Beginning your practice
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Do you find yourself interested in meditation without any idea how to start? Have you read books or downloaded apps with little success? Are you curious if meditation is even real? I know exactly how you feel. I had read how meditation was supposed to completely change my life. It was supposed to release me from the grips of my worried mind. After many attempts, however, I did not have the results to back up that claim.
I assumed that meditation was an oasis that would immediately relieve me of my anxious, worried mind. Every time I sat I expected to be in absolute stillness and focus. When I actually went to sit, however, I found myself mostly thinking and fidgeting. I didn’t find it difficult to train myself to sit for 20 minutes, but I was just running down the clock. I was checking meditation off my morning checklist without getting any value out of the practice. After a couple of years, I would catch glimpse of serenity or peace here and there, but it was never anything that would last beyond the sessions. It made me curious. Could I train myself to feel peace as my default mode? I let that question simmer in the back of my mind for years. I didn’t realize that this was when my practice truly began.
So let me ask you this. What is it that you would like to see shift in your life? Your answer is the start of your practice. You may be anxious, frustrated, worried, or angry and seeking a way to understand how to move through these emotions with a little more grace. You may also be looking for better focus, concentration, or creativity. The reason itself is not important. Simply having a reason is what is essential because this is the fuel for your practice. The desire for change is your driving force.
What could be a more honest and truthful desire than wanting to live in the world more skillfully? The mistake that we make, however, is that when we begin meditating, we expect the result to be the practice. For example, if we head back to the beginning of this post, you'll read that I began meditating to quell my constant state of low-level anxiety. This sounds like a great reason to meditate! I had the desire to be peaceful.
So what was my mistake? - I expected my meditation to be peaceful and calm right off the bat.
Did that happen? - Not even close. I had spent my entire life up until that point training my mind to focus on what could potentially go wrong! To expect anything but worry when I meditated would be absurd (but that’s what I expected none-the-less). So take a moment and pause.
What is your reason to meditate and what do you hope to change?
The stage is set. You now know why you want to meditate and what you hope to gain. And now you begin the practice. No matter the form of meditation you are practicing, the idea is to understand your mind. We are very interested in one specific part of the mind; actually, the part of the mind that allows you to shift your focus. We will call this the attention muscle of our brain. Like any other muscle that you would train at the gym, it will take time and effort to see this muscle get stronger. As you progress, however, things clarify and the process begins to take on a life of its own. So consider meditation the training of your attention muscle. This mind training consists of 3 basic pieces.
First, you use meditation to simply notice that you have awareness - this consists of your awareness of the world (through your senses) and your awareness of yourself (feelings, emotions, self-talk, etc.)
Second, we use meditation to begin to notice where our awareness tends to drift - what do you think about during the day? What emotions dominate your experience, etc.
Finally, we use meditation to deliberately move our attention to more positive, open, and resilient mind-states - You deliberately move from worry to security.
That’s it! Simple, yeah? What you’ll find is that over time these resilient and positive mind-states will start to bleed over into your day. You will be more open, creative, and adaptable to change. The best part? It won’t feel forced. It will happen naturally.
Sounds pretty good... So what’s the catch?
Meditation takes time. It also takes consistency. There are no two ways about it. It takes a couple of years to really begin to see through old habits, conditioning, ideas, and ways of being. You will need to be consistent with your practice (yes, you need to do it every day) if you want to see results. That being said, a couple of years seems like a relatively short amount of time compared to a lifetime of well-being. Now don’t misread this. I am not saying that your life will be perfect and things will never go wrong. What I AM saying, however, is that when stressful events do occur, you will respond with clarity, grace, and poise.