How to Meditate

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Painting by Nik Helbig

As I mentioned in my previous post Mindfulness Myths, mindfulness and meditation is not about stopping your thoughts, clearing your mind or thinking about nothing. That is essentially impossible. Like mindful living, the purpose in meditation is to observe and detach from your thoughts. Anyone can do it, whether they are naturally focused and calm or someone who has scattered, racing thoughts. The way in which this is accomplished is through the use of an anchor.

Examples of anchors are:

  • counting your breaths
  • being aware of the physical sensations of your breathing
  • focusing on an image or a mantra or sound

Many people think they have failed at meditation and wind up quitting after the first few tries because they believing the purpose is to focus on nothing but the anchor. After a few meditation sessions they realize that most of the session is spent with random thoughts and only a small amount of time is spent actually focusing on the anchor and so meditation seems pointless. Meditation then becomes a very frustrating experience with little reward.

Anchor Your Thoughts

The anchor is much like the anchor that is used for a boat. Of course your thoughts, like the boat, will not remain stationary. Certainly, your mind will drift away from your anchor and into the far reaching water of your thoughts, but the anchor will always be there to eventually bring you back. The purpose of the anchor is not so that you have no other thoughts. Instead it is to assist you in developing an awareness of your thoughts by offering an anchor to continuously bring yourself back so that you can separate yourself from your thoughts. As you learn to do this in meditation, it will soon become a part of your daily life.

Each time your mind drifts away and is then brought back by the anchor you learn something new about your mind and your thought processes. You become more aware and develop a detached perspective from your thoughts, as you observe them and their associated emotions. You begin to realize you are not your thoughts—that your thoughts are not real, have no basis in what is actually true and that they have no power over you. As Louise Hay says, “A thought is a thought and a thought can be changed.”

Meditation is not About Changing your Breath

When you begin meditating sometimes it is helpful to spend a few moments softening your body and mind by imagining every muscle in your body relaxing starting with the top of your head and moving down to your feet. Meditation is not the same as deep breathing exercises. You can start your meditation by taking a few deep breaths from your belly (not your chest). After that however, you should not focus on changing your breath to make it deeper, more relaxed or longer. If it is short and shallow simply observe it and accept and allow your breathing to be as it is.

Your Thoughts – Observe, Accept and Allow

Realise that any thoughts or feelings no matter how insignificant that come up are there for a reason and need to released. That is why they are coming up. Don’t fight them. Accept and allow anything that comes up and you will see how much easier they dissolve. The key is to simply watch them and then watch them drift away as you gently bring your attention back to your breath (perhaps for the hundredth time!). Observing thoughts is not the same thing as thinking because you are not analyzing or making speculations. You are watching. This is very calming to the mind.

If you have unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety or anger, as your mind wanders to a particular situation or person, do not fight them but sit with them. If you are able to let them go then do so, if not then sit with the feeling and experience it in your body for as long as necessary. The more you observe the feeling in your body and what it feels or looks like, the less distressing it will be. Sometimes, like a difficult person, all that our feelings want is acknowledgement.

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