The mind is a battlefield, it is crazy, wild and turbulent… but it doesn’t have to be. The mind can be calm and focused, you just need to learn how to navigate the storm. Meditation can help with this, the practice of meditation in itself is simple but carrying out the practice is not easy. To live in the present moment; to do something mindfully, comes with practice.
To focus the mind on one thing, to quiet the noise in your head, to calm the mind, to be present right here, right now in this very moment. Sounds hard right? How do you sift through all the crazy going on in your head? How to explain what my mind feels like most days? There really aren’t any words, it is a whole lot of crazy in this head of mine! Focus? Nope that is something I definitely lack, my mind works at the speed of light and staying focused on one thing is a major challenge for me. This next very confusing, convoluted paragraph is my attempt to give you some insight into what being in my head is like:
Let’s take for example, this moment now as I am trying (for the umpteenth time) to finally finish writing this blog. While typing, my mind has already wandered on to what other tasks I need to get done today, and now I’ve moved on to wondering what I should cook for dinner and how frustrating it is to have to think of meals every day! Why do we need to eat so much?? Eat? Oh yes, I mustn’t forget I need to go buy dog food. Nooooo…not again, there’s that annoying jingle from some random advert playing on repeat…over and over and over again, make it stop! Okay no, I need to focus, I have to finish this blog….ugh I don’t know what to write, let me browse Facebook…oh yes, that is a great idea, let me make a note of that quickly… oh, wait, no it’s gone, what was it, what was I just thinking about, come on mind, it was a great idea…ummmm…ooh maybe I should bake something today, that sounds fun…no no focus, I have to finish this blog!
Yup, crazy right?? And that is how it goes most days, so you can imagine why I have developed an interest in meditation. I need to learn to manage this turbulent mind of mine and create some semblance of focus. I want to be here, now in this moment, not yesterday or 3 hours from now, I want to be here now.
By dictionary definition, “to meditate means to focus one’s mind for a period of time.” This description that I found on Wikipedia sums it up quite nicely; “meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” Many of us already meditate in some or other form on a daily basis without even realising it. Those times you disappear from the world in your daydreams or find yourself captivated watching something simple like the waves crashing on the shore, you are lost in that moment and your mind is focused only on that one thing and you get lost in an almost trance-like state. While not necessarily purposeful meditation, it is still a type of meditation.
Now that we have established what it means to mediate, here is my experience so far. Let me first mention, I was one of those people who used to roll my eyes at the idea of meditation, I just couldn’t understand sitting in an uncomfortable position for hours doing nothing. However, the lesson I have learnt, as our parents and teachers so desperately tried to teach us, is don’t judge something until you’ve tried it. I can’t stress this enough, we spend so much of our lives closing ourselves off to things because we think something is silly or we worry what people may think of us. Try something before you make a decision on how you feel about it.
My first experience meditating was during my yoga teacher training course in India. Meditation was one of our subjects; at first, I wasn’t too excited about this, but now, I am glad that it was. It forced me to give it a chance and really experience what it is all about for myself. If you are new to the world of meditation and aren’t sure what to expect or what it even really means to meditate, then I hope my experience might help you start this new journey.
I have practiced yoga for many years, however, only ever the physical asana side of yoga. For me, this was all I really knew and I love it. I love the feeling of calm that is created within me as I flow through a sequence, moving with the breath and completely losing myself in the practice as I move from one pose to the next. This is the only time I seem to be able to create that sense of calm and completely quiet my mind. I was aware that along with the physical practice is a much bigger picture and that the mind is a very important aspect of yoga practice. Meditation is something I had heard about but, until recently, had never practiced or even taken the time to learn about; as I mentioned, my younger self rolled her eyes at the idea of it.
As I look back, I am starting to realise that maybe the reason isn’t really because I felt it was silly but rather because it was something I couldn’t comprehend, something that seemed somewhat daunting and difficult. See, I was always under the impression that meditation purely meant clearing the mind of all thoughts…essentially having nothing but emptiness in the mind…but how?? This puzzled me immensely, as a person who excessively overthinks almost every situation in life, I couldn’t understand how you just “turn” it all off.
I must be honest – the first day was hard! Who am I kidding, I found all of the classes hard! Be prepared, there is a good chance you may feel frustrated, confused and feel like giving up. DON’T. Rather give up on whatever preconceived notion you have of meditation and open up your mind to learning something new and progressing slowly through this new venture.
I would sit in the class and try clear my mind, only to find that I was then thinking about not thinking, and being upset because now I am still thinking by telling myself not to think, which would lead to a tirade of thoughts about how not to think and then anger because this is just too hard! Then I would think about breathing but then this cycle of being angry would start again because now I am still thinking about something…the breathing…which means my mind isn’t clear and silent.
What I didn’t know is that I had the idea of meditation all wrong… To sit in a completely thoughtless state for an extended period of time is not a skill you master overnight…it is something that takes time to master. I also learnt that meditation isn’t necessarily just to stop thinking but rather the focus is on learning how to control your thoughts and to learn how to create space in your mind…one small baby step at a time. There’s a variety of different techniques that can be used to meditate, however the initial goal as a beginner is to train the mind to focus on one thing at a time, to create a state of mental and emotional calmness. Initially, you won’t be spending hours meditating, you may only manage to do a few minutes. Try starting with 5 minutes a day and slowly work your way up to doing longer as you get more comfortable with the practice.
One of my classmates advised that you shouldn’t focus so much on clearing the mind and getting angry but rather to accept that a thought is there or that you have an itch you have to desperately scratch…accept it, be aware of it and consciously react to it… Ask yourself why that thought is there, why is it bothering you? He claimed that learning to manage these thoughts is key; to accept these occurrences and to be aware in your reactions to them is the first step to learning to gain control over your mind. Breathing is a good place to start, breathe in, breathe out, slow controlled breathing just feeling the body rise and fall with the breath. If a thought comes into your mind, observe it, understand why it is there and then try and push it aside and bring your attention back to the breathing. This was great advice as it definitely helped to know that I don’t need to just be sitting with an empty mind, I just need to focus on being aware.
My best advice is to find what works for you… For me, I have found that guided meditations and yoga nidra really work and I enjoy them. I battle with other forms of meditation such as focusing on an object or chanting a mantra, I am just not there yet, my mind wanders too much, I need to be guided to keep me focused.
The main thing I want you to take away from this is; stay calm, be patient and don’t give up. Meditation is unique to each person and you just need to find what works for you.