The Bird Cage (whom I so very much admire) recently approached me with a question about meditation:
I would like to *attempt* to start *trying* meditating. Have you done this yourself? Do you have any tips? Do you have any books I could refer to? Any words of advice?
It’s funny that I should be asked about meditation, because quite frankly, I’m really bad at meditation. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? How can someone be bad at meditating? Meditation is about awareness and focus, which, incidentally, is what a lot of this blog is really about. But the act of true meditation – getting into a seated position or lying down and letting your mind go free – is one of those things that not many of us do.
Earlier this week, I went to the hamam at Ten Spa (hamams are Turkish baths where you get washed and massaged). As I was lying on the big slab of marble, getting massaged in the steamy room, I tried to meditate. Or rather, I tried not to “try” (because that defeats the purpose of meditation), but to let go of all of my thoughts and simply be. It. is. really. hard.
When I think about the times when I am most at ease, walking is right up there. And one of the (many) reasons why walking is important to me is because my mind wanders freely. I just let it go and enter a different world (seriously, it’s bad when I go walking in the city. I’m amazed that I haven’t walked out into the middle of traffic yet and been hit by a car). So why is it so difficult to meditate when I am seated or lying down? I think that it has to do with this driving need in our society to constantly multi-task. So I multi-task even when I “meditate”: I walk at the same time.
But when The Bird Cage asked me about meditation, I wanted to try the real version of it. So I’ve been doing my best to meditate lately. I’m slooooowly getting a little bit better than I used to be, by miniscule amounts. But I’m already becoming more aware of the way the mind works, and so I’m learning how to improve at it.
These are the tips I have for anyone who is interested in trying out meditation:
1) Start by doing yoga first. I have been doing yoga at home with a video several times each week for the past month or two, and because it focuses on breathing and it requires you to pay attention to the way that you’re contorting your body, it helps to discipline the mind and thus can prepare you for meditation.
2) Think about meditation. It’s all about the mind, and so “psyching yourself up” for it can actually work pretty well. I find that if, in my day-to-day activities, I remind myself that I should meditate later or if I just contemplate the notion of meditation in general, it helps you to get to know meditation a little better.
3) Use a guide. When you’re first starting out, by all means sit there and let your mind go free. If you can in all honesty achieve that, you are amazing. For the other 99% of us, it’s easier to start out by using a video or an audio recording that can give a step-by-step meditation guide as you do it. Reading about it online or in a book can work well too, but I like to have a voice/music to help me bridge the gap from society’s busy-ness to the calm tranquility of meditation.
4) Find a quiet location. I like the idea of outdoor meditation, but at this time of year that would get cold fast (and I would become correspondingly crankier, myself). There are also many distractions outdoors. Likewise, if you live in a house with lots of other people, you might want to wait for a time to practice meditation when everyone else is out of the house. Make meditation as easy as possible for your mind to get the hang of it, at least to begin with.
5) Get into a comfortable position. Once you have chosen a geographical location, you’ll also need a good physical body position: personally I happen to quite enjoy sitting in a kneeling position on the ground (this was an important posture in aikido, and when I practiced aikido I found it interesting how many people quickly grew uncomfortable with it – I find it very comfy. But on the other hand, I do not enjoy sitting cross-legged, which seems natural for many others). Lying down (in a savasana yoga pose) is also probably one of the most relaxing positions that you can be in. Experiment! You should also try different types of surfaces. Beds can be too soft for sitting; tile floors are too hard. A pilates mat (thicker than a yoga mat) is a really good choice. I like to have that little bit of cushion but a firm surface beneath it, so a pilates/yoga mat works well.
6) Don’t get discouraged. All of the above tips are for preparing for meditation, but I realize that I’ve said little about meditation itself. That’s because the act of meditation is an interesting process that I believe is different for everyone (and I don’t really have the slightest idea how to go about properly doing it ;)). But the main thing is to not get discouraged: if you attempt to free your mind a hundred times in the same sitting and you’re still having difficulty, that’s okay. Make yourself a cup of tea, read an article about meditation, practice yoga. Do the other steps to prepare for meditation, and then attempt it again. It takes a long time. I don’t expect I’ll be able to really master it for a long time yet. But that’s the beauty of it: to really be at peace with yourself and to really know yourself, it takes a lot of effort and hard work.
And that awareness is worth it.
Meditation for you
The above tricks are what have worked for me, based on the way that my mind and body work. They won’t necessarily work for you, but they’re worth a shot! If you’re looking for an online resource, How to Meditate seems to be a really good one.
Have you ever meditated? Would you ever be interested in doing it? If you do meditate (or if you have in the past), what advice do you have for newbies at it? Help me and The Bird Cage out by offering any words of wisdom and recommending books in the comments section below!