When you think about meditation, what do you picture? Do you see a long-haired hippy kinda guy wearing nothing but white? Or some wise old monk sitting on a mountain top? Maybe a group of uber-flexible people sitting in weirdly unnatural positions (seriously, they look like pretzels!).
Many people say things like, “I tried it once, and it didn’t work.” Or maybe you’ve heard (or even said it yourself), “I can’t turn off my brain long enough to do that.” In reality, people have as many different opinions and views on meditation as there are different kinds of meditation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of approach, and that’s what I want to discuss today.
I love how synchronicity plays its hand in my life. A little while ago, I had the idea of writing this particular blog post. I wrote out a few general bullet points as a placeholder and put it aside for another day. No more than two days later, a colleague of mine reached out to ask about my own meditation practice as he was trying to get started himself. A few days later, my wife decided to share a meditation she had recorded on her social media platforms. Another few days go by, and my self-help mentor, Francois Lemay did an hour-long module in one of his programs on meditation and how there is a broader world than what people think meditation is.
Okay, Universe. I’ve got the message. Time to write my blog post.
Meditation is a hard concept to define. If you do a quick internet search, you’ll find various attempts at defining this practice, but it is complicated by the fact that there are numerous different practices, in numerous traditions, all of which are different from one another.
For the purposes of my blog, I’ll define meditation as the act of focusing your intentions to raise your vibrational level. And yes, I know some of you just checked out after reading that definition. That’s okay.
Meditation isn’t only about sitting in a quiet space with nothing going through your mind. Let’s be honest – unless you are a highly devoted practicing yogi who has been meditating for countless hours for many years, you probably aren’t able to fully turn off your brain. I would even go so far as to guess that even the most advanced and practiced meditator (that’s a word, right?) still has some thoughts that appear when they meditate. And that’s perfectly normal. When meditating, it’s okay to have thoughts. The idea is to be aware of the fact you’re thinking, acknowledge the thought, then let it go. The problem most people have is the letting go. You get a thought, it leads to another, then another, then you realize you’re thinking and you just messed up your meditation! Why am I even doing this? It doesn’t work for me. I’m not good enough. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
As I mentioned above, meditation, for me, is about bringing focus to your focus. When you place your attention on your intention, that’s where you find the sweet spot. But how do you do that?
Let’s briefly look at some different kinds of meditations that I’ve employed over the years.
These are the basic entry point for most people. A practitioner or teacher guides the individual(s) into a meditative state. Generally, these will be audio or video recordings with a light music track playing and someone giving prompts to the learner. The themes and length of these meditations will vary considerably. A quick search on YouTube will reveal a multitude of options available to you. You may need to try a number of them in order to find one that resonates with you.
(Pour mes amis francophones, voici le lien pour la méditation que ma femme Isabelle a enregistrée. Si ça vous tente.)
While guided meditations are a good starting point, the use of a mantra may be the next step in the process. By repeating a mantra over the course of the meditation, you help to keep your focus on the present moment. It’s hard to have other thoughts creeping into your subconscious when you’re just repeating a phrase or message over and over again. While some people may immediately think of “Ommmmmm” when they hear mantra, it can be much more than a single sound. As a practice, I’ve used a number of different mantras. Through my Reiki practice, I was introduced to a few different recordings with different mantras, some in Sanskrit, some in English. You don’t need to understand what you’re saying; it’s all about helping to keep your mind focused and clear. Another good use for mantra meditations is to use an affirmation. One example I can share from my own practices is to repeat “I accept abundance into my life.” Try saying that for 5-10 minutes each day for a week or two. It can be powerful!
Following on the mantra meditations, the use of a mala or rosary is another good way to get into a meditation practice. The process is simple – grasp one bead from the mala or rosary between your fingers, say your affirmation or mantra, then move to the next bead. Repeat until you’ve gone through the set. This is a good way to move off of recorded tracks, and music, as they can be done in pure silence. Or add music to the mix! Make your meditation practice your own.
