The first time I meditated, I did not know I had done it.
At the time I was an intern at a retreat center in the Catskill Mountains. I was allowed to try classes offered at the retreat, and I often took part in yoga classes.
During one of the yoga classes, the instructor ended the session with a visualization. She asked us to close our eyes and guided us through a walk in the forest, giving us a detailed account of what we should be seeing and feeling with every step. The visualization lasted a few minutes, and the instructor ended the session by sharing the many benefits of meditation.
I was intrigued. I had taken a yoga class for the first time at this retreat and was getting comfortable with it. I figured meditation should be next. I had heard meditation gives us more focus and energy, and helps with productivity, which was something I yearned for as a student.
After the class was over, I went up to the instructor and said,
“I’ve always wanted to learn how to meditate, but have not done it yet.”
“Oh.” Awkward silence. “Did you not just sit through the class?”
“Yup, and I really want to try meditation, but have no idea how.”
“Uhm, well—we just meditated. That visualization was meditation.”
I could feel the color rising to my face, and did not know where to hide from the look of contempt I was getting from the instructor.
I wanted to ask the instructor what she meant, but I didn’t have the courage to. I was so embarrassed that all I could do was hurry away as fast as possible.
But, I was truly lost. I couldn’t reconcile how I had just meditated when my mind had been active in a visualization. Wasn’t my mind supposed to be blank?
I was afraid to approach the same instructor again, but I desperately wanted to learn how to still my mind. How the heck was I supposed to do that? My mind went a mile a minute and turning it if off seemed impossible.
That was nearly 20 years ago. My time at the retreat ended before I was able to learn how to meditate, but the desire to learn remained. I continued my pursuit of learning meditation. Here are some steps I’ve learned:
1. Don’t give up, even if our first encounter is not positive. It’s just about finding the right instructor.
The first instructor wasn’t willing to meet me where I was. She was annoyed by my ignorance. But, soon after I left the retreat I went to another yoga class, and I got the courage to ask the instructor about meditation. He was approachable and willing to work with me. He did not make me feel embarrassed and explained meditation in great detail.
2. We do not need “much” to meditate.
The instructor talked about needing nothing other than the breath. He said I needed only notice as my body inhaled and exhaled. I should feel the air in my nostrils, follow the air as it entered my body, feel my lungs and diaphragm expand, hold the air for a few moments, and follow the air as it was expelled back out from my diaphragm and lungs, up my respiratory tract, out of my nostrils, and into the air around me.
3. Meditation is not about clearing our minds.
The same instructor explained to me that it was okay if a thought arose, because the objective was to be present and focus on the moment, not about my mind being blank. As a thought arose, I should acknowledge it, and gently push it away, and not follow it. Continuing to follow my breath was the anchor for my mind to be present; to be right here right now.
4. Find the form of meditation that works best for us.
I found that I could follow my breath as long as I had an instructor telling me what to do. But back when I was a student and could not afford to continue paying for yoga classes, I had to find a way to do it on my own. When I tried it at home, I could not hold the focus on my breath for more than a couple breaths. My mind would wander and I would get lost with it. I got frustrated and thought that I was not made for meditation. There was no way for me to be present.
But the meditation bug did not leave me, and although the Internet was up and running 20 years ago, there was not a lot of information available. Still, I searched and eventually found something about counting. That was it! Counting saved meditation for me. I figured out that counting was a stronger anchor for my mind to be present than following my breath on its own. I followed my breath, but I started counting the number of complete breaths, in which one cycle of inhalation and exhalation counted as one.
4. We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves when meditating.
Even though counting was a stronger anchor for me to meditate by myself, I would still get distracted after a few breaths. So, I created small goals. At first, I focused on reaching 20. When I grew more comfortable and present, I pushed myself further, and eventually reached 30, then 50, then 100, and so on.
5. We all have different things that work for us, and the same applies to meditation.
In the past 20 years, I have tried many other forms of meditation. I have used chants, mantras, music, guided meditations, videos, apps, crystals, essential oils, incense, tarot cards, movement, and Reiki. I have meditated on my own, in a class, in other retreats, or as part of a group. Some methods worked better than others, but the key for me was to continue to try different forms of meditation to discover what I could apply to my life.
I meditate daily and often change my meditation based on my needs and moods. Often, I combine a couple of methods together. For me, variety is key.
What we need is to take the time to discover what will work for us.
Author: Sonee Singh
Image: lingorach at Flickr
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Leah Sugerman