‘Elsewhere’ – 2014 – Holly Sharpe
Notes on Meditation.
I have mentioned the fact that I am interested in meditation, and Buddhism here and there along the journey of my blog a few times.
And I have thought a lot about writing an entry (/a few entries) dedicated to it, but I haven’t quite felt ready to put that into action thus far. Then I received a lovely email from someone asking if I would. So, this seems to be a sign to finally motivate me into doing so.
I suppose part of the reason that I haven’t already, is that I am no expert, and I am still learning about it myself, and along with that, to me it feels like quite a huge topic that perhaps it was quite a daunting subject to tackle. Hence, I have titled this ‘notes on meditation’, as that is all it is, and this way I will probably do more entries in the future as my ‘notes’ on it grow and flourish and I will hopefully have new knowledge to share on the subject.
As much as I think it is a grand and complex topic, at the same time, it is possibly the most simple thing in the world. I have read many books on either mediation, or I suppose ‘self help’ and overall they appear to be saying similar things, just dressed up in different ways. Then, at the start of this year I read – “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head. Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works –A True Story” – by Dan Harris – and I think reading this, along with one of my new year’s resolutions to meditate and learn more about Buddhism, propelled me into taking it more seriously, or less seriously depending on which way you want to look at it – I feel like there is a great quote that sums up this idea of not taking it all too seriously, but I can’t remember what it is and can’t seem to find it online either… maybe it will come back to me!
I suppose the reason this book in particular laid it out so clearly and in a practical way for me was for a couple of main reasons 1. He talked about, analysed and in some instances was able to meet the authors of a lot of the books I have also read on similar topics. 2. The conclusion, in my eyes, of his journey and research etc, was to find a way to put all this advice and talk of enlightenment into a practical format that one could apply to their daily life, and start to see progress and improvement straight away. And the gist is = meditate everyday, but start with something super small and achievable, (James Clear talks a lot about building, and keeping habits, and how starting small, means you are A LOT more likely to maintain the new habit, than if you start with something too ambitious, so start smaller and build up to that…) so, meditate for 5 minutes a day for example. Fit it into your routine like after breakfast, or before dinner or something. Even taking these 5 minutes out – set a timer so you are not distracted – to focus on being in the moment, and meditate can have a huge impact. Which may seem bizarre and unlikely, but try it for yourself and see what you think.
“Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.” (Buddha)
So, HOW to meditate is probably what you are now wondering? Or maybe you are still wondering WHY you should meditate, so I will probably come back to the why, as there are a great number of compelling reasons.
Meditation definitely is gaining a new lease of life as far as I can see in the world, the media, etc. It is no longer stereotyped as something hippies do with their legs crossed sitting in a circle… or maybe it still is, but I am hoping you will try and shed that image and trust me when I say it is so much more than that, and is certainly not restricted to any type of person, or place. I am sure everyone will have a different way of explaining what meditation is, and how to do it, but I will try my best to explain my way.
A common misunderstanding is that when you meditate you are trying to completely clear your mind and have no thoughts at all. As human beings, this is virtually impossible. So do not beat yourself up if your mind is never silent, as this is not the goal or the point. Instead, sit in a comfortable position, preferably with your back upright against the back of the chair, nice and straight – but not strained – and with your feet grounded on the floor. I usually just keep my hands in my lap one on top of the other, but this is just a preference, what ever is comfortable. Then either close your eyes or soften your gaze (I think most people find it easier to just close their eyes as this lessens the chance of distractions, but equally your goal is not to fall asleep, so if your eyes are closed, just be aware of the temptation to doze off…). Then simply start to focus on your breath. Don’t try to alter or change your breath, just become aware of it, draw your attention to your breath. A couple of techniques to help do so are to feel, notice, and focus on, the sensation of the cool air on your nostrils as you breathe in through your nose, and again the slightly warmer air as you breathe out again. Keep doing this, and when ever you notice your thoughts go astray – which they will- simply bring your attention back to your breath. Again, try not to have an internal argument with yourself or be hard on yourself when this happens, just try to let go of the thought as soon as you notice, and don’t attach to it. Almost like you are watching it pass by from a distance. And that is all it is, learning to develop an awareness. Most of the time your mind is having numerous thoughts and going awol, but very seldom do we stop and listen, and pay attention to notice what is happening in our heads.
Another technique for the meditation where you are focusing on your breath is to visualize white smoke as you breathe in, and black smoke as you breathe out. Again, whenever you notice that your mind and thoughts have become distracted, just bring them back to focusing on your breath. I would recommend setting a timer at the start, and doing this for 5 minutes. Aim to do it every day, but if you don’t manage it for a while, do not be hard on yourself, as again that is not the point at all, just start again once you realise you want to keep doing it. Then, maybe after some time you can build up to 10, 15, 20 minutes.
Even better, if you can find somewhere near you that does meditation classes – probably more common that you might think – such as a Buddhism centre, then try and go to a class there. To go somewhere specifically to meditate, and also hear teachings on meditation, and do so amongst a room full of people, is actually quite a profound experience. And in the classes I go to, I think we often meditate for at least 40 minutes! And I have never been able to do it for that long myself, it feels quite amazing, and can have a very relaxing effect, and helps restore clarity in your mind. A couple of times I have almost felt in a sort of super relaxed trance afterwards – which I was told is partly because the breathing meditation can be quite powerful and is releasing ‘deep pockets of stress’!
Ok, so that turned out longer that I was planning. I don’t want to bombard you with too much information, so I will leave the rest of my ‘why’ till another day, in another post and leave you to think about this one, and hopefully go away and put it into action for now.
Thanks again for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this.