I have heard a lot of people say that they found learning to meditate very difficult.
Yet, meditating is the simplest and easiest thing we can do. It is almost as easy as breathing.
The one thing to remember about meditation is that the focus should not be on perfection—it should be on progression.
I have been meditating for around 20 years and I still regularly struggle to keep my mind fully engaged. And that’s okay. There is no pressure and no right or wrong way to meditate, despite what anyone else says. It is a very personal practice and one that will develop in its own time.
One of the main areas that I’ve heard people struggle with meditating is keeping the mind in the present moment and preventing the “monkey” mind from jumping all over the place.
When we have a lot going on our thoughts can get carried away and run like crazy through our minds with very little consideration for the fact that we are trying to meditate!
Our wandering and persistent thinking may not give up trying to penetrate and shake the peace, making it extremely difficult to calm the mind enough to concentrate on the practice. This is perfectly normal. It happens to everyone.
Many people give up at this stage as they find it too difficult rather than seeing it as a process that we all go through at the beginning. A session when the mind is busy is as good for us, if not better than one when our mind is still.
When our thoughts are going crazy, that is often when we need to meditate the most.
I’ve discovered that often, rather than going through the traditional steps to meditate when my mind struggles to remain calm, I benefit from switching to alternative methods to gain a similar effect.
Here are a few ways to take a more relaxed approach to meditating and ones that can be easily incorporated into every day life:
When meditating, I do not focus on the posture or position. Not everyone can relax in the Lotus position. It isn’t always comfortable to sit cross-legged or to hold the fingers in a mudra for a long period of time. A lot of people love this position, and that’s great, but we are all different and it’s more beneficial to find what suits us than to remain in a position that doesn’t feel right.
I personally like to mix my practice with whatever feels comfortable that day.
Some days I like to sit up straight in the more traditional position, others days I like to sink into an armchair or lie on my bed and totally let the surface hold my body with plenty of cushions and pillow to support me. Sometimes I use a blanket to cover me for an added bit of warmth and cosiness.
Each practice is different and my position depends largely on how I feel at the time.
More importantly than how we place our body is ensuring we are in a calm, peaceful place that we won’t be disturbed.
It takes a very trained mind to be able to practice with noise going on in the background. Places outdoors with nature are often the perfect place to calm and still the mind.
I often choose to simply inhale and exhale a set number of breaths while focusing on nothing other than the sensation of my ribcage rising and falling. If I am struggling for time or I am somewhere that a meditation is not really feasible, I set the number of breaths I feel I can commit to and I inhale deeply and then exhale slowly. This is often enough to calm and rejuvenate me when I need it most.
I regularly meditate to music and it isn’t always specific meditation music. When my mind is particularly busy the music helps me to focus and I will open my mind to all the instruments included in the piece and focus my mind solely on hearing every note.
When we meditate we are often told we must empty our minds. That isn’t entirely true. It is almost impossible to empty the mind, so there is no use in aiming for something so difficult to reach.
Instead of emptying the mind, I simply allow the thoughts to come, but I allow them to leave just as quickly.
I pay very little attention to whatever comes to my mind and I gently acknowledge the thoughts, but just as gently nudge them away again. I view the thoughts as though I am an observer, watching them drift by from a distance, without getting involved in them.
Meditation is not a time for deep thinking. It is a time for deep relaxation and often our thoughts can irritate or cause us to tense as they quickly turn into emotions. (And emotions turn to physical reactions.)
Remembering to keep the mind centred in the present moment without drifting to the past or projecting into the future is the only thing I fully focus on whilst meditating.
Meditating should be an enjoyable experience and one that leaves us refreshed and revitalised, not frustrated or feeling inadequate if we haven’t achieved the standards we set out for ourselves.
A practice with very little expectation or attachment to the outcome is all that is required to fully benefit. Regardless of how busy our minds are, even if we only gain a few moments of peace, the practice will not have been worthless.
Like with anything, practice and dedication is required to achieve progress. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, where we are when we meditate, how we are dressed or how frantic or calm the mind is.
All that matters while meditating is that our intention is set for the purpose of releasing thoughts and slowing the mind down. Even if we only slow it down for a few seconds we will still benefit greatly. To do this while the mind is at its busiest is a far greater achievement than keeping the mind calm when it is already in a calm state.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May