I started to actively practice meditation in 2016. I was going through a very challenging time in my life and I felt like I was unable to think clearly, my anxiety was at an all-time high and I was facing some tough decisions. For many years I had heard and read about the benefits of meditation and the variety of success it brought to those who practiced it. I also had a basic understanding of the meditation principle and I had a sense of how it was supposed to work. I had never tried meditation previously but, I did have some experience with relaxation work through diaphragm breathing techniques. As a longtime student of health and wellness, I have always had an interest and motivation to improve myself. I understood there was an element of self-discipline involved and I had the confidence to try. My experience with practicing meditation has been a beneficial and rewarding journey. Today, I am learning to make meditation work for me. The following is my journey and how I practice purposeful meditation.
Unbeknownst to me, my meditation journey began when I was in the Army during the mid 1980’s. During that time, we would have days during where we would be on the move for 18-20hrs per day. You would think that exhaustion would be enough to put one to sleep under these conditions but, the reality is that your stress and adrenaline hormones are constantly pumping and it was difficult to wind-down. If you weren’t assigned to perimeter or guard duty when we stopped, you had the opportunity to rest, sleep, eat or prepare for whatever was next. We never knew if it was going to be a 15 minute stop or something longer so, you prepared accordingly and satisfied what needed to be satisfied during that break. If it was sleep, you had to prepare your mind to get as much quality rest as possible. We would literally plop down on the ground and use our rucksack as a backrest. I would begin the diaphragm breathing exercise the moment I hit the ground and could be asleep in less than a minute. No lie. I was also somehow very capable of being back on my feet in a moment’s notice and feeling like I had just slept for 8 hrs? I also noticed how aware I had been during my “little siesta” once I was back on my feet. I could recall things going on around me, noises, voices, conversations, etc. It was an interesting phenomenon that I never really explored until I started my meditations.
Throughout the course of my life I continued to use the diaphragm breathing practice to take naps and also fall asleep at night. I have taught the technique to my children and others to help them with their sleep challenges. Along the way, I also picked up a mantra that corresponded with my breathing. During my deep nasal inhale, I think “focus” and on my long oral exhale, I think “relax”. This simple mantra is like a metronome for my breathing pattern and allows me to get relaxed very fast. With each relaxing exhale, I deliberately release any tension from my body. When I synchronize the words with the breath, I am able to get myself into a very relaxed state. When I decided to try meditation, I realized the process was very similar to the deep relaxation I experienced with the diaphragm breathing except, I didn’t want to fall asleep. During my first several meditations, I did exactly that but, what was interesting is that I had a variety of thoughts, images and idea’s come to me while I was drifting in and out of sleep/meditation. I became keen to start capturing these things on paper and looking into them to find understanding. I soon learned to be more aware of these thoughts and images as I drifted and soon found that I was able to stay in this meditative state for longer periods. The longer I was able to stay in meditation, the more I was able to receive and recognize from my unconscious. It hasn’t always been this mystical “Zen” thing that the media and every Swamy portrays. Sometimes I do fall asleep! Sometimes I can’t quiet my mind and I am unable to get into meditation. I don’t let it bother me. I just keep practicing.
As part of my practice, I have picked up some cool resources and have learned to make meditation work for me. For instance, I was introduced to Frank Kinslow’s Pure Awareness guided meditation and it did wonders for my overall meditation practice. Pure awareness is an “entrainment technique” that teaches you to have an extremely high self-awareness and it opened me up to other meditative capabilities. One of these practices is what I refer to as “contemplative meditation”. In this practice, I am able to enter the meditative state with a challenging issue or question and then I am able to contemplate the issue by asking a question, finding the answer and then asking another question and repeating this process until the solution comes to me. I have learned this process is actually allowing my Intellect to work with my intuition. This process is also known as “coherence”, where the conscious mind (Intellect) works in harmony with the unconscious (Spirit/Intuition). When I come upon the solution, my body acts like an alarm clock. I get a somatic response that feels like chills or goosebumps from head to toe. Let me be clear, I don’t always have the “solution”. Mostly I end up with something that has some significant meaning to me or something that may be going on in my life that I hadn’t considered or wouldn’t have possibly thought of in a pure conscious state. Trust me, I have tried! I have relied solely on my intellect for many years and have never been able to get the clarity I do with meditation.
