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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mindfulness: Aids to meditation

The things we notice when we pay attention. Julie Saint-Mleux, 2015

"You don't learn to sail in stormy seas. You go to a secluded place, not to avoid the world, but to avoid distractions until you build your strength and you can deal with anything. You don't box Muhammad Ali on day one." - Matthieu Ricard

If you're anything like me (and the average meditator), you will encounter obstacles on the path to making meditation a habit in your life. Meditation is not complicated in itself, but its simplicity can be precisely what makes it so difficult. Meditation implies being here and now, without giving in to external or internal distractions. It's hard. Especially in our fast-paced, hyper-stimulating world.

I have been meditating trying to meditate daily for almost six months now, and there are still days when I struggle. I love to sit still and alone in a quiet spot, but my mind does not always join in the stillness - thoughts go in all directions with no intent to quiet down. My other issue, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, is that I tend to fall asleep a lot when I meditate. It could be a sign that I am not well rested, though I do usually sleep eight hours, or it could be a sign that my body and mind are not used to stillness enough yet - they interpret my immobility and regular breathing as an invitation to sleep

Luckily, there are many strategies to help your mind focus or to prevent it from drifting away (including to sleep). I've listed them below:

1) Tire yourself out before you start meditating. Ending a demanding yoga session with meditation can work wonders. I also find that I meditate ''better'' after working out and stretching;

2) Create a rhythmic movement such as walking, running, cycling, rowing, or even sitting in a rocking chair;

3) Engage your sense of sight: look at a flower, at a lit candle, at a campfire;

4) Engage your sense of hearing: sit by the ocean (in a quiet spot as crowds can be distracting) and let the waves rock you into meditation, or sit in the woods listening to the birds. You can also listen to soothing music, or even try chanting mantras;

5) Engage your sense of smell: aromatherapy can help as long as you don't have any adverse reaction to the scent;

6) Engage your sense of taste: eating very slowly, paying all attention to the sensation in your mouth, can be a meditative experience;

7) Last but not least, and probably the most accessible technique, focus on the breath.

Learning to meditate can be quite a steep learning curve, but I remind myself that ''bad'' meditation is still meditation. Sometimes it's only once it's done that you realize the actual realm of its benefits. 

Eventually, meditation will sneak up on you: more and more, I find myself in a meditative state when it wasn't even planned. At random moments, I seem to land into a state of combined calm and alertness that improves my interactions with people, my work, my respect for my own physical and emotional needs. 

Sometimes, what I notice isn't pleasant in itself: For example, I realize that being around certain individuals is draining. I realize that I have muscular tension or other types of discomforts. I realize that I am tired. Sad. Anxious. Noticing those things isn't particularly positive, but it does help me take the necessary steps to well-being. 

Sometimes I notice neutral things, such as my heartbeat. It is neither negative nor positive, but it is strangely comforting.

Sometimes, I notice positive things, such as peacefulness, warmth, lightness, joy, all those things that were probably there all along but only became perceptible once I paid attention. 

Mindfulness this Week

What specific challenges and strategies have you experienced in your meditation?

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  1. I never got this far, even using similar methods with fostering a meditative state. I am glad though, that it's working for you.

    I think of how I prescribe exercise for those struggle with structured workouts. I teach them about exercise grazing. A lunge here. A push-up there. To get then benefit of exercise one need not spend 60 consecutive minutes in the gym.

    For me my meditations are much the same. I am outside in nature 2-3 times a day, either with my mammal or alone. A stop here. A sound there. Even brief concentration on a smell, a sight, or to close my eyes for just a moment, and doing this frequently throughout the day adds up to a whole lot of inner peace...

    1. Exercise grazing! Never heard that term. It certainly is better than no exercise at all.

  2. I'm glad you are practicing meditation, and I think your list of helpful methods are useful! I understand how someone with a very active mind would find it more difficult to find that quiet place. I recently read an excellent article on the many wonderful benefits of taking naps, so regardless, you are doing something very good.

    1. Naps are awesome, we should incorporate them in the daily work schedule for all. People could decide to spend it sleeping or meditating.

  3. OOOH
    Number one is a FANTASTIC TIP.
    Id never thought of that and I think it would really help my sister.