Meditation: The Basics Explained
Are you curious about meditation? Have you heard of the term mindfulness but unsure what that means? Is there a part of you who is open to meditation but need a simple set of directions to get started? If so, you aren’t alone. Lots of people are curious about the meditative process, the associated benefits, and how to begin the process.
This brief guide is designed to help you on your journey of self-discovery and act as a “How To” guide. Before diving too deep, it may be helpful to gain a basic understanding of mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is an approach to life that is focused on the here and now. Many people practice mindfulness-based living through the meditative process, which can come in many forms.
Examples include guided imagery, breathing exercises, sitting with thoughts and even journaling. There isn’t a cookie cutter approach to mindfulness, but there is a theme present that is generally concerned with focusing your attention on the present moment (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).
In many ways, mindfulness is a way of achieving an acute awareness of the moment, something that takes practice to achieve. In thinking about this state of being, it may be best to think of mindfulness as a skill that needs to be developed over time, similar to how one might build muscles. It is through practice and dedication that mindful living is achieved.
Meditation is an excellent way to begin process. If you are a beginner to this process and unsure how to proceed, there is no need to fret. What follows is a step by step guide that you can use as a blueprint. Keep in mind that everyone mediates differently and that adjustments are to be expected.
Finding a Place
The first step in your meditative journey is to find a quiet place to relax. This could be the living room, your bedroom or someplace outside, like a nature preserve. The idea is to locate a place that has minimal distractions and where you can experience a sense of peace. It might be a good idea to mute your smartphone, lower the volume on your computer or disengage any audible reminders of events in your immediate environment.
In popular culture, we see depictions of meditation where a person is sitting yoga-style, knees crossed and arms placed on the knees. While this is certainly a popular way to sit, it is not required. Many people like laying on the floor, sitting on a comfortable chair or even resting on a hammock. The choice is yours. It may take some experimentation to determine which location and position works best for your situation (Krinleton, 2017).
Focus Your Attention
After locating a quiet place and assuming a comfortable position, it’s time to focus your attention on the here and now. An effective way to do this is to close your eyes and then tap into your five sense. Ask yourself, what do I hear, what do I smell, what do I taste, what do I feel, what do I see? On the last one, seeing, it may be that you see pitch black, light grey or some shade of light. Whatever you see – or don’t see – simply go with it.
In using your senses, move about the business of acknowledging whatever is present. For example, if you hear the sound of traffic outside, say to yourself, I am aware of cars moving on the street. If you smell freshly made coffee coming from your kitchen, say to yourself, I am aware of the smell of coffee. You may notice the touch of fabric on your body, such as a cotton shirt on your shoulders. You may also taste nothing or something, which is completely OK. Simply acknowledge whatever is present.
A common experience as part of meditation is the passage of thoughts. Sometimes they can be random. Other times, intrusive. They are simply memories or echoes from the past. Just like you did with your five senses, you will simply acknowledge the presence of these thoughts. Do not try to chase them away or force them out of your mind. Instead, welcome their presence and let them stay for as long as they want.
In the paradoxical sense, many people find that by allowing thoughts to be present, they have a way of dissipating over time. Just like an owl observes the landscape, train your mind to observe your thoughts from a distance. Do they have a shape? Is there a color associated with them? Do they seem heavy? Whatever the manifestation, welcome their presence.
Working Through Challenges
It is entirely possible that you will face challenges as part of learning how to meditate. This is to be expected and should be viewed as a learning experience. For example, you may discover that a pet or child serves as a distraction due to noise. Try working through these kinds of issues by simply acknowledging whatever may be present. In many ways, the sounds and sensations you experience from your environment are confirmation that the world is doing just fine.
Beginners to meditation also discover there are optimal times to focus the mind. For example, meditating in the early morning may best serve you, before the responsibilities of life kick in. Conversely, setting aside time at night may be a good choice, after family members have involved themselves with other activities. Again, this is a process in which you will learn what is best suited for your situation.
As your skills improve, you may move to a level of solving your problems with meditation.
The amount of time you choose to dedicate to meditation is up to you. For many, carving out 10 minutes each day as part of the learning process works well. Over time, you can add more minutes as your skills improve. If ten minutes a day seems overwhelming, you can shorten it to five minutes.
Some people worry they will fall asleep during meditation. This is perfectly understandable. If this holds true for you. consider using some type of timer with a gentle bell that goes off after so many minutes.
Calmer living, emotional regulation and lower blood pressure are just a few of the many benefits that can be derived from meditation (Mineo, 2017). As time goes on and your skills increase, you may find that meditation serves as a powerful stress inoculation tool. Some people even lean into this activity as a way of coping with anxiety, depression and other mood related challenges.
Krinleton, E. (2017, May 24). Meditation Poses: In Your Desk Chair, on the Floor, and More. Retrieved from Health Line: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/meditation-positions#sevenpoint-meditation
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, September 15). Mindfulness exercises. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356
Mineo, L. (2017, April 17). Those who learn its techniques often say they feel less stress, think clearer. Retrieved from Harvard Gazette: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/