Studies show that meditation can improve our psychological wellbeing by reducing stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, and improving memory and critical thinking. Researchers have also found that meditation can be beneficial in reducing blood pressure, stress hormone levels and can even improve our cellular health.
Looking to reap some of these wonderful benefits, I began a regular mediation practice over two years ago, and I have found the journey to be joyous and rewarding, but also at times mysterious and quite challenging. When I first began I found myself always wondering if I was doing it “right”. Should I sit on the floor with legs crossed, rest my hands on my thighs, have special objects near me, or practice a particular ritual before or after? Should I ignore the impulse to scratch an itch, or answer the ringing doorbell? In meditation terms, I am quite the freshman; however what I have come to know might just help other novice meditators traveling on their own paths.
Although there are many styles of meditation, the style I practice is meditation on a mantra; I repeat a phrase over and over again. Other styles focus on the breath, light and sound, some practice walking meditations. Meditation on a mantra’s selling point is that there is no focus, so one isn’t technically ‘doing’ anything. The mantra is supposed to be just enough of a draw to keep the thoughts away but not so much of a draw that you are simply ‘thinking” about something the whole time. So we have thoughts, then we have mantra and thoughts, then just mantra, then eventually no mantra no thoughts…….just peace.
I tried many styles of meditation before I settled on meditation on mantra. I tried meditation on the light, where you sit with your eyes closed and try to see light. Honestly this made the muscles in my eyes really tired and sore. I moved onto meditation on a word for God. “Just repeat any word for God, you would like to use.” I spent the whole meditation trying to think of the word I wanted to use……God……OM…….Love…….Lord……..I never did come up with my word for God, 4 sessions into it. Pretty sure I was overthinking it! I tried meditation with a string of beads, moving one bead over for each breath. I found that I couldn’t remember if I had moved a bead or not, and that became increasingly distracting. I tried meditation on the breath which I really did like. There is something extremely calming about listening to the breath; the sensation of subtle movement in the body is purely peaceful. My son and I tried an ice cream meditation which was really nice; we ate ice cream in silence and just….. tasted it. I didn’t think my waist line would withstand a daily ice cream session though my son wanted to continue indefinitely.
When I first began meditation on the mantra, I grew increasingly frustrated that thoughts kept coming. Many teachers have taught me to “observe the thoughts, and gently watch them float away”. What I found was the mantra was actually in the way of my thoughts, and I would find that long periods of time would pass without me actually realizing I was just sitting there thinking. One time I actually forgot the mantra…..couldn’t remember the phrase! “Man I could be cleaning the house and thinking instead of just sitting here thinking if that is what I am going to do” I thought. In today’s busy world it is increasing hard to “do nothing” when there is so much to do! One of my favorite meditation observations;
Two men meet on the street.
One asks the other: "Hi, how are you?"
The other one replies: "I'm fine, thanks."
"And how's your son? Is he still unemployed?"
"Yes, he is. But he is meditating now."
"Meditating? What's that?"
"I don't know. But it's better than sitting around and doing nothing!"
The experts say that meditation is "The nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment." It sure is hard not to judge ones experiences. That is a work in progress for most of us.
When I first started meditating, I would imagine my thoughts behind a door, trying to burst through the door, and I was standing in front of the door with my arms spread wide, trying to stop the thoughts. Meditation became a struggle between my ego and my higher self, and the ego was winning the battle. I attended a mediation meeting once and a fellow meditator asked our teacher…..”Is it ok to scream my mantra?” I almost laughed at this question…….um…..pretty sure that answer is “no!” Hearing this gentleman’s smart question did make me realize that I am not the only one struggling with meditation. How is it possible to be MAD at this supposed path to inner peace?
I watched a video by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the creator of Transcendental Meditation and he explained that when we meditate we are joining our energy with the cosmic energy, it is all flowing together. I was fighting my energy every step of the way, there was no way it was going to “flow” into the divine, it was involved in a fist fight with my ego.
I began to imagine this grand flow, and slowly melted my expectations of what mediation should be, and just sat there in the flow. Thoughts came and I let them flow, moments of silence came and those moments too flowed into the cosmic energy.
My teacher explained that we should notfocus on the outcome of the meditation, but just sit and experience it…..if we think, that is ok, if we don’t think….that is ok too. Experience the moment without expecting what the next moment will bring.
When researches study the brains of meditators they find that those who report that their meditation sessions were not very restful had the same or very similar benefits in the brain as those meditators who said they had very relaxing peaceful sessions. So the meditators perception of the session isn’t all that important to actual benefits. This study really helped me to let go of the outcome.
I have had many moments of calm….peace……and serenity while meditating, and in those moments I feel as if my burden is gone and I am sitting right in the lap of God. The impending carpool, deadlines, and mistakes made melt away. When I meditate, I sit with pure love, and that love stays with me often for many hours. I drive my carpool with love, let the impatient driver next to me into the traffic stream with love, and answer my son’s questions with nothing but love.
Take some advice from a freshman…, sit in meditation, you just might love what happens next!