When you think of the word meditation, what pops up in your mind? A big banyan tree with cascading roots and a saffron robed, crossed-legged, bald guy feeling at one with the universe? Or, as everything around you is melting in hoards of chores, screaming kids, washing-up and blog posts to write, you gently start to focus on and notice your breath? The more you focus, the less shallow it gets and the spinning world around you slows down and in the following moments, you rediscover your priorities and options?
It’s this vast chasm between the supposed look of meditation and the actual way it works that creates the biggest barriers to start your meditation practice, in my view. Rationalising our fear that stems from not being able to commit to the bald guy version of meditation, is what we do well. We have no time, no space, no flexibility to sit in the lotus posture…perhaps even the lack of dreadlocks is sometimes a good enough hideaway.
On average, 70% of adults when polled to see if they would like to do more meditation answer yes, but approximately only 6% of them actually find the time and inclination to engage in it. If you fall outside of this minority of people and think meditation is either hard, needs special mindset, is for a certain demographic, requires commitment to a place, time or clothing…then you simply need to stop going to these elitist sources of information that pretend to help you but simply make things less achievable if you don't follow the rules. Unfortunately, the internet has made everything into a competition these days. If you fold your pizza the wrong way there are social media repercussions. It's so easy then to feel that, unless you sit in absolute stillness like this celebrity who clearly finds it effortless, any of your feeble efforts can’t be the real thing.
My first advice to anyone who asks me about meditation practice, is to not make it into a “thing”. By this I mean, it's not like the habit of brushing your teeth, that without the right room and the right equipment it's not possible. Meditation is already a part of you. You take it along wherever you go, even when you are totally oblivious of its existence inside of you. It’s with you in the shower, it’s with you at the supermarket, it’s with you when your child lies down on the pavement and rolls on his white shirt… more like your hands are with you all the time. If you need to carry something, do you have to remember to take your hands along? The reason you don't think about the use of your hands is because you are an expert at using them. You have got that way as a result of constant use and exploration of this tool/equipment from infancy. By the time you are a two-year-old, using your hands is a breeze. Just as a thought experiment, think of that infant/child who would be exposed to meditation techniques the same way - would they think twice before employing this powerful stress diffuser when they need it most?
So, just like that infant who is exploring their hands, don’t wait for the right cot mobile to get started; get started now! So, stop reading for the next few minutes, look away from the screen once you have finished reading the instructions, and get started right here in the middle of this blog post along with tens of others.
Close your eyes
Start to notice how your belly sways with your breath
Ignore that little voice that says your breath is not long enough or deep enough
Notice your belly rise and fall
Start a count — one for every time your belly rises
Stop at 10 counts
If you didn't get to 10 without your mind starting to wonder what’s for lunch, then thats fine. Go back to it again in a few hours, even minutes, and see if you can get to 10. Once you get to 10, don’t increase the count; just increase the frequency of your practice. Doing three sessions of 10 counts will achieve more than one session of 30 counts. The longer you stay with 10, doing it more frequently, the better your foundations of meditation will be.
When you get started, try to set the stage for your mind by practising your count in a low-stress situation. Once the mind consolidates the low-stress connection with your breath count, then every time it hears your counting it responds to the situation as if it were low-stress. A perfect trick to use at the supermarket meltdown situation - your brain will not know the difference.
So you see, despite all the jazz about nirvana and eternal bliss, at the core of meditation lies a tool for everyday situations: simply teaching your brain to respond to something with the same calmness that you would need to apply when you are building a house of cards. If you are a Poirot fan then you know this life lesson already. Whenever he began doubting his capabilities or was lost for inspiration (which, by the way, is so easily blocked by stress), he would calm his nerves by building his card tower. It's the same breath control for both activities. It’s the same technique of training your mind to respond calmly and not react as you would in the adrenaline-filled, stressful conditions.
If you have been postponing trying meditation, and this post has encouraged you to try, I would love to hear your experiences. Let me know what happened when you tried it for the first time, let me know what happened the tenth time, let me know where it takes you.