I’m sure at some point in time we’ve all tried to meditate. We see it on tv, in movies, on instagram, you name it and meditation has probably been featured in some way.
People make it look so simple. You just sit down, close your eyes, and blissfully come into a here-and-now state of mind where all of your thoughts disappear and you just om your way into being ~zen~.
Except, it’s actually nothing like that and takes a lot of time and practice to be able to come into your meditation easily. True zen masters who can sit and meditate for hours (or days) at a time did not just wake up one morning with that ability. They had to dedicate time each day to build up to that point.
I know, I know. What’s the point in even trying to meditate if I can only sit there for 30 seconds before wanting to move?
Well, the point is, even those 30 seconds of sitting there trying your hardest counts. You’re showing the initiative and getting yourself there. You showed up. And that’s always step one.
When we drop this expectation that it will just naturally come to us one day, we open our minds to the truth: it takes very small baby steps to build up to the practices we see in the media.
The first time you sit down to meditate, it’s very likely that you’ll be so preoccupied with thoughts about meditating that you’re unable to focus. How’s that for irony? The goal here is to let go of the grip we have on our thoughts, and simply let them drift past us. We may acknowledge their presence, but we do not spend too much time engaging with them.
Essentially, we take the power away from the thoughts and put it onto ourselves.
If you are sitting there with thoughts like “okay, I think my posture is good. No, wait. My legs are slightly uneven. Can’t practice that way. Need evenness to be ~zen~.” or “Ok, ommmmmmmm, bye bye thoughts, see ya later, ommmmm, here and now, here and now, gotta focus, can’t think of things, just meditating.” Neither of these are going to work in your favor.
Before you even begin closing your eyes or trying to quiet your mind, make sure you are comfortable. Whether this is sitting in traditional meditative pose (see above), or lying down on a yoga mat or in your bed, you just need to make sure you are in a position you can hold for a period of time without the need to adjust. It would be extremely annoying to finally reach stillness and then have to come out of it immediately because your foot is falling asleep.
Once you are comfortable, then you can start to quiet your thoughts. A common misconception is that this means you have to erase them completely. No no. That simply won’t do.
We as humans naturally have thoughts that come and go. It helps us to survive at the most basic level. We are constantly taught from a young age we must learn to multitask, thing 3 steps ahead in order to be successful. This practice is the complete opposite, in that it is promoting presence in the current moment, without worry or focus on past or future. We are trying to engage in the here-and-now. Not what happened yesterday or what you’re going to eat for lunch after this.
In order to unlock this zen place, we need to understand and accept that we will have thoughts coming and going, and the goal is not to ignore them but to simply allow them to pass.
One of the most popular ways of doing this is imaging your thoughts as leaves floating on a stream. You simply watch them pass by without reaching in to touch (aka, acknowledging your thought but not engaging).
Personally, this never worked for me and I had a really hard time trying this exercise. Instead, I came up with my own way of doing this. I figured out that in order for me to become present, I had to give some attention to the major thoughts that were pressing me. Kind of a pre-meditation clear out, if you will. I would do this before I would even attempt to begin meditating in order to get me in the right mindset.
It’s a little out-there, but bear with me:
- Get into a comfortable position (for me it’s lying down) in a dark room with dim light (a candle). Drape a blanket over you for warmth if needed. Play soothing ambient music (think binaural beats) to help get you in the zone.
- Imagine that you are beginning to float. Your body feels weightless and the ground slowly disappears from under you.
- As you begin to rise the buildings and sky melt away, leaving you to float in outer space.
- Think of each star as a different thought. Something that is important to you, something that is asking for your attention.
- Go towards one star and land on it. On this star, there is one thought or one idea. Take your time exploring this thought, but do not drift off to a different one.
- Once you feel that you’ve spent enough time here, jump away from this star and float to a different one.
- Land on your second star, spend time engaging with this thought or idea, then move on to the next.
- Continue to do this until you feel that there are no more stars begging for you to land on them.
- Once you have finished, begin to wiggle your fingers and toes to bring awareness back to your body.
Typically, I would do this for 10 or so minutes until I felt like I had engaged with each thing that was bothering me that day. By giving it my full attention for a period of time, I’m taking the power away from it and saying “I’ve already given you your time.”
Only after this would I move into a guided meditation. I found that it really helped with quieting my mind, because I had already engaged with the thoughts that would have popped up had I gone straight into a meditation. I had already given them attention and therefore they have been settled, even if temporarily.
The key here is to give each star (or thought) enough time that you feel like you have engaged with it, but not enough time that you end up spiraling into overthinking and can’t get out.
Floating through the stars is my own personal imagery, but you can make it into anything you want! Whatever works for you. I find that the floating sensation helps me get into a meditative state easier because I have already found lightness in my body.
Over time, I didn’t need to rely on this pre-meditation exercise as much because I began to have an easier time quieting my thoughts. This is pretty typical, as I had mentioned before about the practice getting easier the more you, well, practice.
Hopefully I’ve helped to inspire you to give meditation another try!
But remember, even 30 seconds is good enough for a first try. Build up the time according to you and what you can handle. Don’t compare yourself to your friend who can sit and meditate for 20+ minutes. They didn’t arrive there overnight and neither will you.