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Learn: Meditation

To be clear, when I write these Learn posts, I write from the perspective of a learner myself. I am not an expert on any particular topic but use L+E+S to present topics I find valuable. I collect information from a variety of sources and link to them whenever possible. With that said, I will proceed to present the topic of meditation.

Though I have been interested in meditation for many years, I only began meditating on a fairly regular basis earlier this year. As many proponents suggest it will do, meditation has brought a measure of clarity to my life―not every day and certainly not all day long―but I have found that I can more easily listen to my mind (or my soul, if you will) when I have consistently spent some time in meditation.

What Is Meditation?

The dictionary offers two definitions of meditate: the first has to do with thought and contemplation; the second is "to engage in quiescent spiritual introspection." Meditation instructor and author Eric Harrison writes that one key to meditating is to focus on sensing rather than thinking. By turning our focus toward sensing, writes Harrison, we are able to harness stillness, detach from our thoughts and do our best to think of nothing. Writer John Hudson describes meditation as "relaxed attentiveness." Another way to think about meditation is to imagine applying a filter to your world that blocks out the busyness and the big noise to allow you to sense the calm, quiet and small elements in your world.

The Benefits of Meditation

Harrison outlines benefits of meditation to both physical and mental health, with stress reduction at the top of the list. Sarah Susanka, whose book The Not So Big Life prompted me finally to try meditation, writes that regular meditation can help reduce turmoil in one's life, improve clarity and increase the occurrence of synchronicities.

Where & When to Meditate

While it may seem challenging to find a quiet place in which to meditate, consider that you need only enough space for you to sit comfortably for at least 15 minutes. (Harrison recommends at least 15 minutes. Susanka suggests working up to at least 20 minutes. Thích Nat Hãnh suggests 20 to 30 minutes for beginners.) Susanka recommends meditating at the same time in the same place each day, advising that it's best to meditate when you have more energy, not when you're physically and mentally tired.

How to Meditate

I've augmented Harrison's short list of basic meditation instructions with information from additional sources (italicized):

1. Prepare (find a comfortable place where you won't be interrupted).

Various sources describe slightly different sitting positions and hand positions. I position my sit bones on a yoga block and cross my legs with my knees basically resting on the floor. I vary my hand positions depending on how my back is feeling.

2. Shift from Thinking to Sensing.

"The technique for obtaining [total] rest," writes Thích Nhãt Hanh, "lies in two things―watching and letting go: watching your breath, and letting go of everything else."

3. Focus on the Breath.

Susanka advises to avoid engaging in any thoughts that arise. "Just focus on the breath," she writes, "and leave [the thoughts] alone."

4. Count the Breaths.

"Counting alone is not enough," warns Harrison. "You still have to consciously feel the breaths or you'll get lost in thought easily. Counting
is just a way of pointing you at the breath."

5. Notice the Signs of the Body Relaxing.

Thích Nhãt Hanh advises to "release every muscle in your body."

6. Name the Distractions.

Harrison describes this as a way of being alert yet detached. Thích Nhãt Hanh might describe Naming the Distractions as "watching and letting go."

7. Emerge Slowly.

Slowly open your eyes and become aware of your surroundings, advises Harrison. Maintain your attention and detachment for a few moments before you end your meditation.

Meditating "Correctly"

Harrison writes, "Meditation implies relaxation, but relaxation doesn't imply meditation. Any time you sit [in meditation], you'll actually alternate between these two. In the moments when you're consciously focused and watching, you're meditating. When you're losing it a bit and drifting away, you're just relaxed."
In a good meditation session, he writes, you'll meditate about half the time and just relax the other half. Sometimes your ratio will change in one direction or the other. While it's good to evaluate how your session goes, I think it's counterproductive to compare one session to another. Meditation is about being aware of what's in front of you, and that means being aware of the present session, not yesterday's or tomorrow's.

If you are interested in learning more about meditation, start with the sources

I've linked to above. In a post later this week, I will list a few more sources for further exploration. Do you already meditate or practice being still? I am interested in hearing about your experiences or your concerns. Comment here
or send me a tweet.