In the past, the age-old practice of meditation was labeled as a stereotypical practice confined to the eastern cultures of the world. It was only a few years ago when western cultures started picking up on the benefits the practice can yield, and soon there was a massive market for all things meditation. The opportunity for exploitation of the consumer pocket was seized, and meditation was turned on its head. From a practice that promotes spirituality and awareness to a money-making racket. The good news is that the hype is over, and people can now start making better-informed decisions around it.
Meditation is soul food
Stripping away all the unnecessary junk that has been stuck on the face of meditation, you can see why it’s been practiced faithfully by many since the dawn of time. The benefits are endless, as are the uses. What does it cost? A willingness to learn. In this piece, I would like to introduce you to meditation, tell you about some of the benefits, and bust a couple of myths about it that might be putting you off of the whole thing.
My journey with meditation
I can still remember when I first stumbled upon meditation. I was 15 years old. My fascination started with lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences, and as I read up on these topics, the practice of meditation came up over and over. The curious beast that I am, I went out and bought my first book on meditation to find out what it was all about. This book had not much on the origins or history of meditation, but it had information on so many different types of meditation, their benefits, and how to do them. I started at number 1 and worked my way through.
Each night I would sit and meditate. I did not assign myself a schedule at an exact time or duration but would practice when I felt like it. As I became more adept at calming my mind and relaxing my body, I found my sessions stretching for more extended periods. It took less and less effort each time, and I felt more fulfilled as time went on. Then one evening, something strange happened…
The other side
As always, I am sitting in the dark and quiet room. My legs crossed and hands resting gently on my knees. A deep breath in and a deep breath out, my ritual of telling my mind and body that it is now time to meditate. Starting from my head, I focus on noticing each tense muscle and relaxing it. Frown, eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, etc. I finish the body scan by zooming out and noticing the sensation of my body as a whole. Feeling how the blood is pumping through my entire body, how my lungs expand as I draw breathe, and contract as I exhale.
I shift my focus to my mind and do an exercise to slow down my thoughts. Counting each inhale and exhale until I reach 10, then starting back from 1. My mind wanders off and I lose count, so I start again. I repeat this step until my mind is as calm and focused as it’s going to get, then, I start visualizing.
Setting my gaze at the empty wall in front of me, I pull my attention to the center of my forehead. Gently pulling the energy of my mind to my third eye, I feel it like a pulse. Time gradually passes and my vision starts to narrow. The dim sliver of moonlight creeping in from the window is growing fainter, and it’s as though the shadows are growing. My skin feels cooler now, as though I just stepped inside a walk-in fridge. There’s a sensation of lightness creeping over my limbs, and it feels like my arms are floating. The room grows even darker, a circle of blackness drawing inward until eventually everything is gone from sight even though my eyes are still open. My entire body succumbs to a sudden numbness, and I fall. I feel this slow clockwise spin of motion dragging me forward, and at the same time, I feel myself falling down.
At this point, I lose my focus, reality snaps me back, and I’m again sitting in the room.
Quite frankly, I’d be just as skeptical as you are right now about the legitimacy of this story. It sure does sound like a bunch of hodge-podge, thrown together to sell you on an idea. And if you asked me today to replicate this experience, I would not be able to. I have tried and tried to get back to that “place” many times since, and I’ve never been able to.
However, the point here is that meditation has the power to alter your perceptions. It has the power to connect you with the energies of the universe, whether you believe in such things or not. You can take a scientific or spiritual view on meditation, and in both cases, you will find that there are benefits to be had.
Over the next three blogs, I will be writing about how meditation can be used to increase awareness of the self and environment. I will give you a step-by-step guide on different meditations, their uses, and their benefits. But if you would like to learn more about meditating, here is a reading list for your pleasure;
The Meditation Bible – by Madonna Gauding
Mindfulness Meditation: A History of Meditation – by Dr. AJ Redding
Meditation 1 – Watching your breath
Why practice this meditation
This is the most straightforward meditation to do. It will help you calm your thoughts and strengthen your ability to focus. Slowing down your thoughts will help you think more clearly, and reduce feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
- Find a quiet space free of distractions. Try to eliminate smells, sounds, breezes, and bright light.
- Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Remember, there is no need for any fancy postures. The most important thing is that you are comfortable.
- You can choose to close your eyes or set a gentle gaze upon something a few feet in front of you. I would recommend closing your eyes, though, as it will make it easier to avoid distractions.
- Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and release.
- Now start counting your breaths on each inhale and each exhale. Don’t try to control your breathing, let it flow naturally.
- In… One
- Out… Two
- In… Three
- Out… Four
- Continue on to 10, then start again from 1.
- Repeat as many times as you like. There is no goal here except for you to relax your mind.
- When you are ready to conclude the session, take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and release.
Congratulations! That concludes your introduction to meditation! You have just added a vital tool to your awareness toolset. You will find this meditation useful in the future, not only because it helps calm the mind, but it is also the basis for the more advanced practices you might want to try later on.
Now that you know how to do the basic breathing meditation try and do it as frequently as possible. The more you practice, the more you will feel the change stir inside of you. Focus, calm, relaxed…