Ask someone why they don't meditate, and you'll probably hear some version of this answer: “My mind just goes and goes and goes. I can't make it stop.”
That's why you need to meditate.
Here's the thing: we all have minds like that. Non-stop nonsense running through your head does not make you unique, it makes you like the rest of us. This is why meditation is essential for everyone.
Learning to calm the mind gives us the opportunity to get control over our thoughts. With practice, we're more likely to catch those instances of self-defeating self-talk and correct them. By getting quiet, we have the opportunity to listen. I've heard it said, “Prayer is when you ask God for help. Meditation is when you listen for the answer.”
Meditation is a process by which we learn to calm our monkey minds. First, we have to learn to direct our attention away from the stimulus that distracts us. Then, we concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. With prolonged concentration, the object of our concentration falls away, and we're left with stillness and a sense of profound connection to all that is.
The benefits of meditation are many; it has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, and anxiety. There are very few of us who couldn't benefit from a little of that!
So let's get started.
Set the Stage
It helps to do your meditation practice in the same place every day. Ideally, you could set up a little corner with a mat or cushion, a candle, and maybe some photos or items you find inspiring. Create a sacred space, whatever that means for you. Having a routine will help you stick to it, so see if you can meditate at the same time every day, perhaps right after you wake up or before you go to bed.
Sit still with a lengthened spine. If you have tight hips and are accustomed to slouching, sitting cross-legged on the floor can be challenging. If your body is uncomfortable, you will have a very hard time concentrating on your meditation.
The good news is this will improve with practice. In the meantime, sit tall in a chair with your feet on the floor and practice sitting cross-legged for a few minutes each day, gradually increasing the time until you can do a few minutes of meditation in that position.
It's not uncommon for your feet to fall asleep. Obviously, you wouldn't want to stay like that for hours, but for a few minutes it's okay. This, too, will get better the more you practice.
You might find it helpful to do some yoga or stretching before you start.
Whatever you do, do not lie down! You will most likely go to sleep—which is nice, but it's not meditation.
Choose Your Method
There are two basic types of meditation: with an object, and without an object. Objects can be internal or external, and might include the following:
A mantra, phrase, or prayer that you repeat aloud or in your head.
A candle flame or the full moon.
A sacred symbol, such as a cross or a mandala (physically in front of you or visualized in your mind).
The sound and feel of your breath.
At first, you might want to explore various types of meditation until you find one that works for you. However, after you find one you like, it's a good idea to stick with it.
Take it Easy
Work up to a half an hour. Start with a couple of minutes, and add time each day. Set a timer with a pleasant-sounding alarm.
The outside world will try to steal your focus, so don't make it harder on yourself. Don't start anything you'll have to check on (like dinner). Leave your phone and your pets in another room. Tell your family not to bother you for the next little while.
Don't worry if it doesn't click for you right away. Each attempt will serve you. Even experienced meditators will tell you they still find it hard to meditate sometimes. Like in business, like in life, you'll get there if you don't give up.
The only goals you should have for your meditation are that you do it every day, and that you practice for the length of time you told yourself you would. Otherwise, stay open to what might happen—or not.
Do you have a meditation practice? What tips can you offer for those who are getting started?