Eleven years ago today, only three days before my 18th birthday and just before I was about to go to university, I was hit by a car on a night out and suffered a badly broken leg. I went to university but because of my temporary physical handicap I started feeling sorry for myself. I self-medicated every night by getting smashed on booze and smoking loads of weed. Next stop: depression.
After being depressed for about four years and lacking any motivation to do anything, I read a book someone had recommended to me; ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’. This introduced me to the idea of meditation, for a year or so I started experimenting occasionally but I didn’t get much out of it.
Fast forward four years and I am now a regular meditator, generally practicing twice a day.
Why do I continue to meditate?
Initially I started meditating because I was depressed and anxious; I thought that mindfulness meditation as a concept could potentially quieten the constant negative thoughts I was having. After perseverance, this started to happen. Not judging or clinging to my negative thoughts was a great step for me.
Now with lots of practice I am able to sit for long periods of time, sometimes for up to an hour, in an attempt to be more present and detached from my usual incessant thoughts, although they tend to be a lot less negative these days. Meditation helps me become less attached to my thoughts, which as you may well experience yourself is difficult to do. Meditating has helped me to end attachment to every thought that enters my head, and to just accept it, watch it float by like a cloud.
In short; it helps me to focus my everyday attention on things that are worth focusing on!
Busting some meditation myths and answering questions that many have before starting to meditate:
Isn’t meditation a Buddhist or Hindu concept? Do I have to be religious to do it?
Yes it is. But no you don’t! Meditation as we know it comes from Eastern traditions, to quiet the mind and to increase presence in the now. Despite this, I would bet people in the Western World have been meditating for centuries without even knowing it. Even if you don’t think you have meditated I guarantee there have been a number of times where you have sat quietly without getting attached to your thoughts.
Meditation does not involve praying to a god, so you do not have to be religious to meditate and in fact you can have a religion that doesn’t contain meditation as a practice and still do it.
Ok, so it works for you, but is meditation really beneficial?
Yes, science has even proved it! Science has proven that mindfulness has a lot of benefits that can help anyone. Mindfulness is even used by psychologists to help their patients with a number of problems. Mindfulness can help with issues such as depression and anxiety. It is also used to help people with problems such as addictions and obsessive compulsive disorders. Add to that, it is proven to help with physical problems such as stress, poor sleep and even high blood pressure. You can really start to see the wisdom that people in the East have had for thousands of years!
But I’m a busy person, how can I fit meditation in to my life?
You can meditate for as little or as much time as you like. This really is a personal thing; there is research to say that as little as 10 minutes a day can really help. If I am particularly busy I will try to sit for 5-10 minutes twice a day. Some days I find I can only do it for a short time, other days I have sat meditating for an hour or so.
How do I meditate?
Find what works for you. There are lots of resources you can use, some of which I list at the bottom. I found that I had to do some experimenting to find what felt comfortable, but after a while I found a way to get the most out of it. I can’t sit cross legged on the floor for five minutes without seizing up, so found I could meditate whilst sitting in a chair. As with anything, experiment until you find what is best for you.
Ok, so I’m sitting still. Now how do I clear my mind?
You don’t have to! This is a common misconception; meditation isn’t necessarily about stopping thought, although that can happen from time to time. Meditation is about focusing your attention on things such as the breath, bodily sensations and the sounds around you. All the resources I have used have said that you will probably start to think but the aim is to not judge the thoughts or become attached to them, instead gently guide your attention back to meditating.
“The act of meditation is being spacious.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche
Science links to back me up!
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx – benefits of meditation from the American Psychologocial Association