Part of my yoga teacher training was that we have to do a 40 day meditation. That is, every day for 40 days, you must sit down for 30 minutes and meditate. If you miss a day, you start over. Some people found this to be the hardest part of the program, but I also found it to be the most transformative part.
Meditation is the simplest way to begin changing your life for the better. It’s a gentle practice; it’s calming and centering; and the benefits are subtle yet profound.
Here’s How I Did It
Back in September 2010, I started meditating every day. I wasn’t sitting for a long time, mind you, I didn’t even use a timer or anything. I just sat down for a few minutes each morning and called it meditation. I’d heard and read a lot about meditation up to that point, and I’d tried it once or twice in yoga classes, but this was the first time I really aimed to develop my own practice.
I found that if I closed my eyes, I would easily drift off into all kinds of nonsensical thought, but if I opened my eyes and gazed gently at a candle flame or my Saraswati figure (pictured above), it was easier to focus. I started trying to memorize every detail of the statue, and for a while that was my meditation: Stare at the statue for as long as you can, then call it a day.
Gradually, I was able to sit for longer. One morning, I set a timer for 15 minutes, and I sat for 15 minutes every day for a while. Then I went to 20 minutes. Finally, I’ve worked my way up to sitting for 30 minutes every day, and by then, meditation had already begun to shape my life.
It’s hard to describe exactly how meditation has changed me. Like I said, it’s subtle. But I find myself calmer now, more in touch with my own thoughts and feelings, more able to pause when I’m on the verge of a panic attack, more able to make peace with difficult situations. When I went to my grandfather’s funeral, I felt OK about crying and being with my relatives. I felt like I could support other people by being present for them and listening to them. At work every day, I’m able to listen to people, prioritize tasks, stay focused (most of the time), and deal calmly with the many challenges I encounter from day to day.
If you’d met me before, you would know I haven’t always been the most calm, easy going or confident person, but meditation has helped me to be present in my daily experiences in a powerful way. I really hope you’ll try it. You absolutely cannot lose a thing by trying it, and there are all kinds of wonderful benefits to gain if you stick with it. Start with just a moment each day, and you’ll find yourself naturally increasing the length of your meditations just like I did. Chances are it won’t make you perfect, but you’ll find that it feels good and helps you become centered and peaceful.
Here’s my simple guide to meditation:
- Find a comfortable place to sit. A chair, the floor, or on cushions is fine as long as you can sit up straight without any strain. (If you’re sick or injured and can’t sit up, lying down is fine.)
- Choose a focal point that pleases you. It can be anything. A flower, a picture, a statue, or a candle flame are common choices.
- Use your focal point to keep your attention in check. Gaze softly (not straining your eyes!) at your focal point for just as long as you can keep your mind quiet. At first, this will only be a few minutes, so have patience.
- Keep doing this every day until you can sit for longer periods.
It’s really that simple. Of course, there are tons of different approaches to meditation, and different techniques work better for different people. There are moving meditations, mantras, breathing techniques and many other approaches.
You can learn about meditation from a book, in a seminar, or by going to yoga classes. I know the Unitarian Universalist church near me has a meditation group that meets weekly. Or there may be a Buddhist temple near you that teaches meditation to the public. All of these are perfectly good options, as long as you understand that the only real way to learn meditation is to sit down and do it!
This post has been repurposed and updated from my now closed blog, Not an Activist.