When I was in college I was a member of a few Student Association groups on campus, as well as being a member of a pagan group that met at the Universal Unitarian Church off-campus.
One of the SA groups I was a member of was called “Mind Your Mind.” It was a meditation group.
During a “street fair” type of party on campus, we had a sign outside of the Student Activities building that said, “Free Guided Meditation Inside!” Each member of the group switched off in guiding anyone that was interested in learning the benefits of meditation, how to meditate, and then if the participant was willing, talking them through a guided meditation. We had signed up to use a room in the SA building, and we had shifts: one person would stand next to the sign outside the building, and the other person would walk whoever was willing to participate inside to the room we signed out and walk/talk them through meditation.
I’ve never been a missionary, but to me it felt like we were meditation missionaries: spreading the Good Word of meditation!
There have been quite a few years that have passed between the completion of my time in college and me resuming meditation practices, albeit this time different practices and individually. I am happy to say that I’m no longer a “meditation missionary”; I’m a firm believer in doing what works for you. I can’t tell you if meditation will work for you, or what type: all I know is that it works for me, especially in the morning right after I wake up and before I do anything else.
If you want to try meditation, here’s some tips to both listen to and avoid. Take what works for you and throw out what doesn’t: you have my full blessing to!
DON’T “Empty your mind.” [with apologies to Bruce Lee, below!]
Have you ever heard of people saying “Don’t look down” when dealing with someone that is afraid of heights? What’s the first thing that person does? Yup, looks down… Does exactly the “don’t” in question! That’s what I think of when people give up on meditation too quickly. It isn’t about emptying your mind, because the moment we are told to do that, that’s when the thoughts and to-do lists come rolling into our heads. Meditation isn’t the time for mentally notating all the to-dos (especially the ones that you probably should be doing INSTEAD OF meditating!). But it isn’t realistic to say to completely empty your brain, either.
It’s not about blocking out your thoughts: thoughts WILL happen when you meditate… that doesn’t make you “bad” at meditation; it makes you human. Allow thoughts to float away like clouds, or even make a deal with yourself: every time you think a thought, acknowledge it and say,
“Not now, but later. If this is important, you (the thought) are allowed to come back after the meditation is over.”
When you realize that you have followed your thoughts down the rabbit hole or tangent, this is when it is excellent to have something to anchor your practice, to bring yourself back to the real act of meditation. What do I mean by an anchor? An anchor can be focusing on your breath (you can do this by counting inhalation, holds, and exhalation, or breathing in a certain way, inhale through nose, out through mouth, etc.), working mala beads, reciting a mantra internally, or staring into a candle flame.
Having something to anchor your practice not only helps get you back on track when your mind starts to wander, but also when you have physical distractions (such as an itch or pain in your body) or audio distractions (like your partner walking through the room with elephantine-like footfalls!).
via GIPHY [I totally look as gorgeous as Shakira when I meditate, by the way…]
DON’T be tied to the external trappings of the meditation. Tell yourself that your meditation practice for that day (and any day) may not look the way you want it to in a perfect world, but however it looks it will give you exactly what you need.
Physical reminders, such as a timer, mala beads, meditation cushion, music, a dedicated area in your home (even if it’s just a corner or your kitchen table), a specific incense or candle you burn… physical cues will align you mentally with your meditation, and make you more likely to do it. It is not dissimilar to having an exercise regime or psyching yourself up to go to the gym. Once those exercise clothes are on and your sneakers are tied, aren’t you more likely to go? The same is true with the physical reminders associated with meditation.
Another physical reminder you can add to a meditation practice is a tarot card. The card I think of when I think of the practice of meditation is the Queen of Pentacles: The association with the element of earth and the practice of meditation is a grounding one, another Q of P association. If the Queen of Pentacles doesn’t work for you, please feel free to choose another tarot card that is more to your liking. If you have a tarot practice, you may find meditating on a card that you have been having trouble with may provide a breakthrough that otherwise was eluding you!
As with the formation of any habit, consistency is key. However, DON’T beat yourself up if you miss a day. Try again tomorrow. Start small, and build on time only if you wish to. There are some people that meditate for thirty minutes in one sitting! You DON’T have to do that for it to have major benefits to you, trust me. My meditation is a mere 10 minutes a day in the morning, and that 10 minutes gives me all I need. Meditate for more time only if you feel it’s beneficial.
Finally, DON’T give up too soon on your meditation practice. There is a saying that goes something like “a breakdown sometimes needs to happen before the breakthrough.” If you feel you are on the precipice of giving up on meditation altogether, really examine if you’re sure you want to quit. Adjust your practice through the filter of your answer to that question, whether that looks like changing the type of meditation or the length of time.
What are your meditation practices? Are you eager to try meditation, but don’t know where to start? Feel free to Comment below and share your thoughts and questions on the subject of meditation!
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