This practice can be used any time of day or night. If you practice it in moments of relative calm, it might become easier for you to experience the three parts of self-compassion—mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness—when you need them most.
What is it about something as simple as sitting still and watching our breath that evokes panic, fear, and even hostility? No matter how many reports there are proving the mental, emotional, and physical value of being quiet, there seems to be an even greater number who refuse to give it a try.
Meditation can certainly be challenging, and even more so if we are uncertain as to why we are doing it. It can seem very odd to sit there just listening to the incessant chatter in our head, and we easily get bored if we do nothing for too long, even if it’s only 10 minutes. After hearing a plethora of reasons why people find it hard to meditate, long term meditators Ed & Deb Shapiro have whittled it down to just a few:
1. I’m too busy, I don’t have the time.
Which can certainly be true if you have young children and a full-time job, and all that these entail. However, we are only talking about maybe 10 minutes a day. Most of us spend more time than that reading the newspaper or idly surfing the web. It only appears like we don’t have the time because we usually fill every moment with activity and never press the pause button.
2. I find it really uncomfortable to sit still for too long.
If you are trying to sit cross-legged on the floor then, yes, it will get uncomfortable. But you can sit upright in a firm and comfortable chair instead. Or, you can do walking meditation, or yoga, or tai chi. Moving meditation can be just as beneficial as sitting.
3. My mind won’t stop thinking: I can’t relax.
“I can’t meditate. I just can’t! My mind will not get quiet; it flies all over the place! My thoughts are driving me mad! I’m trying to get away from myself, not look inside.” Sound familiar? Surprisingly enough, trying to stop your mind from thinking is like trying to stop the wind – it’s impossible. In the Eastern teaching the mind is described as being like a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion because, just as a monkey leaps from branch to branch, so the mind leaps from one thing to another, constantly distracted and busy. So, when you come to sit still and try to quiet your mind, you find all this manic activity going on and it seems insanely noisy. It is actually nothing new, just that now you are becoming aware of it, whereas before you were immersed in it, unaware that such chatter was so constant. This experience of the mind being so busy is very normal. Someone once estimated that in any one thirty-minute session of meditation we may have upward of three hundred thoughts. Years of busy mind, years of creating and maintaining dramas, years of stresses and confusion and self-centeredness, and the mind has no idea how to be still. Rather, it craves entertainment. It’s not as if you can suddenly turn it off when you meditate, it just means you are like everyone else.
4. There are too many distractions, it’s too noisy.
Gone are the days when we could disappear into a cave and be left undisturbed until we emerged some time later fully enlightened. Instead, we all have to deal with the sounds and impositions of the world around us. But – and it’s a big but – we needn’t let it impose. Cars going by outside? Fine. Let them go by, but just don’t go with them. The quiet you are looking for is inside, not outside. The experience of stillness is accumulative: The more you sit, then slowly, slowly, the mind becomes quieter, more joyful, despite whatever distraction there may be.
5. I don’t see the benefit.
Unfortunately, this is where you have to take long term meditator’s word for it. Some people get how beneficial meditation is after just one session, but most of us take longer – you might notice a difference after a week, or maybe two of daily practice. Which means you have to trust the process enough to hang in there and keep going, even before you get the benefits. Remember, music needs to be played for hours to get the notes right, while in Japan it can take 12 years to learn how to arrange flowers. Being still happens in a moment, but it may take some time before that moment comes—hence the need for patience.
6. I’m no good at this. I never get it right.
Actually, it’s impossible to fail at meditation. Even if you sit for 20 minutes thinking non-stop meaningless thoughts, that’s fine. There is no right or wrong, and there’s no special technique. Deb’s meditation teacher told her there are as many forms of meditation as there are people who practice it. So all you need do is find the way that works for you (even if you prefer to do it standing on your head) and keep at it. The important point is that you make friends with meditation. It’ll be of no help at all if you feel you have to meditate, for instance, and then feel guilty if you miss the allotted time or only do 10 minutes when you had promised to do 30. It is much better to practice for a just a sort time and to enjoy what you are doing than to sit there, teeth gritted, because you’ve been told that only 30 or even 40 minutes will have any affect. Meditation is a companion to have throughout life, like an old friend you turn to when in need of support, inspiration, and clarity. It is to be enjoyed!
7. It’s all just weird New Age hype.
It’s certainly easy to get lost in the array of New Age promises of eternal happiness but meditation itself is as old as the hills. More than 2,500 years ago the Buddha was a dedicated meditator who tried and tested numerous different ways of enabling the mind to be quiet. And that’s just one example. Each religion has its own variation on the theme, and all stretch back over the centuries. So nothing new here, and nothing weird.
In other words, meditation is not about forcing the mind to be absolutely still. Rather, it’s a letting go of resistance, of whatever may arise: doubt, worry, uncertainty and feeling inadequate, the endless dramas, fear and desire. Every time you find your mind is drifting, daydreaming, remembering the past or planning ahead, just come back to now, come back to this moment. All you need do is pay attention and be with what is. Nothing else.
When we have thoughts or desires that we don’t believe are appropriate or are painful, we often keep them tucked away in the unconscious mind and nervous system. As long as we keep them there, we remain unaware of them and will act out on them without realising it. Vipassana or Insight Meditation, one of the the most ancient forms of meditation, allows you to see these thoughts and desires – when you see them and observe them, you can release them and they you are no longer trapped by the unconscious and having to program yourself. Until that time, the unconscious mind becomes a trap.
5 minute meditation
The aim of this 5 minute mediation is to bring the mind into a state where it is detached but observant of all elements of present moment experience that arise (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, sensory perceptions and body movements).
Sit in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes or keep them half open and relaxed.
Lengthen the spine and relax, tuck the chin down slightly.
Simply notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations and all experience, as each moment passes, with no judgment. Simply be the witness.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in scenarios or thoughts or feeling states, notice or observe them and let them go.
Wait to see what comes next and then treat what comes in the same way
Don’t actively try to bring thoughts up.
If there are blank spaces, allow the mind to rest in those spaces, like pauses
Your thoughts may come as images, simply observe them in a detached manner and release them and wait to see what comes up next.
With practice, you will develop openness of mind and will let go of having judgment of thought. If your find yourself giving preferential treatment to certain thoughts or images such as believing this is good or this is bad, I wish this wasn’t true, simply notice this and let it go.
If you find that certain thought pattern are returning and repeating and are getting n the way, revert back to simple breathing meditation, simply watching the rise and fall of each breath, until you feel calm and centered again.
Each time you notice thoughts or images some into your mind, just let them go. If you are unsure how to let the thoughts or images go, simple take a deep breath in and as you exhale image the thoughts blowing out with the breath. Clearing the slate, clearing the mind.
In your own time, at your own pace, gentle draw your attention back to the body and the breath.
Observe how you are feeling at this time, at this moment.
When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take in your surroundings.
Do you find your mind often wanders? Try this mindfulness exercise