“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.”
–Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavat
I agree with Ma Jaya, and It’s been my personal experience over and over to find clarity, to get to the root of something that’s been blocking me, to identify my next steps, to ‘hear my soul’, whilst sitting quietly in meditation.
Meditating is not easy! On average humans think 2500 thoughts per hour, roughly 50 thoughts a minute- no wonder it’s hard to concentrate on nothing.
Ajahn Brahn said “Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight” It’s referred to as a practice because it takes consistency and discipline to grow it, but I assure you, it’s well worth your effort!
Begin perhaps with sitting still and breathing deeply for 3-5, work your way up to 10. I have a lot of physical energy most days and can find it very difficult to sit still in one position for long, so occasionally I make the beginning of my sessions about just committing to the sitting still part without constantly shifting, scratching and moving about. Counting your inhales and exhales silently can also be extremely helpful for helping one drop into a quieter place.
Start where you are, and start as small as you need to. Something is better than nothing! I remember my initial attempts at meditation. I must’ve fallen asleep the first half-dozen times. I didn’t yet have any guidance around staying quietly alert, or how to focus when my monkey mind (a Buddhist term meaning unsettled, restless, inconstant and uncontrollable) kicks in. I’ve gleaned some pearls of wisdom in my 25+ years of practicing meditation and I came up with my own way of dealing with getting distracted. Check it:
**notice what’s taken your attention, acknowledge it, tell it you’ll revisit it later, if that’s appropriate, and then let it move on. Like a giant balloon passing by in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I see you giant Sponge Bob, and I will catch you another time mofo. Don’t judge yourself for getting distracted!
Things I use/have used to support my practice :
*yoga bolster - the right support under your sit bones can make a huge difference in comfort level while sitting up straight for extended periods
*eye mask- very handy for midday meditation
*music -I like instrumental music that fades into the background or a tropical rain storm playlist
*guided meditations -resources I like for guided are Gabby Bernstein, Jay Shetty, Vishan Lakhiani (Mindvalley) and Gaia
*essential oils - lavender, sandalwood, cinnamon, frankincense can all support your practice
*candles - looking at the flame can help you focus
*music that pumps me up - especially with my walking meditations-inspiring music will raise my vibrations, my energy and my mood almost instantly
In the book Altered Traits, authors Daniel Golman and Richard Davidson discuss the positive changes that occur with meditation. “These changes are trait-like: They appear not simply during the explicit instruction to perceive the stressful stimuli mindfully, but even in the ‘baseline’ state” for longer-term meditators, which supports the possibility that mindfulness changes our ability to handle stress in a better, more sustainable way.”
When X and I were living together for the 6 weeks after the breakup but before I moved out and went to Costa Rica, we decided together to sign up for Gabby Bernstein’s 21-day meditation challenge. Though I’d been at it for decades, doing it at the same time every day, with others, that consistently, was new for me. The crazy thing is, there were many different purposes to the various meditations Gabby guided us through, but more than once the exercises involved ‘cutting cords/attachments’ and ‘letting go’.
X and I listened and practiced in the outdoor sauna each day. Imagine practicing a meditation to help you ‘cut the cord’ with someone you loved but needed to let go, and that person is also doing it with you, right next to you, while we both physically detox aka sweating it out, at the same time?! It was at once intense, therapeutic, challenging and a relief. Sometimes we both cried because we simultaneously needed/wanted to let go, and also didn’t want to let go. The practice helped us both to move onwards and to process what we were going through. It was a safe space to feel all the feelings and it became a daily habit from then on as well for X. A genuine game changer!
If you think accountability might help you get started, I highly recommend Gabby’s challenge.
In times of inner conflict, when I’ve been unsure of the answer I need to take my next aligned steps, I’ve often used a meditation technique where I go quiet to gauge how I really ‘feel’ about something. I’ll focus on the issue I’m grappling with and let my body just feel the answer. I pay attention to how my physicality reacts to the opposing options and, no joke, it’s usually pretty obvious. Whether you think of it as connecting to your higher self, your intuition, some ethereal force or intelligence or simply the wisdom of the body- whatever works for you is the best choice! Next time you don’t know what the answer is, try tuning in to your body for the answer. Shout out to my bestie Jeni for teaching me this process ages ago.
Sometimes we feel mentally overwhelmed and if we don’t gain some control over how we think, we can feel as though we’re swimming upstream. Here’s where Concentration meditation could be a good choice:
*focus on a single point like following your breathing, counting mala beads, repeating mantras or sounds, listening to singing bowls or gongs, staring at a candle flame, whatever might anchor you.
Other types of meditation include: Kundalini, Mindful, Metta, Focus, Body Scan, Transcendental, Visualization and Mantra. There are also moving meditation techniques, such as tai chi, qigong, and my favorite, walking meditation. My advice if you wish to heed it, would be to look into whichever types of meditation sound the most interesting to you, what resonates, and play around until you find your groove.
I’m noodling on ideas for creating meditation videos and on doing a webinar on this vast and important subject. In the meanwhile, the wise words of Jon Kabat-Zinn remind us that “it is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself”
Go love yourself!
Ps, what’s worked for you so far? Do you meditate already? Would you like to dive deeper into a practice?