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Before delving into specific meditation practices & discussing the role of thought in meditation, I want to quickly talk about what meditation is and the types of experiences you're likely to have.
The reason meditation is so ‘difficult’ at first is the fact that we seldom experience what happens to our attention (the movement of our attention) when there is no external stimuli to guide it. Now more than ever in the age of social media and constant content in our faces from all angles, we very rarely find ourselves in position to just watch where our attention and thoughts move when we’re not otherwise ‘active’.
We all have existing ideas and associations related to the word ‘meditation.’ Most of us have this image of sitting with our eyes closed in a comfortable position and bringing our thoughts to a halt, which results in a deep sense of relaxation, calm and peace.
When starting out with meditation, our ready-made idea about what it is could not be further from the truth.
If you’ve ever made an attempt at meditating, chances are you had a very different experience than you expected.
At first, meditation is quite literally the act of coming into contact with the perpetual movement that is always happening inside of us.
The first impressions you’ll have in trying to meditate will likely be along these lines:
Your thoughts don’t stop moving, your body will begin to feel agitated which results in physical tension, you’ll start to think about why you’re wasting our time, you’ll judge yourself for not being able to “do it correctly,” you’ll think about how much longer you set the timer for, you’ll grow agitated by the fact that you can’t slow your thoughts down…. and there will be a huge part of you that wants to give up and never do it again.
I personally know many people that even think that there’s something wrong with them when they try to meditate and see that its difficult to control the focus of their attention.
Here’s what you need to know:
First of all, the chaos you’ll experience in your first attempts to meditate isn’t only normal and expected, it is an exact picture of what is always happening inside of all of us without our conscious awareness of it (difficult pill to swallow, but remember – don’t accept or reject; verify it with your own experience).
Secondly, we very quickly come into the understand that we do not have nearly as much power over our attention, thoughts and emotions as we think we do.
The good news is that the first step into all of the extraordinary benefits that come with meditation is coming into contact with this chaos.
The next types of experiences you will have in meditation lead to a sort of new ‘definition’ of the term.
Once we accept our lack of true control over our attention and the constant internal movement as normal, meditation becomes the gathering of our attention for the purpose of deeper observation.
What exactly does this deeper observation an entail?
The possibility of opening up more and more to what we normally call ‘myself.’
We generally take ourselves to be our thoughts and emotions. What our head tells us and what we feel quite literally creates and colors our reality.
But if you stay consistent and get closer to experiencing the possibilities of your attention and awareness in meditation, you will be led to a completely new understanding of what in yourself is MOST YOU.
I know this all sounds very vague and abstract, but it isn’t.
We can know that what we are at our core is not our body because we can see our body – we can touch it, we can feel it. Our physical sensations aren’t permanent. They’re always moving between hunger and satiety, cold and warmth, etc. We can know know we’re not our reactive emotions because they’re not permanent – there isn’t one emotion we can call “me.” They’re constantly moving between happiness, sadness, anxiety, satisfaction, etc. We know we’re not our thoughts because we can SEE our thoughts with our mind’s eye. We can both watch our thoughts and see our inability to control our thoughts.
At the same time, we can’t point to what it is in us that makes us alive – we can’t point to what we call ourselves and say that’s what I am. We can’t touch, smell, taste, see, or hear what it is in us that chooses or experiences our touching, smelling, tasting, seeing or hearing.
The more we detach from ourselves in the form of thoughts, the more our attention is freed for observation and focus in a desired direction (which is exactly analogous to our brain’s fight or flight responses being weakened, leaving room for enhanced neural connections in the thinking brain – neocortex).
When you begin to form a new type relationship with yourself through practicing your attention and observation, natural questions arise.
What in me has the ability to recognize that my thoughts are moving or that I’m feeling any given emotion?
What is behind the personality that I ordinarily call myself?
What is behind all of this mental, emotional and physical movement?
When these questions are experienced and we can see with clarity that we have no faculty with which to face these questions without giving an automatic mental response, something in us opens up to an even deeper questioning.
When we can reach this stage of truly entering into a question with the understanding that any ‘answer’ we provide is simply a mental response based on our own memory, the thought begins to quiet naturally.
In this this state of consciousness in which we accept that we do not know what the next moment in ourselves will bring, the meditation experience begins to take on an entirely new meaning.
