by George Danellis
This is a follow up for Third Age readers to my post on how to get started with meditation. If you didn’t see that article or would like a refresher, you can check it out here.
As I noted previously the benefits of a regular meditation practice are well known today, even in the West, where meditation has not been a cultural tradition: improved health and well-being, greater patience and calm (even in dealing with those perpetually “difficult” situations), heightened effectiveness in work and personal activities, and even more empathy for our fellow beings.
But there is one challenge to realizing these benefits: meditation is not a push-button solution. And if there is one thing clear about 21st century western culture in general, it’s that we like our solutions quick and easy. And the messaging we get every day touts a lot of these quick and easy solutions, even while we (mostly) know better. As Dr. Joan herself emphasizes, it's up to us to become active participants in our lives. It’s no different with meditation. Luckily for us, our natural state is un-contrived awareness, which means that with only a small amount of meditation each day shifts do occur.
Please know that you are definitely not alone if at some point you started and then stopped a meditation practice, or you just can’t imagine sitting quietly with your thoughts and emotions for more than 30 seconds. I encourage you to keep trying. Because in this age of constant sensory input, the one thing that is pretty much guaranteed to improve the quality of your existence is to develop a greater awareness of what is actually going on at any given time. And in the opinion of several hundred million people worldwide a key to doing this is through meditation. So here are a few additional thoughts (no pun intended) to keep us on track:
A dog barks, the mind thinks. Thoughts are the natural product of the mind, and each of us has our own ingrained patterns. The key is to allow thoughts to come and then to pass, which they will do if you allow them.
Your mind will wander. When you become aware that you have strayed into planning next weekend’s activities, or have been reviewing that business meeting that went poorly, just let it go. Gently bring your attention back to your breath, without self-judgment. Consider that it’s wonderful that you are even working to develop this capability.
Not too loose, not too tight. This is the classic instruction. Mindful awareness is not about stopping or blocking your stream of thoughts or emotions, regardless of what you may have heard. It is about becoming more aware of what’s going on. And when you are sitting quietly it can become readily apparent what is happening in your mind! So neither zone out, nor be too intense. And over time the seemingly incessant stream of thoughts will likely begin to quiet.
It’s called practice for a reason. The more you do it, the greater the benefits. Over time you will start to understand why the great meditators spend years in retreat.
Take it into the world. Any time you bring your attention to what is going on you are in fact already meditating. During your everyday existence practice bringing your awareness to any situation. Quietly observe a flower, drinking in it's colors and aroma. Likewise notice when you have been hooked by a thought in the middle of a conversation, rather than actually hearing what the other person is saying, and softly return your awareness to the conversation. Notice the flavor, temperature or sensation when you drink a beverage. And when ‘negative’ emotions arise, like fear, aggression or anxiety, gently bring your attention to what’s going on, including any sensations in your body. Just notice, that's all.
Becoming more aware of what goes on with your thoughts and emotions is a key step to working with them.
By making meditation a priority in your life, even giving it just 20 minutes a day, you will see things in a whole new way.
George is an aspiring delusion buster, surfer and snowboarder, and advises organizations and municipalities on how to develop and act on their Sustainability Visions.