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Meditation: 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 style anyway.
 
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.

 

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