May 132012

First, just because someone is sitting quietly with their eyes closed in meditation doesn’t mean they’re better at it than you are, even if you’ve never tried it before. Really.

There are a few more things you might like to know. You don’t have to sit on the floor to meditate. Meditation does not mean making your mind a blank, and you can never fail at meditation. It’s a practice and you start where you are. No tests. No pass, no fail.

I started meditating years ago because I was drawn to yoga, and meditation is part of yoga. At retreats I learned a method and I was hooked. I was also pretty sure that everyone else was doing it better than I was. My mind was distracted, my thoughts wandered and I would end the meditation feeling strangely guilty and glad no one could see inside my mind.

Over the years I grew to like meditation more and more. I grew to see my tangled, unruly mind as a puppy-mind. After all, we don’t expect puppies to train themselves, and we think they’re adorable. Why not pay the same loving attention to my mind? We train puppies step by step, and so it is with the mind. I found that paying attention to my puppy-mind, watching its antics, and gently redirecting it again and again to the focus of my meditation was very calming, very relaxing, very grounding. I’m still practicing.

I will say that over time my mind has learned to settle down and my wildest thought-ramblings are somewhat tamed. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s called practice for a reason. We are practicing the art of concentration, just the way you might practice the piano or painting or throwing a baseball. Meditation is a learning process.

Here are a few methods of meditation for you to enjoy. Sitting in a posture with an upright spine is very helpful, and a straightback chair is perfectly fine.

  1. Choose an inspiring word or image as your focus. Repeat the word silently within, or hold the image in your mind in a steady way.
  2. Meditate on your breath. Pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out. That’s all. Follow it in, follow it out.
  3. Picture a flame in your heart. See it filling your heart with the glow of light, love and compassion. Feel it spread to fill your whole body… then gradually fill the room…  the building, your neighborhood, your city, your country, the world, the universe! When everything is filled with the glow of light, love and compassion, rest in that place for as long as you like.

Don’t worry when a thought interrupts your concentration. Simply return your attention to the focus of your meditation. And if you get lost in your thoughts for awhile before you’re even aware of having them, this is normal. What you’re practicing is: (1) Noticing and (2) Returning your attention to the meditation. We practice this over and over and over again. That’s meditation.

Did you know?  Meditation causes pain reduction roughly equivalent to the benefits of morphine. From an article called, Thinking Away the Pain: Meditation as cheap, self-administered morphine:

Consider a study by scientists at Wake Forest University. After only a few days of meditation training—teaching people to better focus their attention, concentrating less on the discomfort and more on a soothing stimulus—subjects reported a 57% reduction in the “unpleasantness” of their pain. Such improvements are roughly equivalent to the benefits of morphine.

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