Several years ago, when I thought I was going nuts, I had to do something. I searched the internet and found the practice of contemplative prayer. More searching led me to meditation (really the same thing). I began meditating and it helped a lot, but like a lot of other things, once we start to feel better, we give up what got us there (exercise and eating properly spring to mind). A friend reminded me of my practice in this time of my mind being so troubled and my brain being damaged. So I decided to start again. I will share with you what works for me. Meditation is intimidating to a lot of people who think they can’t do it or it’s weird or it’s demonic or you don’t have the time. None of those things is true. Anyone can meditate and I dare say everyone should. Even if you only take a minute or two, close your eyes and get in touch with the present moment, you’ve meditated. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and there are all kinds of ways for beginners to get started including guided meditations where someone talks you through the whole thing (via a recording). Meditation however, takes no special equipment. It costs you nothing but time and the benefits are tremendous. You don’t have to be in shape to do it and you won’t pull any muscles.
For me, I like using a timer. I downloaded a free app on the app store that times my meditation. I meditate for 20 minutes at a time (working up to 30) and I have an interval timer set for every five minutes. You will probably find very long stretches will allow your mind to drift as you wonder “How much longer do I have to go?” And, if your mind does go off on a tangent, the interval timer will bring you back. I keep my eyes closed when I meditate so the gentle bell every five minutes keeps me oriented in time as I’m going through it.
I sit comfortably on the floor, with nothing against my back. You want to be comfortable, but not so comfortable you fall asleep. I have a small cushion filled with buckwheat to support my butt, my legs are crossed in front of me. I don’t worry about lotus versus half lotus versus Burmese positions. I’m not doing yoga. I’m meditating. I want my body to fall away, not be tied up in knots. I just sit in a way where I’m comfortable and won’t fall asleep.
I personally count my breaths when I meditate. I try to clear all other thoughts from my mind. This is not the time to think about the past or worry about the future. The idea is to clear the mind and be in the present moment. Now, here is the thing. You will not be able to clear your mind. Thoughts will arise. That’s OK. Be aware of that and remember you are not your thoughts. One of the goals of meditation is to recognize that. You can control your thoughts. Just tell those thoughts “Not now.” and gently push them away and return to the present moment, feeling where you are sitting, feeling each breath come in and each breath go out. Return to your breath count. You will probably lose count (a lot). I have found prayer beads are useful for keeping count. I like the feel of them in my hand and as I inhale deeply I count each breath as I move a bead from one hand to the other. The beads give me something tactile in the moment and they help me keep count of my breaths. This is a personal thing I came up with because I am struggling with mortality right now. I envision each cycle on my beads as a lifetime. There are 33 beads on my ring and a main bead that anchors them. As I complete each cycle I envision it as completing a life time here on Earth. When I get to the main bead, it’s like returning home for a rest. I rest on this bead for a few breaths then I return to Earth. This reminds me that this life, while important, is not the final goal. It’s not all there is. I will return home soon enough and then I may (or may not) decide to do it again. I am reminded to enjoy this life, but not to become attached to it.
That’s all there is to it. I have also built a meditation altar and I’ll cover that in a separate post. It gives me a sacred space to go to where I immediately feel comfortable because that is where I do my practice. It’s not necessary, but I find it to be helpful. It’s got items that are each selected to remind me of something and put me in a peaceful frame of mind.
If you’re going through something, or even if you’re not, I highly recommend considering meditation. I am sorry I let my practice lapse for so long. The app I have should help as it is tracking my sessions now and I’ll be much more likely to keep it up knowing that is happening.