“I’m so bad at meditation. I just can’t get my mind to be quiet.”
In the month of May, I hosted several mindfulness events, and I heard this statement in every session. I love having conversations about meditation and mindfulness because these buzz words are often so misunderstood. Here are a few questions that are my favorite to debunk, and I’ve sure if you’ve ever tried to meditate, you’ve probably had them too!
1. What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
Meditation is a practice, just like yoga, or knitting, running, calligraphy, gardening, or literally any act of doing that requires showing up with consistency to become more proficient. In other words, meditation is a verb. So, meditation, in fact, is something that practice makes better.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a state of consciousness. This state of consciousness is part of the human experience, which means that all humans can attain mindfulness with or without meditation. Mindfulness is simply being present in the moment. Now, it might seem simple; however, how many of you read that sentence, while your mind drifted off into another story or thought…? This is why mindfulness takes practice, but that practice doesn’t need to be meditation, it can be ANYTHING that keeps your full awareness and attention in the moment.
Many athletes use the phrase, in the zone, as a way to explain mindfulness in their sport. There is a huge difference between an athlete performing their sport when they are in the moment versus when they are in their head. Similarly to life, people are keenly aware when someone is being authentic, or being their true selves, as opposed to acting in a way to achieve a certain reaction. Most times, we are able to tell real from fake.
Meditation is a practice that allows us to find a state of mindfulness in our lives, which enhances every human experience. Meditation is a cornerstone practice that allows us to come back home when we begin to feel a sense of separation from our true nature.
2. What’s the role of breath in meditation?
The respiratory system is the one organ system that is both voluntary and involuntary. If you think about it, you’ve been breathing since you started reading this blog; however, you probably haven’t been conscious of your breath until now that I mentioned the breath. Well, the breath is often the anchor in a meditation practice because it’s the one body response humans can control, which can be empowering, especially on days when everything seems to be out of our control.
The breath also has a parasympathetic response to the nervous system. When the nervous system is experiencing stress, our sympathetic (animal) response takes over. Mindfulness allows us to notice when our sympathetic nervous system is in stress response, and by taking control over the breath we counter the stress response, once again gaining control over our experience.
If you just notice your breath throughout the day, you will be more mindful. So, when in doubt take a deep breath!
3. What do I do when I’m meditating, and I can’t get a thought to go away?
Instead of using meditation to purge yourself of thoughts, it’s the perfect opportunity to allow yourself to experience everything exactly as it is. Most people think that “quieting the mind” is the point of meditation, but it’s not. The point of meditation is to allow yourself to experience all of you without judgement or story.
Our culture encourages us to find happiness outside of ourselves, with a more, more, more approach to life. Oh, you’re sad? Shop therapy. Alcohol. Oh, you’re unhappy in your relationship? Find someone new, then stage a break-up.
Our society tells us that if we experience an unpleasant emotion it means that we need to make a change and find more happiness. Unpleasant emotions are as human as pleasant emotions. (Check out this blog for more on this.)
In one of my sessions, a participant shared that her meditation practice had changed after she lost a loved one. She shared that every time she meditates she’s flooded with grief, sadness, anger, and all the emotions one expects with loss. What she said next is why everyone needs meditation. Instead of pushing away those emotions and trying to be “happy”, she's allowing herself to feel everything and through that experience she has begun to value her relationships more fully. Loss is just a learning opportunity which can bring us a heightened sense of gratitude for people we love, and also cherish our relationships with the living because we learn to understand the impermanence of life.
Now, if instead of meditating she pushed those feelings away, and tried to fix the sadness with things, or drugs, or anger, she might be stuck in her grief cycle indefinitely, which I’m sure you’ve all seen, and it’s so very sad.
Meditation is an opportunity for you to be you, exactly as you are without judgement. The practice of meditation has taught me these few personal lessons:
- Nothing is permanent. I feel different day-to-day. There is never a moment when I sit on my cushion and think, “I feel exactly the same as yesterday.” Even sadness feels different two days in a row, things are never as black-and-white as our mind wants them to be.
- Let go of expectation. Impermanence has taught me is that no two experiences are ever completely the same. When I show up to situations, I have learned to let go of expectations. Often times, our expectations cloud our ability to be fully present because instead of being in the moment, our mind wants us to believe… I’ve heard this before. Don’t let your mind fool you. If you live in expectation mode, you will be perpetually unhappy and upset by others.
- Be yourself. Meditation has shown me that I am way more complex than I once believed when I lived a black-and-white life. I’m constantly changing moment-to-moment, so why do my “rules” stay the same. Instead of showing up and trying to be who “they” want me to be. I pray for authenticity, and I show up as me, and offer my full attention. People connect to authenticity because it allows others to be themselves. Even when I’m a mess, I do it authentically.
4. What’s the best way to meditate?
Start small, simple, and consistent.
It’s best to remember that meditation is a practice and all practices are best done with consistency. If you’re new to meditation, then start small with 5-minutes a day, and make it simple and meditate on the train, or right when you wake up before checking email.
Meditation in the morning is a great way to set-up your day for success. When I practice meditation in the morning, I notice that I’m more mindful throughout the day. When I meditate after a full day, I usually find myself in shoulda, woulda, coulda-mode, which just makes me feel guilty that I didn’t practice in the morning.
Also, remember the reason we practice meditation is to live more mindful lives. We can choose to practice mindfulness ALL DAY. Mindfulness is a choice, and remember you can always take a breath and regain control over your experience.
By practicing meditation it makes it easier to live more mindfully, but everyone’s practice is different. Find something that works for you, and that’s the best meditation!
Here’s a simple seven step meditation structure that I lead myself through daily:
1. Posture: Find a comfortable seat where your feet touch the ground, and you can lengthen the spine. Close your eyes.
2. Breath: Take 3 deep breaths, in through the nose, out with the mouth. Begin to breathe in through the nose and out with the nose, find an equal ratio breath inhale to exhale. (Stay there for 5 breaths)
3. Inward Awareness: Shift awareness to your feet, feel the connection to the floor, notice the weight of your body against your seat. Release tension into each point of connection. Allow these points to keep you anchored in the present.
4. Outward Awareness: Shift your awareness outward, notice sound, sense the space around the body, allow your mind to feel safe in this space. Welcoming all outside stimulus, while letting go of narrative, or judgment for what may be present.
5. Mind Awareness: Notice your mind - does your mind feel active? Are you noticing persistent thoughts or stories? Or does your mind feel calm and present? Offering questions, without answers, allow yourself to be exactly as you are without judgment.
6. Back to Breath: Come back to the breath: equal part breath, in and out through the nose. Add a breath count: inhale 1-2-3-4-5, exhale 5-4-3-2-1 (repeat a minimum of 20 times in silence.) As you breath when the mind wanders bring your awareness back to the breath and pick up where you left off. After 20 breaths, take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale with the mouth.
7. Whole Experience Awareness: Notice how you feel. Compare before and after. Observe any shifts in awareness. Notice your body - physically, mentally, and emotionally. Is there anything I need today? Option to set an intention or focus for the day.