For many people, meditation conjures up tranquil images of someone, usually an attractive female, sitting in full lotus. It’s something that other people do, it’s esoteric, and hey, who has the time to actually do it.
Someone once commented on an article I had posted on Facebook about doing nothing—just sitting there. She was frazzled, and had no time for that doing nothing nonsense. No time—not even for 15 minutes. With that attitude, I can guarantee she’s still frazzled, and maybe on pills by now.
If you’re frazzled, that is precisely the time you should start to meditate, or at the very least, sit and do nothing to make some space and slow down and gain control over frantic thoughts.
Meditation doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery, or made out to be more complicated than it is. Meditation can be a lot of different things and if you’ve picked up any books on the subject, you’ve learned that for yourself.
There are thousands of different techniques for meditation. One of my more recent favorites was a meditation called “The Good Will Witness.” I’ve also enjoyed a standing meditation in the past. Recently, I’ll read something from an inspirational or spiritual book and contemplate that for 10 minutes or so.
Nothing complicated here, but when I don’t do this, stuff starts happening. Life begins to be more of a rush. Things are more reactive. The days blur by. I’m less conscious, less focused, more distracted.
Meditation helps me slow down. We all need to slow way down. Recently I heard Walt Robb, former CEO of GE Healthcare talk about the need for deep thinking. With all the budget pressures, and quarterly pressures, and regulatory pressures, who has time for deep thinking he wondered. That messes up the corporations, the small businesses, and our home lives. Then, when we need to decompress, we sit in front of the TV and soak in advertising, sexual innuendo, violence, and other things that mess up our thoughts.
Meditation gives you a chance to cleanse, slow down, and take control of your thoughts. It’s a chance to see other perspectives. It’s a chance (for me, anyway) to connect with the enormity of it all and realize how small my place in the scheme of things is—it takes the pressure off.
Perhaps meditation seems too girlish or Eastern for a rough Westerner male to try. That’s ridiculous. Some of my meditations have actually been quite intense. For a while I was doing a Zhan Zhuang standing meditation. I had diligently worked up to 20 minutes following the directions in the book. Further, I increased the intensity by doing it outside, in a patio closet. In Phoenix, Arizona. In the summer. It was extremely intense and trying to still my mind, while holding a standing posture in 110+ degree heat was an incredible experience, as the pool of sweat beneath me attested.
There are so many pressures in this world we’ve created for ourselves and if we’re not taking time to center ourselves and intentionally slow down, we’re not going to be living anywhere close to our full potential. You can’t do your best if you’re always feeling rushed.
What I like about meditation is that it slows down my thoughts enough so I can see where things are going astray. I might notice that my urge to drink or do something destructive to myself is higher after a disagreement with my wife. Well, why is that? Or I might become aware that when work becomes particularly demanding, I seek distractions through loud heavy metal music or frequent email checking and sabotage the deep thinking which might help me more efficiently solve the problem.
For me it comes back to a quote from Napoleon Hill’s Law of Success book where he says the most important sentence in the book is the one about thought control—that our most important attribute is the ability to control our own thoughts. Thought is our creative power and lets be honest: how much thought are we wasting thinking about doom and gloom. Why just the other day I was at the store looking for a case for my phone. I glanced at the games for the Xbox One—of the five on display all were first person shooters—that way we can sit at our TV and kill realistic people and things with high-powered weaponry. Excuse me, but that is a little fucked up.
Is the focus on ebola, Syria, and just plain old violence coverage on the news in general going to make you feel strong and powerful or weak and powerless? The difference is in the thoughts you think—and you might think that you don’t want to watch the news so often anymore. Or you might choose to acknowledge these things but also realize the progress we’ve made as well.
If you aren’t thinking about it though, you’re just reacting, and reacting isn’t thinking and reacting isn’t a behavior of a conscious person—it’s the behavior of an automaton. We have to look for this behavior in ourselves and eradicate it. Meditation helps.
So, how to get started with meditation?
Well, many books recommend you do many things before you attempt to get started. Yogis go through a series of training, some of it in intense asana practice so that they can hold meditative positions for a long time without body discomfort ruining their concentration. Some books caution that those with emotional problems shouldn’t meditate because it can mess them up.
Still, if you’re reading this you want to get started. And you’re not likely to take any of these caution messages seriously. So, I’d say step one is to learn to sit and be by yourself with no music, no books, no TV—no nothing. Just sit. And be OK with that. Work up to 15 minutes. You could easily do this by staring at 5 minutes and adding 5 minutes every week.
Then learn to sit with your back straight. Ideally Indian style with legs crossed or in a chair. Take 5-10 deep breaths, close your eyes, and drop your thoughts. Just focus on the breathing. Focus on a point on your body, like the area between your eyebrows. Have a timer set for 5 to 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Fold up a blanket and sit on that to help the body position.
Dedicate the first period of your morning to the practice. Set a goal to be consistent for 30 days. Reevaluate after that. If you started with the 3 weeks of sitting and doing nothing and then started meditating for 30 days, that’s only a measly 51 days of your life. That’s nothing. But you’ll notice a huge change nonetheless. (If you’re diligent.)
If you’re more serious, you should Amazon a book on meditation and read it. Learn a little more and go a little deeper. Record your successes and see how you start to feel. This is how it starts. You’ll learn more as you go. If you stick with it, you’ll really notice how much it helps…and how much it hurts if you stop. It helps you learn to control your thoughts, and like Napoleon Hill says, this ability is our most important skill.
The bottom line is everyone in our distracted age should be doing something to still their thoughts and slow down. A habit of meditation is just the perfect thing.