Another meditative practice I use is the tick/tock method. I discovered this technique by Daniel Goleman, the man who coined the term “emotional intelligence”. Daniel uses this technique to help kids with ADD and ADHD to “pay attention”. In my sales job, in spirit groups and as a life coach, I am required to stay in a mode of “active listening” for long periods of time. What tends to happen during this process is I eventually stop listening to the person talking and start thinking. I think about the next question I want to ask, or I think about how the last thing said relates to me, or I think about how i should respond, etc. I think you get what I mean? Although these are normal behaviors, it is important that I stay focused on the person talking. With the tick/tock practice you simply begin breathing. You focus on the sensation of breathing; the diaphragm or stomach movement; the chest heaving up and down; the feeling of air passing through your nostrils, the timing and rhythm of the breathes. You stay there as long as you can. Eventually your mind will drift off into another thought and when you become conscious that you are no longer paying attention to the breath, you remind yourself to go back to your breath. This movement from attention to inattention is like a clock…. Tick, Tock. Tick, Tock back and forth from breathing to thought to breathing. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and practice paying attention to your breath for longer periods of time. It is amazing and useful in so many ways! If you have any interest in being mindful of your thoughts throughout the day, this is a good practice. If you want to learn to truly be present for another person, this is a good practice. If you want to be a better listener, this is a good practice. As you become more proficient at paying attention, extend your time to 15-20 minutes. This meditation practice allows you to truly “actively listen” to another person. It will help you develop the discipline to stop the interrupting thought and go back to listening.
The final meditative practice I’ll share is called “visualization”. Visualization has become very popular with athletes and anyone who wants to bring “life” to an idea or capability. Visualization is the ability to use your imagination during meditation. Science has proven that what we believe, has the capability of becoming a reality. It has also proven that when you combine this belief with a positively charged feeling or emotion, the reality increases exponentially. There is a myriad of blind studies that prove this phenomenon; Visualization has the ability to impact everything from shooting free throws to playing piano to conceiving a new business. In these blind studies, sample group 1 is taught a task and given a specific period of time to practice. Sample group 2 is told how to perform the task and asked to visualize the task for the same amount of time as group 1. The typical results are that group 2 performs as well as group 1 after the specified time, without ever having done the task. Our minds are amazing! Visualization for me is like a conscious dream. I begin my meditation by thinking about things that bring me great joy and empowerment. This elevates my emotions and then I slowly start weaving in thoughts about how I want something to be. I begin to imagine how it will look for me and how it will unfold or evolve. I’ve learned this works best when I focus on me and what I am able to control and how I will feel about these events. I started this practice by imagining how my day would go; how I would feel throughout the day; how I wanted to be in certain situations, especially ones that I knew could be potentially stressful. This practice has blossomed to the visioning of my new Coaching endeavor and how my life will unfold as I proceed with this image. I’ve come to realize that visualization and contemplative meditation are very much like dreaming except I control the script. It’s like watching a movie in your head that you create. Very powerful! Visualization is a great way to drive motivation by removing any uncertainty about a goal, objective or big endeavor. Again, data supports that we are significantly more likely to do something if we are familiar with it or can imagine it has already happened.
Today, I meditate daily in ways that serve my specific needs, I refer to it as “purposeful” meditation. I have learned that meditation can be a vehicle for learning, reflection, relaxation, regression, imagination, self-empowerment or just a good way to fall asleep! Meditation helps me stay centered and focused on what I want to accomplish and allows me great productivity. It helps me stay mindful and aware throughout my day. It helps me prepare to perform at my best. It brings a sense of calm and control to my seemingly chaotic schedule.
A few things I’ve learned about meditation:
- You must relax! Start by finding a comfortable place that satisfies your sense of safety and security.
- Start by learning to breath with purpose. You want to make a mind body connection.
- Keep it simple. Start with the Tick/Tock method. Learn to breathe from your diaphragm and only focus on your breathing and relaxing.
- Be patient! Do not get overly concerned about the outcome or expectations. Learn to enjoy the experience.
- You will occasionally fall asleep during meditation. Its ok, you probably needed it!
- It’s called a mediation practice. Stick with it. Make time for it daily.
- Explore – different methods, add a mantra, guided meditations, change environments, groups
- Its ok to set a timer but don’t get caught in the “anticipation trap” of questioning when the timer will go off.
- I put my phone in airplane mode, use a white noise app and use the phone’s timer. White noise is great for blocking auditory distractions.
- There are a lot of resources available for meditation and there are many people more versed than I. Check them out and Enjoy !