What’s all this fuss about meditation and what’s the best first step to start meditating?
What is meditation, anyway? How do I know where to begin? Why is it so difficult to just “sit there and do nothing?” All questions I am asked frequently and I have some answers for you. You will discover that meditation is simple, but not easy. Just like a lot of things in life that are so valuable, right?
First of all is the great news: if you can breathe, you can meditate. Since you are reading this you are alive, apparently you are breathing, so you qualify! Meditation is focused attention, plain and simple. A basic approach to meditation is using the awareness of your simple inhale and exhale as an anchor for your attention. Spoiler alert: your mind will NOT be quiet when you sit and do nothing. You will be thinking. A LOT. The purpose of this focused attention is to develop what in meditation we call “the witness,” the part of your awareness that is watching what you are doing, thinking and feeling. This is one of the most powerful purposes of meditation: to learn to take control of your thinking.
We all have a busy, “monkey” mind, so by developing the skill of witnessing yourself doing and thinking what you do, you take a powerful and necessary step in being in control of your thinking, and then your life, rather than being controlled by it. This is imperative because what you are thinking so greatly affects what you feel and also what you do. It is natural to believe the things we think, they feel so true! But, once you strengthen the metaphorical muscle of being just a bit outside of your thinking, you begin to develop the capacity to literally CHANGE your mind.
If you want to change your life, begin by changing your mind by breathing with awareness, watching and noticing your own thoughts without judgment and seeing what arises. Begin by taking ten mindful observant breaths. Notice the inhale when inhaling and the exhale when exhaling. Congratulations, you have just meditated! Lengthen to one minute the next time, then five minutes, then ten. Just do it, as Nike taught us to do. My first meditation teacher taught me something incredibly valuable which I now pass on to you: it is better to meditate for one minute than NOT meditate for an hour.
So, don’t wait for an hour of free time, with candles and incense, on your special cushion. Just begin here and now with ten mindful breaths and allow yourself to be surprised, or at least curious, about what emerges. I have been meditating regularly for more than thirty years and it has been one of the most influential positive practices of my life. It can be for you, too, now that you have the tools. So now begin.