More on Meditation
Meditation can be silent or guided. There are many Bright Lights who explain and teach meditation. We recommend Jon Kabat Zinn or Tara Brach including her How to Meditate pdf. If you already have a mature practice, want to sit on your own silently or with someone else’s guidance that works too.
Here are answers to common questions about meditation from Jon Kabat Zinn, based on my own experience and videos from Susan Piver who teaches meditation and founded the Open Heart Project.
What is meditation?
Meditation is substituting another object of attention for the habitually haphazardly roaming mind. Simply focus on something like your breath instead of the continual cascade of thoughts, commentary and judgements that take up your attention. Instead attention is placed on a sound, object or your breath. When your attention wanders, you notice the distraction, let it go and bring your attention back to your object of attention such as a sound, an object or image, or your breath. That moment of awareness, when you notice that your attention has moved away from your breath, is the heart of the practice.
The three steps in meditation are 1) placing your attention on your breath (object of attention), 2) allowing thoughts to be as they are and 3) when you notice being absorbed in thought, let go and start again. Forgive yourself early and often! Laughing at yourself encouraged!
What are some misconceptions about meditation?
You have to stop thinking? Not at all! Quite the opposite. Your mind is welcome to the party just as it is. What’s interesting is what happens when you learn to just observe your thoughts like the sky watching the clouds. Not reacting but relaxing instead. By just watching – your interior landscape (awareness!) expands, which leads to discoveries like you are more than you think.
Meditation is a form of self-help / self-improvement? No it’s much more than that. First by accepting the form the moment takes – you accept things including yourself just as they are. Meditation is about acceptance of what is – not forcing any particular outcome. Meditation helps us discover who we are – not dictate how to be. Not a life hack, escape or shortcut but quite the opposite – a path to discovering your true nature.
What are the benefits of meditation?
- Activates the parasympathetic (rest & digest!) part of your nervous system that nurtures and balances your well-being
- Decreases the amount of stress related cortisol produced
- Reduces your respiration and heart rate
- Reduces your metabolic rate of expending energy
- Increases blood flow in your brain
- Increases activity in the left pre-frontal cortex of your brain (observed in happier people)
- Strengthens your immune system
How do I know if I’m doing it right? (From Falling Awake – Jon Kabat Zinn)
- If you are resting in awareness you are doing it right, no matter what you are experiencing, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral
- If you are bored and aware of it, you are doing it right
- If you are frightened, confused or depressed and you are aware of it, you are doing it right
- If your thoughts never shut down and there is an awareness of that in the present moment, and you can, even for a moment be the knowing rather than being carried away in the agitation, then you are doing it right
- If you are indeed carried away by the agitation and the proliferations and fabrications and cascading of the thinking mind and there is an awareness of that, and you can be that knowing in that moment, then you are doing it right
- In fact, as long as you are being kind to yourself and not forcing anything, there is nothing that you could do or that could happen to you that cannot be a worthy part of the practice, if you are aware of it and can give yourself over to trusting and resting in awareness itself rather than be caught up perpetually in the turmoil, the agitation, the clinging, the wanting, and the rejecting of whatever is arising.
There’s a part of me that doubts this is worthwhile?
Of course! Our habitual selves strongly resist the movement to slow down and become a witness to our constant stream of thoughts and emotions. There’s another inner part of us that gets stronger and clearer when we learn to inhabit the space between our thoughts. Doubts are just thoughts. If you let them go like the clouds moving through the sky they’ll move on and disappear. You could say the stronger the doubts the more progress you’re making!
What are common obstacles to practicing meditation? (From Falling Awake – Jon Kabat Zinn)
- Not wanting to
- The body can be squeamish, fidgety, seemingly inconsolably uncomfortable…
- You might easily run into impatience agitation impatience agitation…
- Sensual desire or greed
- Ill will or aversion
- Sloth and torpor
- Restlessness, worry and remorse
- Idealizing your practice setting impossible standards making it into an act of will / aggression with little or no self-compassion and no sense of humor
How does a meditation practice impact my life?
A meditation practice helps you like yourself more, soften to who you are and develop true confidence by accepting, embracing and knowing yourself – the courage to be who you are.
The three continuous steps of meditating create precision, openness and magic!
Placing your attention on your breath cultivates precision, the ability to focus and pay attention. Precision is mindfulness – the ability to place attention on the object of your choosing and hold it there. Meditation helps you see, think, speak, and decide more clearly.
Allowing thoughts to be as they are creating space for true wisdom and insight to emerge. You soften, your heart opens, and you feel more. Openness is a gesture of great bravery! Opening to the realm of possibility which by definition is not full of thought. True wisdom, love, insight, creativity and innovation are not things that can be built – but things that arrive when you create space, cultivate attention and become more receptive to see new things.
When you notice being absorbed in thought and let go you become more attuned to the magic of what’s happening now. Opinions, hopes and fears dissolve. You inhabit the vibrancy and magic of your own life unfolding now. Your creative expression and the life you experience comes out of the wisdom, insight and love you are.