You’ve decided you’d like to try meditation, or perhaps you’ve been dipping in and out of ‘trying it’ for a while, or maybe you started a practice and have fallen off the wagon. Most of us have been in one or more of these places when the idea of meditation takes a hold on our imagination.
With the ending of another year in sight and the start of a new one on the horizon, the symbolism of this time provides a good incentive to start or reignite a meditation practice. In suggesting how you might do this, I think it’s best to start with asking or reminding ourselves, what actually ‘is’ meditation and why do I want to practice it?
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ is something relevant to anything in life we choose to engage in. And even if when we have started with something, it’s powerful to keep asking ourselves this. Often our ‘what’ and ‘why’ evolves with time and life events and our own perception of what we are engaging with changes.
In having a clear connection to what we are doing and why are doing it is the basis of not just forming a regular habit but also making the whole endeavour worth it.
There are so many ‘definitions’ of meditation, from different traditions, schools and philosophies. Rather than give you a list or debating that here, I’ll share with you how I would define meditation, based on study, experience and where I am in life now:
Meditation is both the state and practice of feeling at one with and in the moment.
When I first got interested in meditation it wasn’t through my yoga practice, even though mediation was introduced in the yoga classes I chose to take many moons (18 years) ago. Meditation was also a major component of a long-term teacher training residential I did in India. But even there and then, I only engaged with it because I had to. My ‘what’ and ‘why’ didn’t even come into the picture, and no teacher asked me to ask those questions.
It was when I fell into a spell of anxiety, after leaving a high pressured (and well regarded by society and friends and family) job, and finding myself single after a long term relationship break up, that I made a personal deliberate effort to develop a regular meditation practice.
It didn’t work. At first. The ‘kind’ of meditation I was practising (that is, the technique offered) did not sit well with my then mind-state or wellbeing. It was the MBSR variety: otherwise known more commonly as mindfulness-based meditation.
The meditation I had been accustomed to before, while on training in India, was a stark variety: sit in silence, with no instruction, for 1hour in the morning and 1hour in the evening, every day. This was inaccessible for me in my anxious phase.
I tried various teachers and courses, and in the end found ‘Yin’ Yoga and used that practice (the long holding of floor based postures, being with the body and breath while there) as my form of meditation. It helped enormously, and led to my training to teach Yin yoga, which I’ve now done for 10 years.
Entering into my 40s, my relationship to meditation changed. Not overnight. I share this with the gift of hindsight: something seemed to be evolving more significantly as I entered this decade. Certainly life events played a factor in that (loss of a parent being one), and my own body and physiological state changing (hormones and health). But also my worldview and priorities were shifting. In this context, I re-immersed myself into the ‘study’ of meditation, reading deeply into meditation traditions (from devotion and chanting a mantra, to focusing on the natural breath, to observing thoughts as they come, to visualising an image… and others). I also studied – and continue to study nearly every day – articles and books that look in to how meditation works and its impact on our being. This renewed interest led me into a developing a meditation practice that has become a personal putting-together of techniques. My current ‘why’ is… I meditate to give me a space to enter into where I can be with things as they are within me and around me. I also meditate because I know it helps me see, feel and think clearer.
Saying this, the past few months have delivered a few curve balls – as life does, whenever it feels like it. I have found, without thinking about it or contriving it, my meditation practice in these months has been of a devotional quality. I have been practising as an offering to that and they who have known deep pain and have not only got through that but have become bigger hearted souls. Where did this change in my ‘what’ come from? Well, the more we engage with anything with an open mind and heart, the more our very heart and mind will talk to us on a personal level and we will be able to hear its voice amid the chaos and noise of life.
Start where you are. Join a class or practice with a teacher who speaks to you (and is convenient for your schedule!). Do your own self-reflection and questioning along the way. Give a technique a chance (say a month). Stay with a technique while you feel it supports you where you are. Study meditation – which could be reading just one article a week, or listening to a podcast on your way to work. And, if you can, connect with someone else or others who is also starting or who has a meditation practice.
Know that it ‘all counts’. Even if your ‘why’ or ‘what’ changes (which it wil), whatever you engaged with or didn’t engage with, goes into the pot which never empties. It only keeps getting fuller…
The rest will come.
Technical Aids and Recommendations:
I’m not a technical person and while I have a smart phone and mac laptop, I’m a ‘basic features’ kinda girl when it comes to using technology.
So the Apps on my phone are limited. The maps and spotify just about does it., but there is one other App that I downloaded a year ago and have found simply wonderful and life enhancing…
This App offers more than 7,000 guided meditations – all free. And it’s growing by the day.
But it’s not even that feature (which is its main feature and raison d’etre) that made me ‘find it’ and use it regularly.
It has a lovely, highly user friendly and easily adapatable… timer! I use it every day for setting the length of my meditation (with a nice dulcet Tibetan bowl sound that starts it, tell me when I’m half way through and ends it). I can use it with my phone on Airplane mode which is vital for my concentration.
My guess is that it’s one of the few Apps out there that is quality, has become massive, and yet remains free. (I do donate to it though, every six months, because it’s genuinely good – in all senses of that word).