When I first began to meditate, I laboured over the many styles and techniques that are out there, trying to find the “right way to meditate”. What I didn’t realize then is that there is no such thing as the “right way”. Instead, there are a myriad of ways from which you can draw and develop your own meditation practice.
This is what I refer to as modern meditation. You get to choose what’s right for you. That means you may incorporate mindfulness, mantras, or mala beads. Maybe you want to have an alter in your home, light a candle, or burn incense. Perhaps the right kind of meditation for you includes movement, singing, or sounds.
What I’m suggesting is this: all things are possible. You can be rigourous and strict, following a more prescriptive form of meditation (a yang style); or you can be adaptable, soft, and open (a yin style). It’s personal and it belongs to you.
Even with that open understanding that meditation can be what you need it to be, you may still be wondering, what the heck is meditation?
A working definition
As a starting point, I like to use Deane H. Shapiro’s explanation:
Meditation refers to a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought.Deane H. Shapiro
Let’s break that down.
1. It is a family of techniques
Meditation isn’t one thing, one activity, or one technique. It’s a large body of techniques from which we can draw.
Many people bring meditation into their every day lives through mindfulness practices. This means bringing your full attention to the present moment, and experiencing what is without judgement or analysis. It’s putting your thinking mind on hold, even if just for a moment.
Other people like movement, such as yoga. It’s not just during savasana that you get to experience meditation. Every moment during a yoga practice is an invitation to meditation. If you bring your full attention to your breath, your body, or the feeling of movement, any moment can be meditative.
2. It is a conscious choice
When you bring your attention to a specific focal point and keep it there, you are making a choice to be in the moment. There are two things to consider here.
— Focused attention
You can focus on anything: the deep green of a leaf, the blackness of your coffee, clouds in the sky. Many people choose their breath as a focal point, as it’s always with you.
If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to the focal point. Here’s where the second aspect of conscious choice comes into play: non-reactivity.
— open and accepting
As long as you are fully present, it can be meditation.
Meditation is about bringing your attention to a focal point and having an open, accepting, and non-reactive relationship with it. That means you’re not analyzing it, judging it, or thinking about your focal point. You’re simply having an experience of it. The moment you have a thought about your focal point (for example, the sky is really blue today), you’re having a conversation with it.
As you become more experienced in meditation, you may abandon your focal point altogether. When you are open and accepting to whatever arises, you are developing a non-analytical relationship with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This is often referred to as open monitoring. Even in this type of meditation, you will still notice sensations in the body, or thoughts or feelings; you may even notice changes in your immediate environment. The key is that you don’t begin a conversation with what arises. Instead, you experience the present moment, exactly as it is.
When you meditate, you want to bring both these aspects into play: focused attention and an open, accepting attitude.
This brings me to what I consider an even easier way to understand meditation.
A simpler definition
Meditation is the retraining of attention.
In everyday life, we naturally follow our thoughts, wherever they may wander, and we react to them. Meditation is simply the retraining of this thinking pattern. When your mind wanders, you bring your attention back to the present moment.
This retraining happens automatically each time you keep bringing your attention to your focal point. You’re teaching your mind to be still and non-reactive, to “be” instead of “do”. Over the course of one session, you may do this dozens of times. Across one week, you may do this hundreds of times. Over a month, a thousand times. That’s a lot of practice!
The beginning of awareness
It isn’t that your thoughts will suddenly disappear. Your problems won’t suddenly disappear. Instead, you become aware of them, and you begin to consider them in a new and non-reactive way. They’ll hold less sway over you (if they ever held sway to begin with), and you’ll find just a little more ease in your every day life.
Are you curious about what meditation might do for you? If you’d like to work one-on-one with someone, take a look at the packages I offer.
You may also like:
- Interested in learning more about mindfulness? Get yourself on the notification list for the Curious Mindfulness class, coming in Summer 2022.
- Is there a wrong way to meditate? Every practice is personal, experts say, at elitedaily.com