Friday, May 31, 2013

More on Meditation

OK, so maybe you have decided it's time to try meditation.  Multiple health benefits come from meditation.  Cognitive benefits are plentiful.  And, the joy that becomes possible is hard to resist.

Now that you've decided, what exactly do you do?  Good question.  There are hundreds of ways to meditate and no right or wrong method.  Although, some methods will say there is a right way -their way and always do the same each and every day forever.  I don't follow this way of thinking, perhaps because I am so very aware of how different people can be and in order to get these folks to commit, I want to find a good fit.  Also, different types of meditation can have differing benefits.  We can pick and choose to fit what is needed.  However, there is something to be said of sticking with one type of meditation through thick and thin.  There is a depth of practice, understanding that can be achieved just by suffering through difficult days or days when you are tired of the same practice.  There's the joy of a ritual and knowing what to expect.  So, you decide. You try.  You experiment.  Maybe, like me, you will practice various types of meditation through your lifetime (my practice can vary day to day or week to week).  Or, you will find the practice that best suits you and stick with it.

Here are a few to get you started:
The most basic form of meditation is mindfulness.  This simply means to focus on whatever is in the present.  Mindful breathing is sitting and focusing on the breath.  Mindful eating is focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, and textures involved in eating.  Mindful walking is a slow deliberate pace, focusing the mind on each and every step.  Mindful meditation practices are well studied and researched.  The benefits are many - physical and mental.

My favorite form of meditation is loving-kindness or meta meditation.  There are 4-5 specific phrases involved with meta meditation meant to create a sense of compassion for self and others.  It can be a challenge, because it does involve someone who is difficult for you and it does involve self (sometimes the most challenging person to love!).  However, the benefits are a deep sense of trust, understanding and yes, love for self and for everyone else.  Minor differences and irritations with other people fall away and it gradually helps us to work through major difficulties that we have with others as well.

Mantra meditation involves a specific word, phrase or even a prayer that is repeated either out loud or silently.  It can be chanted as well.  Some meditation teachers give a mantra specific to the student who then uses that for meditation.  However, you can choose whatever fits best and practice on your own.  The mantra does not need to be a Sanskrit word or a Buddhist prayer.  It just needs to be something meaningful to you.

Visualization is a form of meditation using the imagination.  Oftentimes, it follows a general pattern of walking into a tunnel or an elevator which then can transport you somewhere, a garden, safe space, mountaintop, etc.  Once there, the senses take over.  Visually see the space, hear the sounds, feel, taste, etc.  This gets the part of the brain most often involved with the senses engaged.  Then, be purposeful with the rest of the meditation.  If you are working through a problem, bring aspects of the problem to the visualization.  If you are trying to feel a certain feeling like confidence in preparation for a job interview or other performance, that can be brought in.  If you are seeking faith or trust, that can be brought in.  Next time you meditate, the process can be exactly the same or there can be some differences or a completely new visual.

I have only touched on a few here and already you have your work cut out for you.  Start for just 5 minutes, if that's all you can manage.  Set a gentle timer or a piece of quiet flowing music that is about 5 minutes long and sit.  Don't worry, you will have thoughts coming in, sounds interfering, worries rearing their ugly heads.  And, that is what meditation is!  It is the process of learning to focus, of learning to ignore the external and internal disruptions.

Yes, sometimes it is really hard and other times it just flows and seems magical.  In the beginning, mostly it will be hard.  It's like training a muscle.  If I want to bench press 100 lbs., I can't start with the 100, I have to build up to that.  On some days the 20 lbs. is easy and other days it is hard.  Then, I feel ready to move up to 30 lbs.  it just keeps going like this until on most days I try, 100 lbs. feels pretty darn good!  All along the way, the benefits start to become more and more obvious, but they are gradual and they are profound.  Some you will notice and others you won't until the day or 2 when you don't meditate and you know it's serving you really, really well!

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