Meditation has so many misconceptions, preconceptions, judgments, and assumptions, that can often stop a person before they even start a meditation practice. What are some of these?
“I don’t have time.”
“My mind wanders.”
“I think too much.”
“I get restless.”
“I can’t calm down and relax.”
“Meditation conflicts with my religious beliefs.”
“No one else in my life supports me starting this practice.”
“That’s too ‘woo-woo’!”
…just to name a few!
So, if meditation has so many benefits, why is it that so many people don’t do it? Well, I think the biggest barrier to beginning is a lack of understanding of the intention of meditation.
It’s my assertion that the reason we meditate is to create a new, more skillful (healthier?) relationship to what is arising in our lives, whether it be thoughts, emotions, sensations in our body, or external factors such as work, relationships with others, or life situations. It starts by noticing where your mind’s attention is resting and when it is resting somewhere (past or future) that is not serving you, how to create new habits and bring it back to the here and now.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and one of the reasons that matters is because studies have shown that when we are not present, we are less happy. Conversely, when we are present, we are more able to see with clarity what is arising and be skillful in our response to it, rather than unskillful with reactions.
A recent article from Mindful.org (which adapted tools from Christopher Willard’s book, Growing Up Mindful) highlighted 5 steps that are very useful in outlining the “how” of meditation, as tools to strengthen your mind’s attention. These steps are:
- Focus on an anchor to keep you in the present moment. This anchor could be your breath, sensations in your body, sensory awareness such as sounds, sights, or tastes, an image in your mind’s eye, movement in your body (such as walking or exercise), or even a mantra or phrase that is grounding or calming to you. This anchor is what you come back to when you notice your mind has wandered off.
- When focusing on this anchor, you are practicing not getting stuck on your train of thoughts, and wherever it may be taking you. When you can practice letting go of the train of thoughts during meditation, you are creating a new habit of how to let go of anything else that is not serving you that comes up outside of your meditation.
- The mindful moment occurs when you notice your mind having wandered, and you realize you have a choice: choose to come back to your anchor or stay on that train forging ahead without awareness.
- Mindfulness isn’t about always staying in the present, it’s about noticing (without judgment!) the moment when you are out of the present and the knowing that you can choose to come back to the present. The ability to be non-judgmental with yourself increases your self-compassion and compassion for others. This helps to quiet our inner critic and invite a kinder, friendlier inner voice.
- Practicing this cycle of noticing with awareness where your mind’s attention is resting, informs you of your own patterns that you get stuck in, and the wisdom to create new habits and patterns of responding to whatever is arising in the moment.
No one ever said this was easy. So that’s why we practice.