So many ways to meditate so little time.
Many of my friends and clients ask me, “How do you meditate?” or they say, “I can’t meditate” or “I’m not good at meditating”. I believe these comments point to a desire to feel more grounded, less anxious and to decrease feelings of overwhelm. The practice of mindfulness can be a wonderful gateway to meditation and finding that calm which comes with daily practice.
Let’s clear a few things up first. There are many doctrines out there and 100 times more opinions about meditation. All are valid and most are helpful. I am going to share my personal insights on meditation which is strongly influenced by my time spent with chi gong grandmaster Le Tian Chen at the Tian Gong International Foundation. Meditation should be simple. There is no elusive mystery. You don’t need to climb the tallest mountain into a cave of silence, fast for 30 days to achieve a quiet mind.
“Meditation, focus, and concentration are too strong of words” grandmaster Le Tian would say, “instead, lightly think about…” Over my years of studying chi gong I’ve come to my own understanding of what it is to meditate. When I put myself in the position of a novice trying to meditate, I imagine sitting in a room, frustrated, I can’t get my mind to SHUT THE HECK UP! Echoing some of the comments I receive from my constituents.
There is no translation for “meditation” from Mandarin that sufficiently describes the Chinese version of meditation. Chi gong for instance, means “energy practice.” Well for a Westerner, that doesn’t tell us a whole lot. But for a chi gong practitioner, it’s all we need. “Meditation is too strong of a word,” meaning, if I set out to meditate, there is a connotation that it takes actual effort to do so. If one “tries” to meditate, one can become frustrated and give up. Meditation is an effortless practice when done correctly. And its value is without question.
I was watching an episode of Dr. Oz….he had a panel of experts. He asked his panel, “What’s the number one thing people could do right now to positively impact their health?”
The experts all said whatever they said and when it got to Deepak Chopra he said, “Meditate.” Deepak states, “Meditation is one of the best tools we have to counter the brain’s negativity bias, release accumulated stress, foster positive experiences and intentions, and enjoy the peace of present moment awareness.” A large body of research has established that having a regular meditation practice produces tangible benefits for mental and physical health, including:
- Decreased blood pressure and hypertension
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Reduced production of “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline
- More efficient oxygen use by the body
- Increased production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA
- improved immune function
- Decreased anxiety, depression, and insomnia
– See more at:
So how does one meditate without effort?
If you want a great way to begin your personal exploration of mediation, here are some tips I give to all my clients who want a quieter mind.
Begin a Practice of Mindfulness
There’s a Buddhist mantra called Washing Dishes. A mantra is the most basic sense is something you repeat to yourself over and over, although many mantras are spiritual in essence. This simple mantra of Washing Dishes is applicable to virtually every area of life.
Say a monk has just finished eating. As soon as he has the intended thought, “I’m going to wash the dishes,” this now becomes his mantra. Standing up from the table, silently saying in his mind, “washing dishes.” Walking to the kitchen, mentally repeating, “washing dishes.” Turns on the faucet and picks up the sponge – “washing dishes.”
This simple practice is one of the easiest ways to stay present. Normally, if you are washing dishes, or doing anything else for that matter, how often is your mind directly focused on the task at hand? Take driving. How many of us consciously think about our driving moment by moment by moment? Aren’t we thinking about tasks at work we will need to do when we arrive? Or if we shut off the appliances at home? Or that I forgot to pay the cable bill…or…or…or.
When you are washing dishes, is there anything else that you could also be doing at that same moment? Of course not. You’re washing dishes. You can’t also be tending the garden! When one is present, all other thoughts, attachments and anxieties disappear.
Thich Naht Hahn says: “While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly.
Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves. “
When doing massage, I am always “checking in” with my body, my mind and my breath. It’s very easy to start thinking about the day ahead or things on my to do list while giving a massage. I notice myself sometimes daydreaming about my plans for landscaping my yard or an upcoming class I’m teaching. I constantly bring myself back to the present placing my attention on the motion of the technique, relaxing my body, grounding my feet and legs, and making sure I’m breathing properly. Twenty years later, it’s still a diligent practice to stay present during the task at hand.
Even now, writing this post at my computer, I get so focused on the writing and in a moment I notice my shoulders rolled forward, my back slumped and my breathing shallow. I notice my attention divided because I have multiple screens open. My legs are crossed and not firmly grounded on the floor. I begin to have anxious feelings and thoughts of everything else I want to accomplish tonight….and my nose itches.
Placing my attention once again on my body, my posture, and my breathing, I am now back in the moment. Breathing fully, calm and at peace. And the next moment it’s gone. Which is why it’s called “practicing mindfulness”.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”