When you go through a lot of trying life events you’ll sample nearly anything (within reason) that might help you. One tool I’ve tried and continue to use is meditation. I started by reading books—lots and lots of books on the practice. I then tried audio guided meditations both paid and free on my iPhone.
As many a Buddhist meditation practitioner will state, ‘no one can ever fully explain with words what mindfulness is.’ Meditation is a tool that allows us to tap into it and eventually integrate mindfulness more in our daily lives. The way I’ve interpreted mindfulness thus far is a state where we’re acutely aware of our surroundings while letting go of our sense of self (and in turn a whole lot of negative baggage).
Out there, huh? I know. Hence the need for guidance.
Without further ado, here are the 4 tips to help you get started and save you some money along the way:
1. Books help, paid subscriptions not so much - While some authors believe that meditation and other practices that strive to achieve a preferred future state are entirely unnecessary (Joey Lott does this rather aggressively in his book, You’re Trying Too Hard. By the fiftieth ‘This is all that is’, I was spent), others do a great job at explaining the steps of meditation clearly and succinctly.
The best book I’ve found thus far is Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. For a price less than four chai lattes (my favorite hot beverage) you can get a well-written instruction manual that will provide you all the wisdom and guidance you’ll need to start meditating.
Paid meditation services such as Headspace with its Disney Pixar-like animations and beautiful website seem counterintuitive to the purpose of meditation: to learn how to quiet the mind and be at ease with just yourself and silence. You shouldn’t need to hand over $7.99 a month or any amount on a regular basis especially if you can get similar help for free.
2. Just you, a chair (or cushion), a room and silence are necessary - Some Buddhists would even say those aren’t all requirements. I’ve read about monks who were able to meditate in a busy airport or with their eyes open or while being surrounded by corpses in a war-torn country.
You don’t need a new fancy meditation mat/cushion/chair/crystal/candle/bell…I can keep going, but you get the picture. We tend to overcomplicate and assume that we need special preparation or equipment to do most new things, but sadly that thinking keeps us from doing lots of awesome activities like…meditation!
3. You will lose your breath - No, you don’t literally lose your breath when you meditate, but you’ll stop paying attention to it every 3.5 seconds or less. This is guaranteed, at least in the beginning. I’ve been meditating for 25 minutes a day for nearly a year and I think the longest I’ve stayed concentrated on my breath is 30 seconds.
The best recommendation I can give you when this happens is to first catch that you drifted and, with the patience of a saint (meaning no histrionics and clenching of your hands or jaw in frustration), go back to focusing on the in and out movement of your breathing. Remind yourself that your breath is more real than your thoughts.
It is a force within you that wants to keep going. Its sole motivation is to keep you alive. Now that’s a powerful and real force indeed.
4. Expect to work with mental movies and lots of sticky thoughts - An image of my bed circa 1985 pops into my mind. Hey, I remember those Rainbow Brite sheets! Whatever happened to them? Hmm…that’s right! Mama T made me get rid of them because they were made of polyester. She hates polyester. Sigh. I miss those sheets…
You will have these inane thoughts and many more as you try to focus on your breath. As you’re successful in letting one thought pass without it sticking, a mental movie will likely start in its place: Summer. Late June. Evening in a Philadelphia park near fiancé’s place. I stare into his lovely green eyes. He sends a suggestive smile. The breeze blows between us as he slowly reaches for...Aah!
And back to the breath once more.
I obviously still struggle with this one, but I have noticed that whenever I’m enthralled with a sticky thought or a mental movie the muscles around my eyes tighten and my brow furrows. I also notice that other parts of my body will tense as well so it’s good practice to switch from focusing on the breath to scanning your body for muscle tightness and consciously release it.
So there you have it, when starting to meditate all you really need is a quality book, a place to sit, patient focus on your breath, and intentional relaxation of as many muscles as you can scan and release.
Oh, and let’s not forget a looser grip on any attachment to Rainbow Brite sheets.