Meditation. It’s the thing all the people say we should be doing. “They” tell us it’s good for us, that it affects ________, that it changes _________, that it makes you feel _______, and as a result you become a Better Human Being.
There are classes and podcasts galore, helping you do anything from yogic sleeping (yoga nidra) to Shamanic Journeying and everything in between. Twitter and Pinterest are full of Buddhas and yogis sitting cross-legged, peaceful and Enlightened.
But when you are a working parent with young ones and a job and chores pulling you in 73 different directions, sitting on the floor with your legs crossed can seem like an impossibility. And if you do manage to get yourself there without a child or pet crawling all over you, your brain is screaming eighty bajillion different things at you and you are convinced you are doing this wrong and how is this peaceful and enlightening?!
Merriam Webster defines the act of meditation as: (1) to engage in contemplation or reflection; (2) to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness; (3) to focus one’s thoughts on; or (4) to plan or project in the mind.
Nowhere in that definition does it say anything about sitting on the floor, closing your eyes, and trying as hard as possible not to think. It certainly doesn’t say anywhere that if you don’t sit there with a completely empty mind for an hour that you are doing it wrong.
When it comes to meditation, there is no wrong.
The idea of sitting in a cross-legged position with eyes shut or focused on a drishti (concentrating on one spot) is part of Eastern philosophy. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he states:
Asana is a steady, comfortable posture. By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered. Thereafter, one is not disturbed by the dualities.
(2.46-48; translation from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda, revised edition 2012)
We learn here that a Yoga asana (posture) initially meant a comfortable position you could stay in for a while. By maintaining stillness and contemplating on the grandness of infinity generally (or your spiritual belief specifically), one lets go of our restless nature and things are less likely to bug us.
However if you really boil it down, it becomes more a matter of letting go of the small things because in the grandness of time they don’t mean much. So, if sitting on the floor isn’t doing it for you, who’s to say that’s the only way? Meditation is whatever gives you a sense of peace and calm.
End of story.
For some, the practice of regulating the breath while they sit quietly is enough. I know others who find deep peace through prayer. Still others find it while cooking, dancing, walking, running, journaling… the list goes on. Barnes and Nobles is filled with coloring books for grown ups, designed as meditation tools. In each case, when it works the mind empties, the thoughts still, the body relaxes. You find your connection to the moment, and this moment is all there is in space and time.
This is meditation.
Finding what works for you is the key step in developing a practice that will last. The second step is finding a way to devote some space in your day (however brief and wherever you can find it) and honoring it as necessary for your peace of mind and overall health. While many people find meditation to be a Spiritual practice, it doesn’t have to be. Bringing yourself into a space of peacefulness and ease is no more or less than what you desire it to be. Even Patanjali kept his yogic texts devoid of any religious context.
And PS… even those Tibetan monks meditating on a mountain top have thoughts while they meditate. They are human; they have brains. Of course they think. Their trick? As the thoughts come in, they acknowledge its presence, and then let it float away. If it’s really important it will be there when you come back. Trust me.
If you are interested in learning more about Meditation, here are just a few of many, many resources:
- Zen Mediation: http://www.zen-buddhism.net/practice/zen-meditation.html
- Transcendental Meditation: http://www.tm.org/home
- An easy to understand overview of scientific research: http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/
- An overview of some different types of meditation: http://www.spiritual-healing-for-you.com/types-of-meditation.html