I’m extremely excited to see what new research is done on how meditation affects the human organism – and I hope this helps motivate you to get started.
To have a more direct experience with the present moment, there has to be a space created between our attention and our inner activity (the voice in your head, the physical tension, etc.).
When this space is created, we begin to understand the difference between having thoughts and feelings, as opposed to thoughts or feelings having us.
When beginning your meditation practice, the most important action needed on your part is the effort to find stability among the movement.
Your thoughts will be moving in an indestructible stream and you WILL feel strong resistance to staying seated with your eyes closed for a certain period of time. One of the primary tools at our disposal for finding a sense of stability inside of ourselves is our breathing.
How to use the breath in meditation:
Bring your attention to your breath without interfering with its
flow. Breathe the way you naturally would.
When your thoughts wander and you realize you’ve been taken
by your thoughts (completely forgotten about your breath), gently bring your attention back to your breath.
The 'goal' is to stay connected with your breathing while watching the mental activity - this is how the separation between your attention and your mind is created.
Physical sensation is to the body what “feeling” is to the emotional life. We recognize a feeling because we feel it. We recognize physical stimulation (whether positive or negative) by sensation. Physical sensations can help us maintain stability in the face of our internal movement similarly to our breath.
How to use sensation during meditation
Once you’re in your meditation sanctuary, set your timer for 5, 10, 20 or 30 minutes, find the necessary physical comfort and are eliminate external distractions. Then close your eyes.
Bring your attention to the weight of your feet on the floor, the weight of your body against the chair or the ground you're sitting on. The sensation of the temperature of your body. The sensation of the pants you’re wearing against your legs. Allow any sensation you experience to enter your active awareness.
When you find yourself describing the experience of the sensation with your thoughts, remember that you are not what your thoughts say. The experience needs no explanation.
Accept that your thoughts defining your experience is a natural event that happens in all of us. Allow it to happen while seeing that you are not directing it.
Contemplation is a strong inner tool for leaving the realm of constant associative thinking and experiencing a new quality of directed thought.
How to work with contemplation
Choose a question that you’re interested in, preferably about yourself. Something that you don't have a direct answer to.
After a few minutes of trying to find a stable presence in this moment, ask yourself the question you chose.
When you ask the question, movement will take place as your mind begins to look for answers and come to a conclusion.
Observe everything in you that tries to answer the question you brought. Keep coming back to the feeling of truly questioning.
Contemplation can be confusing at first because your mind scrambles to find security.
It's important to find some stability in your attention before asking yourself the question.
The benefits of meditation aren’t “merely” clarity and peace of mind. Science has shownthere are true biological effectsthat meditation has on your physical body. Once you grow in your meditation practice with these steps, you will soon realize that meditation isn’t “difficult.” You never really “think about” anything when meditating, you simply come into contact with different, more internal parts of yourself. Make the commitmentto practice these steps every dayfor 10 minutes at a time. Before you know it, meditation will become your bliss and sanctuary, allowing you to improve your quality of life as a whole.
In a world where we are bombarded by content and information from the outside, taking time to simply be with yourself in meditation isn't a luxury, but a necessity for well-being.
The Meditation Sidekick Journal is a book and journal that guides you through learning how to meditate, facilitates self-inquiry, and promotes individual growth.
This journal debunks our ideas and associations about what meditation is and what the experience can be. We will guide you to experiencing the incredible benefits the practice actually brings.
The journal is split into three phases. Each phase provides a tracking page and daily content specifically tailored to help you defeat the struggle associated with the phase you're in of the habit-building process.
Step 1: Learning
The introduction to the journal provides a fundamental understanding of how meditation changes our brains, why it seems difficult at first, the experiences you’ll have, and more on how it can improve your life.
Step 2: Tracking
Each morning, you write the time you'll meditate, how long you'll meditate for. Each evening, you get questions to help you open up about your experience, think about how mindfulness can improve the events in YOUR life, and record what improvements you're seeing.
Step 3: Curated Content
Each day you're given learning tools, inspiration and guidance for improving the quality of your practice. These include guided meditations, affirmations, expert tips and strategies, links and descriptions to phenomenal videos and podcasts, and more.
Our private Habit Nest community is extremely active with members who are on the same journey you'll be on. We help keep each other on the journey with a positive mindset and talk through our struggles
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