‘Gently close down your eyes and we’ll meditate for a couple of minutes,’ says the yoga instructor.
I close my eyes and think about dinner. Tacos. Must pick up avocadoes. What are tacos without guac?
You’re meant to be meditating, Alison.
Oh, yeah. Hmmm-hmmm-hrmmm. I wonder if I’ll have time to mark those reports the kids wrote today.
Stop. Thinking. Meditaaaate!
Oh, yeah... I wonder if we can open a window? It’s really hot in here (eyes open, gazing around the room). Mm, no. Everybody else is deep in meditation. Why can’t I do that? Because you’re too lazy that’s why. If only you applied yourself then you could do it and you’d be just as happy as that chick in the nice leggings. I wonder where she got them? Mm, tacos…
Does this sound familiar? This was my experience with meditation for a long time. I now call this taco brain: lots of thoughts shoved into one little ol’ brain and they’re starting to overflow.
I thought that meditation was sitting cross-legged, silent and without any thoughts, looking and feeling peaceful, with my thumb and forefinger touching and enlightenment only a beautiful pair of leggings away! It sounded very nice in theory, but just didn’t seem to be for me.
Unfortunately, social media and other misinformation give the impression that meditation is only for the beautiful people wearing white sitting alone on a pristine beach.
It’s not. Meditation is for you. It’s for your parents, your boss, your kids, your bank manager, your local MP and that lady who always stares at you as you walk past her house. You don’t have to sit cross-legged. It’s not always peaceful. It doesn’t have to be spiritual. And you don’t have to wear leggings!
Okay…but what exactly is meditation, anyway?
Ooh, this is a toughy to answer in a few sentences! Basically, it’s a practice where we try to focus our attention on a single point. There are different styles and techniques, such as focusing on a phrase (mantra), the breath or a candle. The intention is to be aware of thoughts, feelings and chatter of the mind, but not to react to them, maintaining your focus on that one point.
Sounds simple. But why do I find it so hard?
Meditation is simple, but it isn’t easy. This is why it’s a practice! The average human mind does not want to stay on that point of focus. Meditation trains us to bring our awareness and attention back to the point of focus time and time (and time!) again.
We find it difficult because our ego (the chatterbox in our heads) doesn’t want us to sit and focus our attention. It wants to worry about avocadoes and marking and what other people think. It would prefer we watched TV or scrolled through social media. It doesn’t want us to be too hot or uncomfortable even for a second. But, it also wants to beat us up for not being able to meditate. Slippery little sucker, eh?
In short, this part of your mind wants to find a way to distract you from focusing your attention and perhaps relaxing into a deeper state of consciousness. Why? That would mean the end of the ego, of course!
Alright, but what’s the benefit of sitting and focusing my attention for a few minutes every day?
Good question! The short answer is, your whole life might just get a bit better.
The slightly longer answer is, our modern world is complex, fast-paced and more and more demanding. We rush, text, talk, flick, scan, watch - often all at the same time. However, the design of our brains is ancient and so we need a way to help it to cope, to recharge.
Think of it this way, imagine there’s an old woman who works in your mind (stay with me!), let’s call her Gladys, who is your personal assistant. She spends her time categorising things from the “inbox” into a highly organised and efficient filing system. Through the complexities of modern life you are putting more and more into that inbox through work, family, friends, social media, online videos, TV, travel, hobbies and so on. But Gladys (the ancient brain) works at the same pace, no matter how much coffee you feed her!
Meditation allows for time to process some of the files that are fresh in the inbox, and sometimes gives Gladys some time to categorise files she’s been working on for years. In this way, even 10 minutes of meditation a day can allow for a clearer mind, better focus, perhaps a feeling of calm or relaxation. Over time, with regular practice, you may find that you are more focused, able to regulate emotions more easily, connect with others more deeply and find more patience and compassion for yourself, your students, colleagues and loved ones.
But I’m a very busy, important person, how am I supposed to fit this into my schedule?
Start with 5 minutes a day, every day. I’d suggest first thing in the morning to set you up for the day, but whenever suits you is fine.
Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or cross-legged on a cushion or on the floor (it can help to have your hips raised slightly). Lying down can make sleepy, so stay upright.
Place your hands in a comfortable position - perhaps on your knees or cupped gently in your lap.
Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
Concentrate your attention on your breath. It might be at the entrance to your nostrils, your belly or the movement of your chest.
Every time you realise your mind has wandered, gently bring yourself back to the breath. There’s no need to whip or berate yourself! You will literally need to guide yourself hundreds of times back to the focus of your attention, and it helps to do it compassionately.
If you feel like you’re “not doing it right”, it could be that sneaky ego-mind trying to find a way in. As I said, meditation is simple but not easy. Just keep coming back to the breath without judging your practice.
Modern life can be challenging. A daily meditation practice helps us to be the best version of ourselves, and to keep our tacos where they belong - out of our minds and onto our plates!
Keep an eye out as I’ll be posting a Meditation 101 video shortly! Sign up to the newsletter so you can be the first to know when it’s up and running.
Have you had any of these experiences? Have you tried meditation before and fallen off the wagon? Have you learnt something that can help you to give it another go? If you’re already a keen meditator, do you have any tips for maintaining a daily practice?
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