Music Meditations may seem odd to some people. It doesn’t need to be some New Age/waiting room kind of music. Find a track that moves you emotionally. It can be anything. I’ve often employed songs like “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “Thank You” by Jesus Army or “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Or maybe go outside of the box and put on “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. Whatever you choose as your music, just close your eyes, let the music wash over you, get into the rhythm of the music (you don’t have to be a solid stone statue to meditate!). If you want to sway back and forth, do it. If you want to get up and dance to the music, do it. But most importantly, feel the music. Get out of your head and feel it in your heart, in your soul. Let the music move you. This is a great way to quickly change your mental state. Meditation doesn’t have to be 30 minutes. It can be as short as the length of a song that lifts your spirit.
In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn gives a number of practical exercises to work on one’s mindfulness. One he talks about is a walking meditation. The idea is simple – you go for a fully-present walk. Your focus is on the act of walking; you feel the earth under your foot; you notice your foot pushing off of the ground and moving through the air; you feel your foot make contact with the ground, from heel to toe; you feel your body being pushed forward by the other foot as it then leaves contact with the ground and the cycle continues. You focus on each movement, each step, each sensation. You pay attention to your breathing, to the movement of your body. You walk slowly and intentionally. If you’d like read more on walking meditations, you can check out this link.
A simple form of meditation that you can do to quickly calm and recenter yourself is through breathing meditations. There are different forms of these meditations, but the simple, common ones are triangle and box breathing. For Triangle Breathing, you simply inhale for a count of 5 (you can do longer or shorter depending on your own capacity), hold your breath for the same count, exhale for the same count. So in for 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5. And repeat. You can simply repeat for as long as you’d like. I recommend at least 2-3 minutes.
Box meditations are one step more. You follow the same three steps as with your triangle breathing – In for 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5, and then add another hold for 5 before restarting the cycle. So you start from empty lungs, inhale for a set count, hold the air in your lungs for the same count, exhale for the same count, then remain empty for the same count and repeat the cycle. As with the triangle breathing, I would recommend a minimum of 2-3 minutes.
Both of these meditations sound straightforward, but can be challenging when you’re starting out. As with the mantra meditations, they help you remain focused as you are mentally counting each breath, so you are less likely to have intrusive thoughts.
So there you have it – a handful of ideas and techniques for you to experiment with, if you are so taken. These are by no means an exhaustive list of ways to meditate. If something works for you, use it. If you decide to try one (or more) of the items I outlined here, modify them so that they work for you. Meditation provides a world of good for us if we make use of it. It helps to centre you, to calm your mind, calm your spirit, and makes space in our day and in our brains. I truly feel that it is in making this space that we can connect with our true selves and get a glimpse of whatever is bigger than us out there. At worst, it fills a few minutes of time and gives you some respite from the daily drudgery that is our lives.
Do you meditate? How often do you do it? What kinds of meditations have you tried that you’ve enjoyed? Share your experiences or favourite mediation tracks/apps/music/etc.
4 thoughts on “Meditation”
My main form of meditation is seated meditation, which I do each morning when I wake, once again around noon, and then at night before bed. I incorporate walking meditation into my daily life and, although it could be said you can’t meditate when you run, running meditation. I do this while running by focusing on the sounds I hear. I hone in on a particular sound. For example, birds singing or the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees or the sound of a stream. If a naysayer wants to say it’s not really meditation, so be it. Call it mindful running. But for me, it’s a meditative act. I’m not out there with monkey mind swinging from one branch to the next. Well, sometimes.
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Love it all! Meditation is so much more than just sitting around in lotus position. Happy to see you are finding what works for you in your practice.
Great blog! I love your insights. I’ve been really benefiting from sitting in Zazen meditation, which is a cornerstone of the Zen philosophy. I find it really beneficial, only I find it hard to find the motivation to do it regularly. It is a sacrifice of time, but when I do it, it yields such benefits- it is so refreshing, focus-sharpening. The experience is very positive, but it is sometimes hard to push myself to take the time. One of those things that I just have to work into my routine!
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Thanks for the feedback. Getting into a routine can be challenging. It is something I have struggled with on and off for some time.
While it can be a time sacrifice as you put it, it does not need to be too big of a time commitment. Sometimes starting off with small amounts of time is a great way to start off a routine. Carve out even just a few minutes a day for a week and see how it goes!