“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy;
then you should sit for an hour.” Old Zen saying
If you ask 100 people what meditation is, they are likely to give you 100 different answers. I have heard everything from "thinking about nothing" to "deep concentration", "mind control", a "religious experience/ practice", "prayer", "self hypnosis", and more.
They say the average person thinks more than 50,000 thoughts per day! Meditation is a way to calm/slow down this monkey chatter a bit. Note that I say a bit, because I personally don’t believe one can just sit down, completely clear the mind, and maintain an “empty” state of mind for more than a few seconds.
The good news is that completely clearing the mind isn’t the goal. The goal is to just think less than 35 thoughts per minute. Phew! Try this - take a comfortable seat wherever you are right now, close your eyes, and merely observe without changing or attempting to control your mind for several seconds.
Did it sound something like - why is this lady having me close my eyes, I wonder how long this blog is going to take me to finish reading, why is it so hot in here, I could really go for a snack, shoot I forgot to call my friend back, I need to go through that stack of mail next to me? Did you notice how your mind quickly jumped from thought to thought to thought?
This is where meditation comes in, a vehicle to help quiet and focus the mind. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of meditation techniques but I’m going to offer up one as a suggestion that simply focuses on your breath.
Take a comfortable seat on the floor with legs crossed or on a chair with feet flat on the floor. Sit up tall. Think about a string attached to the crown of your heading, pulling you upwards towards the sky. Place your palms on your thighs.
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Trust me, you will need this so you don’t spend the whole time thinking, “I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here”, and then compulsively check the clock every 20 seconds. (Don’t worry everyone does this as they begin meditating.)
Flutter your eyes closed.
On your inhales think “Inhale - I’m breathing in”.
On your exhales think “Exhale - I’m breathing out”. (That's it. Don't overcomplicate it.)
Your brain will naturally begin to wander, which is to be expected. Don’t judge the thoughts, just let them pass by and try to bring your mind back to Steps 4 & 5. You may find you have to do this over and over again, continually drawing your mind back to your breath. It’s totally ok. This is why meditation is a practice. Even the most seasoned meditators will tell you their minds are prone to wander at times. If it feels like it has been like an hour you have been practicing, remind yourself you set a timer for 5 minutes and then return your mind back to your breath.
At the end of 5 minutes slowly flutter your eyes open and observe how you feel. Annoyed, frustrated, like that was the longest 5 minutes of your life - it’s ok. Don’t judge yourself or your feelings, just observe them and remind yourself that this is a practice. Something that takes time to develop. You didn’t learn to run, bike, or whatever your hobby is overnight either. Consider jotting down your feelings in a journal so you can track your progress over time.
Repeat daily for a week. If at the end of the week, you find the 5 minute timeframe is getting a bit easier “to sit”, then increase the timer to 10 minutes for the next week. If not, continue with 5 minutes until the following week. It’s not a race. Just do your best.
Increase the time weekly or bimonthly until you get to 20 minutes - the average time most people need to experience many of the benefits of meditation. If you find you don’t have 20 minutes on a particular day, squeezing in at least 5 minutes is still beneficial.
Find this particular meditation technique doesn’t work well for you? There are hundreds of others to try such as a walking meditation, candle gazing, guided visualization, mala bead meditations to name just a few. Try several out so you can find the one that works best for you. Also, experiment with different times of day. I have friends who love to meditate right before bed. I usually fall asleep. Others that meditate while still in bed in the morning. This only works for me if I sit straight up in bed or again I’m asleep. Some take time at lunch to quiet the mind in the middle of their busy days. Again, find what works best for you.
If you have tried to meditate in the past and struggled, I would encourage you to try again. I often find one of the greatest barriers to meditation is, ironically, merely overthinking it. The benefits - reducing stress, promoting emotional health, enhancing self awareness, increasing focus, improving sleep - seem to be countless, so why not give it a try? What do you have to lose? 5 minutes a day?
Be Still. Be Love. Be You.