So many people tell me “I don’t have time to meditate”. That is understandable in a world where we’re multitasking from the moment we wake to the moment we go back to sleep. Others say they get everything they need from playing tennis for an hour, or doing some other activity they enjoy. For that hour, they are so caught up in what they are doing that it feels as though they are hopping off the world for 60 minutes for a breather. And it feels good. It can be looked on as a form of mindfulness: focusing our minds on the present moment, on purpose.
Distraction from all that is going on in our heads and in our lives is nearly always welcomed as a break. And that is part of the reason we become hooked on tennis, soap operas, books or watching sport.
Some argue that if we took the time to meditate and to identify with (but not to over-identify with) all that’s going on in our heads, the activity would become even more enjoyable because it wouldn’t be under pressure to be the only means by which we grab an hour of sanity. In other words, if we could accept and observe our emotions during meditation, we would no longer feel the need to escape from them.
if we could accept and observe our emotions during meditation, we would no longer feel the need to escape from them
During mindful meditation, we get inside our own heads; we calm them down and create a safe, open space. In that space, we identify our emotions one at a time. It is important to not “become” an emotion but rather to observe it as an onlooker. Once identified, it can be much easier to choose our response to that emotion and when we have decided on a response, that becomes what happens next – simply because we have chosen it.
So mindful meditation can’t be a bad thing. It’s just a question of when to fit it in. It isn’t easy at all, but it is very simple. Mindful meditation takes practice. The first few times, you may be distracted after five seconds. With daily practice, you can achieve up to an hour or more of meaningful meditation, with instant results.
For very basic meditation, step by step you are aiming to:
- Gain control of your busy mind
- Observe an emotion
- Formulate a plan of internal reaction to the emotion
- Resolve to carry out that reaction
- Reaffirm that you have control of your mind
- Before returning to your day, decide your overriding mood (eg positive, upbeat, compassionate)
- Start the day
For the next two issues, we will focus on gaining control of our minds and emptying them of junk. Anyone can learn to meditate. I urge you to do this every morning so that it becomes a habit – a way of life.
With very little time, you will become masterful at this and be ready for next issue’s topic: considering how to observe and deal with one emotion at a time and formulating internal and external responses to those emotions.
A useful challenge, especially during the brighter months, would be to set aside half an hour each morning to practice. Having a coffee while you get settled makes it less torturous. So, coffee in hand, find a comfortable place to sit. Often on your bed. We aim to be alert, so sit upright, legs crossed or not.
Gain control of your mind
Gaining control of your mind is easier said than done. The mornings can be the time of day we are frantically triaging all that needs to be done. Remember you’ve got up early to do this. You have “made time”. So, the day’s organising can wait until you are finished. If it helps, set a second alarm for the time you normally get up so that you don’t have to watch the clock while meditating. Most people can equate the number of minutes they spend concentrating on “nothingness” with their level of calmness, and often happiness, that same day.
Methods to gain control can include mindful drinking, mindful breathing and body scan exercises.
Look at the coffee in your hands and concentrate on it. Feel the heat of the cup on each hand. Smell the coffee. Feel the temperature as you take a drink. Taste it in every part of your mouth. Observe it being swallowed. Taste the aftertaste. See if you can feel a caffeine hit with each sip.
If you have concentrated on mindful drinking and nothing else for one minute, you are doing well. Over the month, a good aim would be to extend this time to five minutes.
Each time you find yourself going off on a tangent, don’t berate yourself; it’s not a mistake. Just gently come back to the present moment and the task in hand.
Next, try to just sit and observe your breathing. It doesn’t have to be active deep breaths, just notice the fact that you are breathing and focus on the tip of your nose.
If this is difficult, try counting your breaths. See if you can get to 60 without your mind wandering away. If it does, gently bring your focus back. Maybe for the first few sessions you can only get to five breaths before your mind wanders off. Remember that every time you extend your pinpoint concentration by one breath, you are becoming more masterful at meditation.
Mindful body scan
Now that you’re awake, you can try mindful body scan – another great way to be mindful. Focusing on “nothing” is extremely hard to do for lengthy periods of time. Beginners find it easier to focus on something.
Body scan involves total concentration on individual parts of our body one at a time from the top of your head to your toes, gradually moving down along your body. The slower you can do it without losing focus, the greater will be the benefits. If you are managing to concentrate well, slow it down further. By this point, you should feel a degree of control over your mind and be ready to use this space to your advantage.
In the next issue, we’ll talk about how to observe an emotion without over-identifying with it, and how to formulate a plan of action when faced with that emotion. In the meantime, I wish you good luck with your practice.