What Does Meditation Do? A Guide for the Beginner
There's Nothing Mysterious About it
Do you long for a sense of calm and peace in your life? Do you believe that there is more to life than the busyness and stress of the daily grind? Do you wish there was a way you could escape fear, doubt, and anxiety? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. There is a very simple technique that you can use to help you become more grounded and find the peace that you crave--meditation. Although many people believe that meditation is a mysterious activity that they can't learn, this is simply not true. It is a very basic practice that anybody can use with successful results. You just have to learn what it is and how to do it.
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But What to do About Those Pesky Thoughts?
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, meditating is "to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness." Huh?? Pretty interesting definition, but it provides absolutely no information for how to achieve this so-called "spiritual awareness."
I've had friends who have told me that they "can't" meditate. They report that they have tried sitting with legs crossed in the classic lotus position, but their mind just wanders the whole time. In fact, they say they spent most of the time wondering if they were doing it right!
The key to meditation is to first understand the difference between your thoughts and yourself. When you first try to meditate, you will see that your mind doesn't want to stop chattering. You see, your mind chatters on auto-pilot hour after hour, minute after minute. That's what minds do. What's for dinner? I'm hungry! Why did I yell at my sister the other day--that was stupid of me. My boss was such a jerk today. How am I going to pay my rent next month? We spend most of our time stewing over the past, worrying about the future, and making judgments about ourselves and others!
This mental chatter is your constant companion, yet you don't even realize it--not until you try to meditate. Then you see that you can't shut off those pesky thoughts very easily, and soon you begin to think you are a "failure" at meditation. The first step to learning to meditate is to learn that your thoughts are not you.
Acknowledge Your Thoughts, Then Let Them Go
Some people make the mistake of thinking that meditation is about blocking out thoughts. This is not the case. Instead, through practice, you can learn to acknowledge your thoughts in a detached way, then let them go on their way. As you become better and better at doing this, you will begin to achieve an inner peace. You will no longer feel that your thoughts rule you. You will begin to see them as they are--passing bits of cloud that cross the landscape of your mind. Sometimes you are happy, and your mental landscape is a bright and sunny day. Other times you are angry, and the storm clouds gather. But beneath the changing scenery of your thoughts, your true inner self exists. Meditation is all about shifting your focus away from your mental "weather," and instead seeing your true inner self more clearly.
Achieving this is simply a matter of practice. Like exercising a muscle, you will begin to learn to see your thoughts, but not to get sucked into them. It gets a little bit easier each time you practice. Some people like to focus on an image, like a burning candle, to help keep centered. Another common practice is to focus on the breath as it moves in and out of your body. Each time a thought distracts you (and it will) simply acknowledge it, then let it be on its way. I like to visualize my thought gently slipping down a waterfall, out of view. I am not blocking it or pushing it away--just letting it drift away.
Whatever method you choose, just do it. Start out with 10, 20, or 30 minutes a day--whatever you can manage. Sit in a quiet place and focus on your breath, or an image. Acknowledge the thoughts but don't spend time with them. That's it. Do this and you are meditating.
Keep Up the Practice
If you make dedicated time each day for this kind of practice, you will notice a difference in your life. Regular meditation has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, depression, and other ailments. It gives your body a "time out" from the constant chatter in your brain that can create stress, anxiety, and sadness. Yes, sometimes our thoughts make us feel good--but as everyone knows, even good thoughts can ultimately lead to disappointment.
The benefits of a daily meditation practice will begin to seep into your regular, "non-meditating" life, too. You will begin to see your thoughts differently. When you get angry or sad, you will bounce back more quickly, reminding yourself not to get sucked into the negativity your thoughts are generating.
It may seem like a simple activity, but a regular meditation practice will change your life. It is an incredible journey toward greater peace and awareness.
Sage Carter shares ideas, information, and advice for better living. Visit her at http://sagecarter.hubpages.com/.