Several people lately have asked me for suggestions about quieting and/or focusing the mind. My main suggestion is meditation but there’s more than one sort and I think you have to figure out what works best for you. Every tradition I’ve encountered offers some form of meditation as part of the journey to higher consciousness. Lots of teachers make claims that the particular form of meditation they practice is the one and only way to “truly” meditate. Any time I encounter a teacher who makes such a claim I roll my eyes and never go back. So if you want someone to tell you there’s only one right way to meditate you’ll probably find my approach too eclectic; there are plenty of other teachers out there who’ll be happy to dictate everything you need to do to be “correct”.
One form of meditation that’s found in a number of traditions is mindfulness (which often has other names). The basic idea is to try to empty your mind of all thoughts and sit in the silence. A number of types involve some sort of focus on breath and there are also variations that involve such things as staring at a flame or counting backward from five to one and having to start over every time a thought intrudes, etc. Some forms have very specific requirements as to exactly how you must sit while meditating and some even add details like being wrapped in a shawl or sitting on a particular type of cushion.
In the early years of my journey I was way too antsy for those kinds of focused meditations. At the time the only other form of meditation I knew was guided, so I only practiced guided meditations. Over the years I learned chants and moving practices and mantra meditation and the more I came to understand mindfulness the more I felt that all of those techniques can be used as mindfulness practices.
The main point of mindfulness is to spend time with a quiet mind and to learn to hold that quiet space wherever you go and whatever you do. If you chant and concentrate only on the chant, then you have to learn to keep other thoughts out and stay focused on the chant (the words of the chant generally will have some energetic effect on you also). If you do a walking meditation or practice something like chi gung, you need to keep your mind quiet so that you can stay focused on the movement. Guided meditation requires that you quiet your mind to stay in step with the instructions. To me all of these techniques join the specific mindfulness meditations in helping you to quiet your mind; in a way you’re meditating on the chant or on the movement or on the guided words. Personally I think the universe has provided a wide array of options so that everyone can figure out which type suits best.
A quiet place is the usual recommendation for meditation and, up to a point, I agree. Particularly when you’re new, it’s hard enough to get your wild mind to settle down without having a bunch of distractions. But the ultimate point of all the meditating is to create a state of calm and a quiet mind that is so much who you are that you are calm and quiet in the middle of the Chicago Loop at 5:00 pm. or on the floor of the stock exchange, etc. So I get a kick out of it when people complain about street noise or other distractions when attending a meditation. After all, isn’t that why you’re meditating—to be able to hold the quiet space even when life is busy or noisy? I think of it as a chance to practice being mindful in ordinary life.
Eventually I started practicing vipassana (the Theravadan Buddhist form of mindfulness meditation) successfully. It has never become my preferred form but I think that the years of guided meditation, yoga, chi gung and chanting served to quiet my mind and calm me down enough to be able to “sit vipassana”. If you’ve had trouble meditating, I suggest that you try a different type and if necessary keep trying until you find one that feels good to you.
This post is for ABC Wednesday and today it’s “M”.
- Mindfulness meditation quiets the mind and leads to inner peace (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- What is Meditation? (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Mindfulness and Meditation Resources (alexlod.com)
- My year with yoga nidra (bluegrassnotes.wordpress.com)
- Mindfulness: the key factor (bluegrassnotes.wordpress.com)
- Mindfulness: how do you get it? (bluegrassnotes.wordpress.com)