest not starting with these techniques.
As you become more comfortable with meditation you will probably want to add very brief meditations at times in your day when you feel anxiety or fear. This can be as simple as a few slow, deep breaths.
You will find that, over time, you are able to handle stressful situations in your life much more calmly. You also will probably cherish the practice and make it a priority because of the benefits you experience. You will notice that your mind becomes less busy and load, and it will be easier to be playful and at peace.
If prayer is already an important practice in your life, you might want to consider the practice of ‘centering prayer’. A good book for this type prayer is ‘Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening’ by Cynthia Bourgeault. This type prayer is also a meditative practice.