In our busy lives of working, learning, care-taking, chauffeuring, cooking…the list goes on, finding an extra 20 minutes in the day may seem impossible. Especially for those of us who may be critical of the idea of meditation – “There’s so much more I can get done in 20 minutes than to sit there and breathe!” – meditation may seem like wasted time, but it’s exactly the opposite. Meditation is the practice of clearing your mind for a mindful moment to reduce our stress, minimize our anxiety, regain clarity and focus.
But HOW do I meditate? If you Google this question, you’ll get thousands of hits with different ways to practice meditation. There are essentially five steps to meditation:
- Preparation – Clearing your mind for a focus.
- Contemplation – Deliberate your focused thought.
- Meditation – Focus.
- Dedication – Who is this for?
- Subsequent Practice – Bringing this into your daily life.
When I first started meditating, I really had no idea what I was doing. I read and read…AND READ and I still didn’t seem to understand. Some advice explained I have to sit cross-legged, some said I had to have absolute silence, some said extreme deep-breathing. The conditions never seemed to work for me – my legs cramped, there’s ALWAYS noise around me, and I was yawning-to-death from all the deep breathing. I eventually gave up believing I was incapable of meditating.
Then about a year ago I was dealing with something very frustrating; I shut my laptop in disdain, went to the bathroom and rinsed my face with cool water, and I looked in the mirror and said, “God, give me patience!” Then it hit me – meditation is YOUR own practice of calm. Meditation is anything you need to bring you to the point you want to be at that moment. For some people, it’s prayer, for others, it’s running.
Just because my form of meditation didn’t follow the “rules” of gurus, high priests, or anyone else who is far more enlightened that I am, didn’t mean that I wasn’t meditating.
I learned to turn meditation into picking a mantra; this is what works for me and this is what I teach others who struggle with finding a moment of peace and tranquility. These are a few great mantras to start with:
- “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
- Small changes to make big results.
- I am enough.
- Kindness and compassion lead to happiness.
- This too shall pass.
Putting it into Practice
I. Preparation – Find a place where you feel at peace. This can be anywhere you’re able to focus solely on you and your thoughts. For me, it’s in my office (strange, right?). I need the space to be organized and neat; I cannot focus in clutter (for some people, clutter doesn’t matter). I also like to light a candle (if I have the time to let it burn), and if not, I spray some Rest Easy or wear my Aromatherapy Tree-of-Life necklace; these fragrances elicit calm energy for me. The next part of preparation is choosing the mantra you want to focus on for meditating.
II. Contemplation – Here you deliberate the mantra you chose. Why do you want to focus on bringing this energy into your world? What is giving you stress/anxiety/fear/etc. that is preventing you from making this practice happen? The practice of self-reflection helps to become cognizant of the barriers preventing the mantra to become reality. It’s okay if this phase is hard, or if you don’t have all the answers the first time. That’s why meditation is a practice; it’s not meant to be perfect the first time, the fifth time, or even the tenth time. It’s the art of mindfulness, and true art takes time.
III. Meditation – This is where you hone in and focus on what you want to bring into your life. You can simply repeat the mantra in your mind, or offer solutions as you allow your mind to focus on the mantra. For example, you keep repeating “This too shall pass,” until you recognize that whatever is making you distraught is temporary and you will overcome it. Again, if this doesn’t come to you right away, there’s tomorrow’s practice to look forward to.
IV. Dedication – In the dedication stage, you give your practice of meditation to its purpose. For example, if I am meditating to “I am enough,” I may dedicate my practice to myself. It may sound like, “I dedicate ‘I am enough’ to myself because I deserve love, honor, and respect as I am.” If you’re meditating for patience, it may be along the lines of, “I dedicate “God, give me patience” to all of those I have been impatient with and to everyone who I will encounter tomorrow.” On some level, this provides accountability because by giving your meditation a purpose you lead it to subsequent practice.
V. Subsequent Practice – The easiest stage to understand, but perhaps the hardest to manifest, is subsequent practice. This is where you bring your mantra into your everyday activities, so you can quickly bring your mind there when you need it. You’re waiting on an extremely long grocery line and the person in front of you needs a price check for every item, you say to yourself, “God, give me patience;” you breathe it in and feel yourself become more patient.
Along with the five steps, deep-breathing exercises throughout are extremely helpful. According to Harvard Medical School, this is because biologically our bodies see deep-breathing as a way to “quell errant stress response.” Try it right now – take one deep breath in through your nose, filling your whole diaphragm, and release – I guarantee you will feel a bit calmer than a moment before.
How do you bring meditation into your life? Have you tried any of the mantras suggested? I would love to hear more in the comments section!