Written by Jake Alcott
Here I give you the "truth" of meditation. "Truth" I keep in quotations because, as you will see, truth is a funny little word with as many definitions as there are fools trying to define them. It is particularly funny when used in regard to meditation because of the ever-changing, fluid nature of the practice.
Increasingly in American culture, meditation (in particular "Mindfulness")has become a mainstay in a corporate drive to "ease" the employees.*
Now, while I do appreciate the widening of the audience for mindful practices, it is clear to just about everyone who has sought their own path outside of this just how perverse these concepts have become. Mindfulness isn't always corporate tool to help employees tolerate unfair work environments, and meditation can't be regarded as any activity that'll "totally help you chill out." While practices like taking a walk, reading a book, or any other of your favorite calming activities are great for your mental health, we can't go around throwing a term like meditation out all willy-nilly.
Meditation is a different experience for everyone who practices, but there are some mainstays that are held in regard to just about every practice out there. This article will serve as a foundational tool to serve your practice and to help beginners (or not so beginners) out of the weeds, at least a little.
I believe that the most important thing when it comes to meditation is consistency. Staying consistent can be very hard but it is the only way to make real, lasting progress. No one ever became enlightened from a casual sit every few weeks.**
This is most easily achieved by routine. Find a routine that works for you -same time, same place, same everything- and sticking to it! Along your journey you will create routines of practices that seem very doable and practical in the moment of conception but after a few tries, are woefully unachievable. This can be for many reasons but it's okay to dump a practice that doesn't work, don't feel like you have to keep going just for the sake of commitment (this doubles for relationship advice).
The next step, after deciding the where and when, is learning how to keep still! This part isn't going to be easy. Just like every other exercise, meditation is going to be tough, especially at the beginning. Pick a seated posture (asana), one that is comfortable to you that you can stick with indefinitely. There are many postures that work plenty well, don't look at full lotus and think that you have to sit like this in order to really meditate. Many postures can be found all over the internet and variations can be made for all bodies. Straight-backed chairs work very well for those of us with back problems.
As long as your spine is straight and your up right -avoid laying down, sorry- you should be good to go.
Now, a common mistake that I often see is that people get this far and then think that they're meditating. While stillness in Asana is an essential foundation of meditation, it should not be mistaken for whole kit and caboodle. This is only the beginning, just like I wouldn't tell someone looking to start running to begin with a marathon, I'm not going to sit here expect anyone to begin purely with meditation.
You'll find quickly that just simply sitting still has immeasurable benefits for your mental health and clarity but be sure to not mistake this for the end goal.*** Keep pushing and you'll find that the door to peace is only beginning to open. What you might be mistaking for paradise is nothing but a stop on the road, it’s easy to get lost in cases like these but just know that there's much more to come.
Finally, the last foundational skill I'll go over here is how to breath. I know this sounds intuitive, something you've been doing all your life on autopilot. But the ways in which you breathe are paramount to the function of not only your body but also your mind. Now, I'm not a scientist. I'm not going to try and explain exactly how it works but I can give an exercise that can be tried right now in this moment and see for yourself.
First start by sitting comfortably with a straight back. Next, follow a breathing pattern of four breaths in through your nose, four second hold at the top, and then a four second exhale. This practice is best suited for periods longer than five minutes but you'll start to notice a difference before that. Make sure to be still while you're practicing this, give it ample focus. Fidgeting will
break your concentration and you won't get the desired effects. If stillness is impossible and you finding yourself having to itch and readjust, reread paragraph six!
Do as many rounds as you'd like but be weary, listen to your body and if you need to stop, stop. There are no winners or losers in this game, we're all just players.
There's an endless amount of practices and discoveries you'll make on the journey of meditating and to add any more now would surely be counter intuitive. This is a practice in which you'll only get out of it what you put in, so be consistent and if at first you start to feel like its more difficult than every "mindfulness" seminar made it seem, you're on the right track.
* The myriad of quotation marks I use around large concepts is only to indicate the vastness and elusiveness of any real definition. The quotation marks are to note that this is the verbiage chosen by a particular person or group of people.
**If you feel called out by this, good, this is a wake up call. You are not alone, you should not feel shame. I'm right there with you.
*** This can sometimes be hard but ultimately should be a point of reference throughout the entirely of your journey. Don't mistake the rest stops for the destinations. No matter how cool they might be, get back on the road!!