meditation_basicsThe gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well.

~ Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Meditation Is . . .

Some people meditate for spiritual reasons, but most practice meditation for a better quality of life. Those who meditate regularly invariably increase their sense of well being. Practitioners define meditation many ways, as quieting the mind, focusing the mind, paying attention, turning inward, being present, being aware of the present moment, or just being.

Whichever way it’s sliced, meditation is about consciousness, the capacity for awareness of our environment, thoughts, sensations, and existence. Meditation is the act of letting our mind de-clutter and settle into stillness. Is this necessary? Many practitioners will say it is, but that is something they discovered through practice.

Meditation and the Quality of Life

Our thoughts and feelings are inextricably tied together, and each constantly affects the other. The busyness and stress of daily life, our worries, fears, doubts, and assumptions clog the mind and rile up our emotions. Living with a mind full of emotionally toxic thoughts is why many people feel tired, angry, depressed, anxious, or sick.

When we meditate, distressing thoughts (that serve no helpful purpose) lose energy. The mind-mud caused by our over-thinking settles. In its place is a clear stillness, open to what is, and to possibilities. By attaining calm, our disgruntled feelings and emotions are allowed a break. It is easy to see how this improves a person’s sense of well-being.

More Benefits:

  • Practicing meditation will improve your ability to focus and concentrate, two very good attributes for productivity and creativity. Many meditators also report a deeper sense of purpose or meaning in their life.
  • Practicing meditation has excellent health benefits. It lowers stress, anxiety, cholesterol, and blood pressure, and helps people manage or stop addictions and self-defeating habits.
  • Practicing meditation typically raises peoples’ capacity for spontaneity and happiness or joy. Positive thoughts are more likely to arise when the mind is not busy magnifying molehills into mountains.
  • Practicing meditation will help you understand yourself and others. Meditators are generally self-accepting, and many catch a glimpse of a higher, or less physical dimension of themselves. When people are self-accepting, they have more intimate, and satisfying relationships as well.

Getting Started: The Meditation Buffet

There is transcendental meditation, Zen and mindfulness meditation, Taoist and Buddhist meditation (to name a few). The important thing is to experiment and discover what works best for you, and what you enjoy.

Some meditations focus on the body. People follow their breath, or breath rhythmically. They may focus on any physical sensations that develop into spiritual awareness. Chanting and mantras (repeated words or phrases) are two more options.

People meditate by being aware of what is around them or by focusing on something in the environment. They might read and reflect on inspirational materials, contemplate nature, concentrate on an object (i.e., candle, painting), or simply keep awareness of the present moment.

Many meditators use visualization to inhabit a peaceful, imaginary setting, to be with healing energy, or they might focus on a shape or an object held in the mind. Other meditations involve cultivating qualities such as compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.

It is best not to eat right before meditating and some practitioners recommend taking a shower before settling on a cushion. However, sitting in the lotus position on the floor is unnecessary; many people prefer sitting tall, in a chair. Burning candles and incense are optional.

A Simple Breathing Meditation

Many beginning meditators enjoy taking a class to get started, but here is a basic meditation on the breath you can try right now.

  1. Take a couple slow, long breaths. As you exhale, let your thoughts go.
  2. Continue breathing normally and let your mind, or awareness, rest on your chest, abdomen, or nose, wherever it feels most comfortable.
  3. As you breathe, notice how it feels and savor the sensation of air flowing in and out of your body.
  4. Whenever your attention wanders away, bring it back to the breath. (If it wanders off 50 times, bring it back to the breath 50 times.)
  5. Close your eyes and continue for a minute or two . . .

 

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