I’m an extremely spiritual person but when it comes to meditation I’ve always had a problem staying focused.
We’re all told that we should meditate. Doctors now recommend meditation to their patients. Oprah swears by it. Meditation is like food for the spirit: any kind of food is better than nothing. Although certain kinds of foods are better than others.
What is it? How do you do it? Does it matter what kind of meditation you do?
Lowers your blood pressure
Assists your digestive system
Relieves muscle tension
Boosts self-esteem and confidence
Zazen is a seated meditation in the Buddhist tradition. It is ‘just sitting’. It is done for long periods of time, with little instruction and with you sitting with your back very straight. Fantastic for trained monks. Not so great for people who are constantly switched on and cannot sit still.
I’ve studied Transcendental Meditation. Again you sit with your back straight and use a mantra, a sacred, secret word that you repeat over and over. You can let your mind wander to the day’s events, what your plans are for the next day, and using your word, bring yourself back to being present. I don’t practice this as I fall asleep. Every single time. I do find that when I’m stressed I often say my secret word over and over in my mind without thinking about it. If I took nothing from TM I took a word that brings me calm and back to the present.
Another form of meditation is a guided visualisation. It’s normally a recording and you can either sit or lie down with your eyes closed. A person, usually someone with a calm and soothing voice, will take you through a series of places and scenes and you visualise it. If you have a very active mind that is always switched on (like mine), it’s best NOT to lie down. You’re guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep on the couch! It’s a lovely way to escape, stop thinking and just let go.
A wonderful way to let go of the worries of the day is to sit for just 10 minutes at the end of the day before you go to sleep. Sit somewhere comfortable, light a candle, switch off the lights, put on some gentle soothing music and just BE. Sit, listen to the sounds, feel your breathe, let your thoughts wonder, drift off, breathe and be present. SEE the candle, HEAR the music, FEEL your breathe IN and OUT, TOUCH a part of your body that might feel uneasy, sore or uncomfortable. FOCUS on it. Imagine it healed.
Chi Gong is a form of Taoist meditation that also uses breathing. This is very popular with practitioners of Tai Chi (such as myself), and the flow and fluid movement of Tai Chi assists you to slow and regulate your breath and improve your circulation. Don’t get me wrong. It is not little old ladies doing weird hand movements in a park in the middle of the day while we slave behind our computers. It’s a beautiful form of art, it gives you a fantastic workout (I lost 12kgs) and when you learn to breathe – IN – OUT – IN – OUT you learn to be PRESENT – HERE – NOW.
This brings me to mindfulness. It’s all about being ‘present’, letting your mind run free, accepting whatever thoughts come up, and then letting them go.
While you’re standing in a queue become aware of your breath. Standing still, breath in and out. Be aware. Before you realise it you’re at the front of the line.
When you’re eating, focus on your food. What does it look like, really look like. Before you shove it in your mouth and gobble it down, stop, close your eyes and smell the food. Breathe. Then chew your food and focus on your chewing. Feel the texture of the food, taste every piece in your mouth. What does it feel like when you swallow? Can you feel the food moving down and into your stomach? Can you feel your stomach accepting the food and starting to feel full? Focus on nothing but every taste sensation until you’ve finished your meal. You might eat slower, feel fuller quicker and really feel like you’ve just had a gourmet 3 course dinner when it was a mere chicken mayonnaise sandwich.
Have you ever driven home and when you pulled into the driveway you can’t remember driving home? It’s as if you were driving on autopilot and you weren’t thinking. You just arrived. You were driving, slowing down, accelerating, braking, turning corners, using your mirrors and indicators and not thinking about it? How did I get home? That’s mindful meditation.
Start taking notice of what’s around you, what’s really around you and then with practice it becomes habit. You stop thinking about it and just practice the art of being present without thinking about it.
(As an aside, this is the speech I did for my CC2 for Toastmasters this evening. Malcolm gave me a glowing review, he loved my speech, he felt it was personal which brought through my passion. Colleen also added in that I make beautiful eye contact with the audience when I speak and when I start making less use of my notes I’m going to make an exceptional speaker! Me, who is terrified of public speaking).