8 minute read
Those of you that are close to me know that meditation is a hot topic for me. It is a big part of my life. So here it is already: A blog about meditation. Where I can bore you about profound spiritual experiences and the important of being in the here and now. You know, the kind of predictable crap that you expect to read on a blog called The Daily Zen. (Actually, that blog is amazing, but that’s beside the point).
But before I enlighten you, let me first attempt to explain to you what meditation is. Or better yet. Let me show you what meditation is. We will do a little exercise.
Make sure you’re sitting comfortably, close your eyes (on the end of this sentence, smartass…) and try not to think of anything for 60 seconds.
You’re still reading? I’m serious. Stop reading right now and don’t think of anything for one minute.
And, how did that go? Did you find your inner self? Any profound spiritual insights? My guess is not. Probably your mind was bursting with seemingly unrelated thoughts. Maybe you were distracted by an insect landing on your arm. By a sound in your surroundings. Maybe you even got annoyed and stopped before the minute was over. And that makes sense, because what you just did is exactly what meditation is not.
So let’s try again. Close your eyes, but this time focus on your belly gently rising and falling with your breath. Just sit with yourself for a minute and let your attention effortlessly gravitate towards the feeling of your belly. Whatever you do, do not try to get rid of thoughts. Accept them for what they are and return your attention back to your breath with a smile. There is no need to worry about time either. Heck, if you like it, you can even make it 5 minutes. Starting now…
And how was that? I hope you experienced that this is a very different practice than what we did before. You probably had the same amount of thoughts. Although maybe this time they were a little less persistent. A little less annoying. Maybe the thoughts didn’t seem to be such a problem this time around.
Many people tell me they could never do meditation. “My mind is just too restless to sit down without thinking.” Of course it is! So is mine, any anobody else’s mind. If my mind was perfectly still I wouldn’t need to do practice meditation, would I? That would be a very boring and pointless activity.
Meditation is the practice of observing thoughts and sensations, both pleasant and unpleasant, without interfering or being swept away by them. It is a moment in the day where you make time to observe and get to know your own mind. Simply by being present.
“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness movement
For most people taking a moment for ourselves means reading a book, watching a movie, baking a cake. Although these are great activities to relax, they have little to do with the practice of meditation. In meditation we sit down and don’t introduce any new distractions in our minds. This allows our mind to disentangle itself just a little bit. To look at the rising and falling of the treacherous sea that is our mind. To notice when the waves wash over us and to bring ourselves gently back to the surface.
The waves of the mind. Allow me to stay with that line of thought for a little bit. I think that water is a great metaphor for the way our minds work. Imagine your mind as a bathtub, and you sitting in this tub is your conscious self. Now say that you had a busy day with lots of moving around. The water in the tub will be moving around and be very restless. If you now sit still for a little bit to relax, you will see that the water doesn’t magically stop moving. It is still just as restless and will need some time to calm down.
In the start of this blog I asked you to forcefully push out any thoughts. This is like asking you to stop the water from moving by slamming your hands on the waves in the water. You can imagine that this will only create more disturbances in the tub.
Instead, we can choose to sit back and wait for the waves to calm down. This is more closely in analogy with the second exercise. Yes, the water is still moving around. And for any of you who ever sit in a tub, you will know that you yourself will be moved by the waves in turn. Maybe you lose yourself in them a little bit from time to time. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you have the intention to sit still and watch, as the disturbances in the tub slowly subside.
“If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air.”
― Nayyirah Waheed
At this point you might be thinking: “Ok great. So maybe there is some truth to this. I don’t know, but let’s say that there is. Why would I want to sit in this still tub?” The thing is that we will never find ourselves in a tub without any disturbances. No matter how much we meditate. The conscious mind will never get absolute control over the unconscious mind, because they are so deeply intertwined. But what we can do, is to master the technique of meditation. To empower ourselves to be able to calm the waves down just a little bit now and then.
Only when the big waves make room for the little ones, we are able to see the smaller disturbances in the water. The recurring thoughts that we have unconsciously been experiencing for as long as the last 20 years. Whenever I sit down and meditate, random thoughts start popping up. That embarrassing time I unsuccessfully tried to ask out my crush 10 years ago. Or the car I saw last week with a number plate that spelled ‘WOW’.
“If we can spend some solo-time cultivating these mental tools (meditation, gratitude, compassion, awareness), we can apply them in real-time to real-life situations without having to step back and over-analyze everything.”
― Charlie Ambler, founder of The Daily Zen
If we observe these smaller disturbances long enough we slowly learn to know ourselves. We might discover that we have recurring thoughts of deep insecurity or anger. I’m not talking about the stories we tell ourselves about who we would like to be. “I’m a compassionate person” or “I strongly hold to left-wing believes”. I’m talking about sitting down and finding out who we really are. Without judgement.
“Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and understanding how and why you think and feel the way you do, and getting a healthy sense of perspective in the process.”
― Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace.com
The simple fact is that getting to know ourselves in this way will make us significantly happier . Cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion through the practice of meditation will make our lives more fulfilling and rewarding. Regardless of what happens in our lives. And we are not only benefitting ourselves. An experiment at the Carnegie Mellon University showed that participants took significantly more action in helping disabled people after just 3 weeks of meditating a few minutes per day .
In the past two years I kept up a disciplined daily meditation practice. Through this, I notice that I greatly developed my capacity to observe thoughts and feelings without losing myself in them. I am feeling more relaxed. More resilient to adversary in everyday life. I feel a lot of joy from all the little beautiful things I encounter from day to day. (Maybe they aren’t that small after all…) Stopping with my meditation practice now is really not an option for me anymore.
There is nothing I would like more than to share in this experience with you. I hope this blog plants a little seed in your mind. All there is to meditation is to sit down and say hi to your breath now and then 🙂
- Campos, D., et al. (2016) Meditation and happiness: Mindfulness and self-compassion may mediate the meditation–happiness relationship
- Lim, D., Condon, P., & DeSteno, D. (2015). Mindfulness and compassion: an examination of mechanism and scalability.