Jan 15, 2019

How to Start a Meditation Practice

Why might a meditation practice be valuable and helpful to you? To answer, think about how often you struggled with destructive thoughts, ruminations that kept going round and round in your mind and that you fought against and desperately tried to get rid of. How often have you been caught up reviewing and repeating an unpleasant conversation or have had imaginary conversations in which you were able to respond differently than you actually did-- more brilliantly, more sharply, or more aggressively-- but the endless repetition of these imaginary conversations ultimately became torturous to you?

These instances describe the painful effects of the untrained mind: the untrained mind goes wherever it wants to and causes chaos when it gets there. Meditation is a way of TRAINING your mind to focus on what you want, while being able to manage the constant distractions of destructive thoughts. Meditation, is a practice, which means that it is must be acquired over time, just like a muscle must be built up over time. If you want to use meditation, just like if you want to use a muscle, you must build up its strength. If you suddenly find yourself ruminating over a painful event, and that's when you decide to use meditation for the first time, it will not work. You practice this skill when you are in a calm inner state, like building a muscle before you ultimately need to use it in real life. Meditation must be an everyday practice and the more you do it and the more consistently you practice, the sooner that you will experience the effects. After doing it every day for about two weeks, you will begin to notice that you are "quieter" inside, that there is less reactivity, less intense emotional surges. The every day practice of meditation teaches you that you are able to quiet the mind by focusing intensely on one thing, perhaps the in and out breath, and that when you become distracted, as you will, that you are able to bring yourself back to the focus. When you do this over and over and over again, it will become easier to do this when you really need it, when you are caught in a tangle of  destructive thoughts.

1)  LOCATION: Find a quiet place in your home where you will not be distracted. Start small, start with maybe 5 to 10 minutes, but do it every single day. Some people start with 1 or 2 minutes and that is good for them as a starting point.

2) TOOLS: Have a timer.

3) SEATING;  Create a comfortable seating place on the floor with a cushion of some sort, keep your back straight, as if it were holding up a wall behind you. Place your legs so that they are not compressing each other at any point. (I place my hands in my lap, one hand folded into the other with the thumbs lifted and touching gently.) Find what works for you.

4) REMAIN STILL; Stay in that position and resist the urge to move, scratch an itch, or re-arrange you body. Your body will begin to complain and will want to shift; that is part of the practice to focus on the desire of the body to move and simply observe it and remain still. If you suddenly have an itch, just put all your attention on that sensation of the itch, but with no need to do anything about it.

5) WHAT TO EXPECT; Within seconds, your mind will begin to introduce one thought after another. With each one, let it go and come back to the sensation of the air as it comes in and out.( I focus on the  air as it enters my nostrils and as it  leaves it on the exhale.) At first, a battle of great proportions erupts in the mind-- the mind is all over the place and most of the thoughts are worrisome, distracting,  irrelevant , or laden with negative emotion. But by returning each and every time to the breath, something shifts.  The mind begins to relinquish the struggle.

6) EARLY STAGES: The first week is the hardest. But remain in position and resist the temptation to come out of the meditation. That  temptation is merely your mind not liking being contained. The mind is used to going wherever it wants to go and it does not like being constrained.

7) INCREASING YOUR PRACTICE; Add more time to the practice. After a couple of weeks add to the initial length of time you started with. Add a couple of minutes more and stay there for several weeks. (I now meditate for 25 minutes and I will stay there; that is sufficient for me.) You may want to go longer or shorter.

We have been brought up to believe that this constant thinking is helpful and guides us in life, but the truth is that our constant thinking and overthinking  creates our mental suffering; meditation trains the mind to go where you want it to go-- right here,  to the present moment, to the here and now.

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