It's Not As Hard As It Looks
by S. J. Connolly-Reisner
"How" does a person learn to
meditate? Many people I've met seem overly concerned about technique as if
learning to meditate is something akin to learning how to play the flute.
As someone who has been meditating for over fourteen years, I'm here to
tell you that it's not that complex.
First, learning "how" to meditate is not as hard as people seem
to think. You merely sit in a comfortable spot in a comfortable position
and focus your attention on something, whether it is an object, idea, or
your own breath.
What *is* difficult is learning how to focus your attention on something
for long duration's of time. There is no tried and true technique for how
to do this. It cannot be "taught" so to speak. Either you have
focus or you don't. Most of us need to "develop" our attention
spans (focus) to help us learn to meditate for longer durations. This
means we start out meditating for short durations and gradually learn
patience and ways of keeping ourselves focused as we go. Learning to
meditate is really a hands-on thing. You can't read a book or have someone
tell you how to do something, and then expect to just "know" how
it's done, then have 100% excellent results from then on out.
Meditation is, for all intents and purposes, the calming of the mind and
directing focus. This leads to revelation, insight, and relaxation.
Meditation, because it helps alleviate stress, has those health benefits
as well. So no matter how you meditate or how long you do it, you really
can't do it "wrong", and you can't hurt yourself. There is no
one definitive way to meditate and what works for one person will not
always work for the next. You can read hundreds of books on meditation,
try what everyone and their mother has to say (most people have 5 or 6
personal techniques) and you will still eventually end up using your own
There are two things that may help enhance your meditation practice.
1. Posture. The way you sit is very important. Lying down is not
recommended because that usually helps people to relax too much and you'll
end up falling asleep, which defeats the whole purpose of meditating. You
can sit in a chair, you can sit cross legged. You can sit however you feel
comfortable sitting. The key point is you should be comfortable without
being so comfortable that you fall asleep.
2. Concentration. Most people will find that they have a shorter attention
span than they imagined. Your first meditations may only last 5-10
minutes, but will gradually increase as you begin to feel more comfortable
meditating. For meditations about "nothing" in specific, many
people find it difficult to concentrate on nothing. This is completely
normal. Easier meditations are generally guided, or allow the mind some
subject matter to chew on. Start with something to concentrate on. Move on
to "nothing" later on.
The different types of meditation:
Guided: A guided meditation is when another person leads your imagination
on a journey. In this instance, the person meditating simply focuses on
the voice of the guide and allows her mind to follow. You simply observe
your mind's reaction as if watching a movie.
Relaxation: For stress reduction, relaxation meditation is popular.
Generally, for a relaxing meditation, you focus on your breath. Breathe
deeply and evenly, and systematically start at your feet and tighten and
release muscle groups from your feet to your head so that you are relaxed.
This type of meditation can be done lying down, but you may fall asleep
before finishing. It's a great meditation to try if you have trouble
sleeping, or you have a lot of tension.
Insight: This type of meditation is used for soul searching and
discovering your own innate wisdom. You start off with deep breathing to
get you into an aware meditative state, then you shift your focus onto the
subject matter of the meditation, and allow your mind to freely explore
the subject in its own way. Staying focused on the subject becomes most of
the battle. Some people have said insightful meditation is something akin
to relaxed daydreaming. In a sense, it is. Your relaxed, aware state
allows the mind to make correlations, and reveal insight more easily than
everyday consciousness. Many people will use insight meditation as a means
of solving bothersome worries and emotional life problems.
Some help for maintaining focus:
Always start by becoming aware of your breath. Take long, even breaths.
Relax. Then switch your focus to the subject matter. Allow your thoughts
to pass through your mind without judging them. Become an observer.
Use physical objects to focus on. Candle flames, pictures, statues, or
whatnot may help you stay focused. When you start to lose focus, will
yourself back to the here and now, or simply allow your mind to wander.
There is no right or wrong way. Sometimes allowing the mind to wander will
reveal something about the original subject matter. If you feel the need
to focus try to speak aloud to yourself, or recite a mantra to get back on
track. Whatever works.
Overall, meditation, like anything, is something you learn over time.
Breathing exercises, gentle yoga sessions beforehand, and listening to
guided meditations may help you on your journey. Experiment and explore.
Eventually you will find a meditation technique right for you.
S. J. Connolly-Reisner is a
freelance writer who has had a steady meditation practice for the past
fourteen years. When she isn't writing, she practices yoga, and spends
time with her husband and four cats.