Meditation, as practiced for thousands of years, has provided support for the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of practitioners. Comprehensive studies have proven positive benefits to include alleviation of stress, anxiety and pain. Studies also show expanded creativity, improved memory, greater ability to focus and more balanced emotions. It’s also scientifically proven that that those who meditate on a regular basis, have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, and who doesn’t want more gray matter? However, there is a wide range of beliefs over “how to do it right” and trepidation over meditating correctly and staying focused during meditation.
So. let’s first dispel the idea that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to meditate. This is like saying there is a right or wrong way to live your life. Only you know the way that is right for you, so I encourage you to experiment. Find the ways and places and methods that ring true for you. How you do it isn’t important. It’s saying to yourself and to spirit, “this is important to me.”
You can even practice meditating each time you use the microwave or toaster oven, or find yourself waiting for coffee to brew, standing in line or on hold or engaged in any other potentially mindless activity.
Focusing the Mind
I like to think of meditation as nothing more than “focus” training. We know from research that a wandering mind lacks focus. Left to its own devices, the mind will wander around, obsessing on things that are unimportant, and in some cases self-destructive thoughts. In meditation, we are telling the mind that there is something greater than ourselves, and we direct the mind to let go of petty grievances, to focus on things that really matter in life. Your mind will thank you for shutting down the endless babble that neither satisfies nor contributes to your happiness or true purpose.
Second, the benefits of meditation are cumulative. Anytime you can capture time to meditate on something meaningful is like making a deposit into your spiritual bank account. The peace and focus you develop will add up like compound interest, and one day you will realize that this focused time is like oxygen for your soul, providing insight and energy for your real purpose to reveal itself and to be fulfilled.
Each person is a unique being, and your meditation should reflect that uniqueness. For example, we each experience the world differently and will react differently. Some are visual and therefore may respond better to guided visualizations that paint a wonderful picture of an idyllic location. Others are auditory and respond to sounds of nature, transformative music or the sound of crystal bowls tuned to the perfect pitch. In my case, I am kinesthetic, and I experience the world and meditation through my feelings, ideally ones of peace, connection and love.
Here’s how my path in meditation began. When I went took certification classes for pranayama and hatha yoga at the Integral Yoga Institute located in Yogaville, Virginia, I initially was trained in meditation, breathwork, chanting and co-creation. At the ashram, we had the luxury of time and focus to rise at sunrise, spend an hour in seated meditation and then another hour at sunset doing the same. What an indulgence to focus for a month solely on one’s body, mind and breath.
I am going to share my current daily practice, not because I think you should mimic it, but to see how I personalized my practice for my situation. I hope you will be encouraged to develop your own unique practice of meditation. After years of trial and error, I finally have a system that keeps me focused. Your system should be as personal as the clothes you wear, or the way you walk or talk. Try different practices on for size, and then develop one that works for you.
The first part of my meditation normally takes 8-10 minutes.
The biggest distractor for me is my emotions, and how they make me feel, I currently start by reciting the poem “The Guest House” by Rumi (see below). I’ve said it so many times, that it is now committed to memory. I focus on feeling and applying the words of the poem to calm my emotions and negative feelings inside of me. I am passionate about things that I feel are important, so emotions get most of my attention, which is not always good for my attention and focus.
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This poem by Rumi helps to quiet and tame my emotions so that I can focus my energy on what matters most. I then do an “affirmative visualization.” During this part of my meditation, I visualize the future that I want to I create and imagine that it is already so. I experience what the outcome looks and feels like, and then give thanks for that outcome, because I know in my mind and soul it has already come to pass. Doing this sets the stage for me to accomplish something great in my life and sets the focus for my intention.
During the remaining 10-12 minutes, I focus on three words: existence, consciousness and bliss. These words are translated from an ancient Sanskrit mantra from Deepak Chopra in his 21-day abundance meditation challenge. I say these words repeatedly. If I get distracted by sounds or other thoughts, I gently go back to the three words and begin again. This is what’s known as a mantra.
I try to feel each word as I repeat it. Most mantras are auditory. In my case, I am also using the words to evoke a feeling of focus. I strive to feel each word to the fullest:
· My existence as experienced by my body and where it touches the earth and things of the earth
· Consciousness in my connection to something greater than just myself and my small view of the world
· Bliss or the place I strive for as heaven on earth in my experience of life
Most of the time I use a noise canceling soundtrack with nature sounds, flowing water, chirping birds or wind chimes. Having the white noise allows me to stay focused inwardly and stops me from being distracted by every creak in the house.
Maybe once or twice a year, I will spice up my practice by following one of Deepak Chopra’s 21-day challenges, however, this is more the exception than the rule. Again, there simply is no right or wrong way to meditate, but you can see how I have adapted my meditation practice specifically to me, my quirks, my inclinations, and my personal preferences. You should do the same. To help find your groove, go meditation shopping and have fun with it.
If you find this beneficial, take the next step and explore meditation teachers or apps on the list below:
• Dan Harris – 10% Happier
• Sharon Salzberg – Loving Kindness
• Deepak Chopra – 30-day Meditation Challenges
• Jon Kabat-Zin – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
• Insight Timer App – www.insighttimer.com
• Calm App - www.calm.com
Let’s Get Started
I invite you this week to practice Microwave Meditations. During these precious moments when you’re waiting for the microwave or on hold for another activity, do your best to shut down conversations your mind may be having, and use the time to mindfully make a momentary connection with something greater than your earthbound self. I like to make a mental connection by visualizing a peaceful white light streaming into me from above. You can sit or stand quietly with this connection until the timer dings, the alert sounds or the hold music stops.
Then, write a few sentences at the end of each day to capture how this made you feel or document anything that is revealed to you because of this focus training. Meditation is one of the greatest secrets of all time, and yet not enough people try it,