Most people know how to look after their body. The practice of eating well and exercise might be difficult but we all know how to do it in theory. But how do you get your mind into shape? One in four people will suffer with mental health issues.
Meditation can focus and quiet your mind enabling you to gain inner calm. Neurologists have found that regular meditation actually changes your brain in ways that can help you to control emotions, enhance concentration, decrease stress, and even become more connected to those around you. It takes practice but you can achieve a sense of tranquility and peace no matter what’s going on around you.
The aim of meditation
The ultimate goal of meditation is to transcend the mind and experience directly the Oneness of the Universe. An experience that is difficult to describe in words. People describe it as Enlightenment, Ananda, Self-Realization, Oneness with God, a state of Grace, peace, happiness, bliss.
People meditate for years and never achieve true enlightenment. The ultimate goal is not important, the practice of meditation is. It’s the journey and not the destination that is important. The practice of meditation allows you to exercise your ability to be aware of your thoughts as they happen and to have the control to choose whether or not to explore a thought or let it go. This ability will give you better control over your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your behaviours; it will give you better control of your life.
How to Meditate
Meditation is very simple, it is paying attention. You use your mind to focus your attention on one thing.
Your mind, in a normal state, has any number of thoughts speeding in and out all begging for your attention. If you are in an anxious state of mind then more thoughts race in and out, leaving you with a sense of being overwhelmed. To meditate is to calm the mind. To calm your mind, you narrow down your attention. Instead of fleeting from thought to thought, going round and round in circles. You focus your attention on one thing.
Meditation is not about clearing your mind of all thoughts and trying to think about nothing. It is calming your thought processes and practicing focusing your attention one on thing.
How to approach the practice of meditation
When you practice meditating and focus your attention on one thing your mind will wander. Without realising at first you will suddenly become aware that you have stop focusing and are have been thinking about what is for lunch, or what work you need to do or any number of thoughts. Meditation is learning how to calm your mind. Learning how to focus your attention. It is a learning process, every time you find your mind has wandered, simply return to whatever it was you were focusing on. Do not kick yourself for making a mistake. Do not try harder you stop your mind from wandering. There is no need to judge yourself every time your mind wanders. Just accept it and return you attention to your object of focus.
Every time you practice meditation your mind will wander. Every time your mind wanders you will learn how to focus your attention. You do not need to judge your progress, it will only slow down the learning process.
Practical steps to help you meditate
The object of focus
What you choose to focus your attention on is up to you. Most traditions use the breath. You sit and you pay attention to your breathing. You feel yourself breath in and out and that is what you focus your attention on. This is used for a number of reasons. Your breath is always with you so you can meditate anywhere. You can start by focus on the journey of the breath, feel it going in and out which is more interesting than something that doesn’t move. Then as you improve you can focus on certain points in your breath – just breathing in.
Some people prefer focusing on looking at an object, for example, the flame of a candle. You can also use sound and chant, repeat a mantra or listen to rhythmic sounds.
The better you become at meditating the easier you will find it. You will be able to calm your mind anytime and anywhere. Even if you are in a noise environment with lots of distractions. However it is easier if you reduce the number of distractions, especially when you are just starting to learn how to meditate. Choose a quiet place and time when you will not be disturbed. Switch off your phone and any other devices. Reduce any disturbing noises and make your environment as comfortable as possible.
Most people have their eyes closed (unless you are focusing your eyes on an object). With your eyes closed you can shut out a lot of the external distractions.
As well as calming the mind you need your body to be calm as well. If your body is comfortable and still it will not distract you. You do not need to sit in a lotus position or even cross legged. The important thing is to be comfortable, still and stable. The reason people sit cross legged or in a lotus position is for stability. So they can focus and do not have to pay any attention to their body. Their body is stable enough that it will not fall over. However you can meditate just as well by sitting on a comfortable chair. Do try and keep your back straight, so your breathing is smooth and easy. Try not to meditate lying down, as you can fall asleep to easily.
Develop a regular practice
Like anything you would like to learn to do, the more regularly you practice the quicker you will get results. Try to develop a habit by meditating at the same time(s) every day, in the same place. Some people prefer first thing in the morning. Some prefer last thing at night. Choose what works best for you. The more consistent you are the easy and more effective it is.
You can meditate for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes whatever works best for you. There are no hard and fast rules. Try different things and get a feel for what works for you and develop a regular habit.
Often you may meditate and feel like your mind has wandered the whole time and you didn’t manage to focus at all. Yet at such times you can still feel better.