Monthly Mentor Series ~ Meditation for Beginners by Eric R. Schiller
Editors Note: When I had the idea to discuss the topic of meditation this month, I immediately thought of the one person I know that has had a solid meditation practice in place for years – by Brother-in-law Eric. Lucky for me, he just happens to be a writer as well. This post provides everything you need to know to get started with meditation. It’s the perfect beginners guide! Thanks Eric!
Technology is continually exploding the amount of information we process. The Internet has become a conduit for so much intelligence it is literally impossible to keep up. Businesses and social lives have been swept up in the momentum; the need to stay current, perform jobs, raise kids, and maintain a social lives means that we have to be thinking, communicating, remembering things all the time.
When we spend most of our time in our heads we run the risk of identifying ourselves with the contents of our knowledge.
We can get so caught up in accomplishing things and remembering dates and processing ideas that we never stop thinking. Even when we’re not purposefully thinking, our minds wander to ideas and objects, memories and daydreams, perpetually.
When the brain is overtaxed our whole self pays the cost with anxiety and illness.
Meditation aims to give our minds a break from thinking, if only for a moment. The beautiful side effect of the practice is that minor successes or even failures can still help to tone down our mental noise. When the noise is reduced we can begin to unwind ourselves from the web of language and thought and realize that we are more than this. We have higher faculties like love and inspiration to attend to.
How do I meditate?
When I first sat down to meditate I was stumped. My brain had always been thinking, so not-thinking seemed very strange. I enjoyed reading books about meditating, which of course filled my mind with concepts and terms and goals and confusion.
I started by putting on very sedate music and stared at a candle. This got my brain used to intentional down time and gave my mind something to focus on. I realized my mind wanders because it has been consistently inundated with words and thoughts since birth. Our minds, being brought up in the culture they have, don’t know anything else.
Getting the mind to relax is tricky. The brain is connected by the central nervous system to our entire bodies. If there is any agitation or tension then our minds aren’t working at full capacity. This is why the physical side of yoga is effective. Hatha yoga is meant to gently open and awaken our nervous system, and to circulate the natural energies (be they blood, electrolytes, oxygen, prana, whatever you like). It can be hard to find the time, but physical relaxation is a crucial preparation for meditation.
Get into a comfortable position, one that lets you sit still for a long time. Stillness is the best situation to be in for meditation. If you can relax enough to essentially ‘forget’ your body, you’ll be able to pay greater attention to your mind. Make sure you aren’t going to fall asleep. Just sit quietly and pay attention to your thoughts as they arise. New thoughts will probably bubble up from your subconscious mind. That’s okay.
Notice though that if you intentionally think about a subject, you can move your mind forward along that train of thought without getting too distracted.
An active attention tends to block out the rising of subconscious thoughts. But an active attention finds correspondences in memory and can digress and ramble on ineffectually.
To avoid this we focus attention on our breathing. Without straining, we want to relax into slow, full breaths while keeping our mind trained on the gentle flux of breathing. Subconscious thoughts will still bubble up. That’s totally natural. When you catch yourself thinking about something, understand that it’s just a subconscious bubble.
Let the bubble burst, let the thought go, and ease your attention back onto the breath. Guess what…more thoughts arise. That’s fine. The more we do it, the better we get (like everything), so there is no need for frustration at these thoughts.
Soon you’ll find that you’re catching the thoughts at finer and finer stages. Eventually you might find your attention is completely absorbed in breathing and very few thoughts arise, or the thoughts that arise are quieter, less defined. When your mind slows its thought-generating process, it gets used to the idea that it doesn’t have to constantly whirl like a top to stay up.
You might find a moment of silence. This generally comes with a feeling of bliss.
If you can get that far, you might just meditate for the rest of your life. It worked for me. I meditate at least twice a day and have not missed a single session in many years. It is not a chore; it is something I look forward to every day.
Meditation practice is very personal, and we each develop our own way in our own time.
If you’re looking for more information on meditation techniques, the following books are a beautiful bridge from an ancient Indian tradition to today:
Eric R. Schiller writes and makes movies and music in Toronto. A self-guided veteran of inner exploration, Eric blogs weekly at EricRSchiller.com about spirituality, philosophy, culture, and art. Follow him on Twitter @EricRSchiller.