Like many other things, meditation is a skill. It is a practice that requires consistency, and patience. It is almost guaranteed to be frustrating to begin with, as you suddenly realise just how noisy and plentiful your thoughts are. Endless streams of distractions come flooding in as soon as we begin our practice.Am I doing this right?I probably shouldn't have said that earlier..I'm not cooking tonight, I'll order pizza..What am I doing again?? oh yeah.. right..Meditating, that's what..back to my breath....Oh yeah I should give them a phone actually I haven't spoken to them in a while....And so it goes on.The thing is, it can all become pretty overwhelming. One thing I remember when I first started a dedicated meditation practice, was that after a while, through day to day life, I really noticed how busy my mind was.. all the time. This also came at a time in my life when I was starting to discover myself, and become a lot more self aware, mostly due to yoga and its practices.The thing that truly caught my attention was the tone of my thoughts, the negativity within them, the relentlessness of them, and how much I got caught up in them without even being aware of it before. This was a game changer, and required a lot of looking into for me (a story for another time though).One day though, a really amazing thing happened. I'd been consistent with my meditation, I'd showed up for my practice and for myself, day in, day out, for weeks at this point. This was when I got a very small glimpse into a peaceful mind.. the thoughts had stopped coming, it was silent.. like a gap in the traffic.. all was calm, and a warm sensation soaked through me, and I'd experienced this little split second of peace.. and then the thoughts came flooding back.That gap, was so alien to me at the time, but felt so promising. It felt like a glimpse into what might be achievable in the future. Not necessarily less thoughts, or being able to control them, but being able to reach a place within my mind of stillness. Not through resistance and forcefulness, but through patience, letting go of any attempt to control my thoughts, and through my breath. It gets easier.. I promise.Over time, it does get easier, just like any skill. The main thing I try to be persistent on reminding people learning to meditate for the first time, is that this is a practice. Patience, and consistency, really are the foundations, it does help to be compassionate towards ourself as well.There's only a few techniques for meditation that I use and absolutely swear by.Those being:
Japa - The recitation and repetition of a saying, affirmation, mantra, word or phrase. This can also be something similar to a gratitude or compassion practice, where you repeatedly say, within your mind, something you're grateful for, be it great or small.
Breath focused - This is as "simple" as it sounds. We utilise the breath to return our attention to. That could be through physical sensation, such as the rising and falling of the abdomen with the rhythm of the breath. It could be a counting of even breathing/resonance breathing such as inhaling - count 1-2-3-4-5.. exhaling - count 1-2-3-4-5.. and repeat, if our attention wavers and we get distracted, then we return it and start again. One of my favourites, albeit rather difficult, is focusing on the passage of air coming in and out of the nostrils.
Body scan - The body scan is where we mentally scan through the body, from top to bottom, feeling any sensation that arises, focusing on it, and then continuing with our scan.
Noting - This is my most important practice, and what I begin teaching first to anyone who learns meditation from me. This is a technique of noticing our thought, feeling, or sensation, identifying it, and returning to our focus point.
The may take some time to get used to and to build upon, which is perfectly natural and completely normal. The reason I favour using the breath so much, is because it has such a profound effect on the body and the mind.By slowing the breath down, breathing nice and evenly, and slowly, this tells the nervous system to "slow down", which in turn allows the mind to slow down. If we slow down our breath, the mind will follow, and naturally if we can slow down the mind, the breath will follow. They completely influence each other.
What's the observer?
I like to describe the natural, content state of the mind like the blue sky. Clouds will come and go, the weather will turn, but no matter what, the sky will always be blue underneath all of this temperamental weather.
Meditation is understanding this on a much deeper level through regular practice. The more we bring our attention back to whatever our focus point is, the more we build our capacity to be present with whatever arises. By getting used to the coming and going off clouds covering up the sky, it can provide us with a peaceful state of equanimity.
Instead of reacting or acting our thoughts out abruptly or potentially inappropriately, we can begin to grow new, healthier habits and thought patterns.
Whereas if we feed into the thoughts that don't serve us well, and give them more energy, the bigger and more powerful they will become. But by becoming this "observer" we will instead be able to view them as they come and go.
This is something we also strive for in our postural practice. We make shapes, we move, we breath, and we return our attention back to our bodies and our focus. The more we practice, the easier it becomes.