There is so much I want to share with you about meditation. The benefits, the challenges, the history and lineages, the way it will change your life in a myriad tiny little or completely overwhelming ways…
But first? We have to start. And although universal truths are probably fairly thin on the ground in a subject as deeply personal and experiential as meditation, one of them is that starting a regular meditation practice is one of the most difficult steps we take along this long and windy path.
Starting to meditate is hard! Whether you’ve never had a practice or are coming back after a bit of a break, finding a quiet place and closing your eyes and sitting still and doing ‘nothing’ (!) in a world that moves at a zillion miles an hour and seems to ask so very much of us is really, really hard. And the idea of sitting and listening to your crazy mind – probably the only thing that moves faster than the world around us – is really, really scary.
So, we make it as easy on ourselves as possible. No time pressures – we start off short and sweet. No complicated techniques or mantras to remember – just breathing and counting. And no getting reliant on other people talking us through the process on an MP3 (although sometimes this can be pretty sweet and exactly what you need) – you can do this anywhere, anytime, just you. It’s like a game.
Go somewhere comfy and quiet. A meditation cushion is ideal, although I have to confess I’m a bad yoga teacher and have never bothered to buy one… an ordinary cushion works just fine (I usually get dagger-glances from my dog when I make him go sit somewhere else). I often sit it on my bed just far enough away from the wall/headboard to prevent any sneaky leaning. A chair works if you sit up straight and put both feet on the floor. Or this meditation is so simple, you can probably make it work anywhere to begin with. Just so long as you begin.
Concentrate on your breath. Don’t force it to be deep or slow or especially sage-like, just let it do its thing and take a few moments to get in your zone.
Inhale. Count this as one.
Exhale. Count this as one.
Inhale. Count this as two.
Exhale. Two. Inhale. Three. Exhale. Three. You get the idea…
Every time a thought that isn’t you focussing on your breath and quietly counting enters your head – and it will – acknowledge it, let it go and start your count again. Inhale. Count this as one.
Just carry on. Sweet and simple, like you’re playing a particularly primeval game of Candy Crush, until your timer goes off. Or until you get to ten, in which case you’re probably a super-advanced mind-ninja who’s devoted their entire lives to mental self control…
Drop your preconceptions and frustrations with yourself and your random, freaky thoughts. Because they are just thoughts. Just little whooshes of chemicals in your brain, no need to get excited over them. And remember, whilst we can treat this like a game (if not like Candy Crush, then Sudoku, lacrosse, jousting… pick your poison) it’s about being light-hearted and fun, not ‘winning’ by going further and higher up that count and inching yourself closer to certain enlightenment. Be kind. Always, always be kind.
And if you don’t have a timer and a cushion to hand, go without. Stand up. Lie down. Just try and do it for a little while, every day. Maybe start at 5 minutes, and work your way up to 20. Set yourself a target number of days and show up for yourself. If you want to really go for it – and why not? – do this every day for 40 days. In yoga, 40 days is the magic number it takes to cement a positive new habit in your life, or free yourself of a harmful old one.
40 days of counting your breath for a few minutes every day in exchange for a fully-formed meditation practice that you can keep forever and take in whatever direction you’d like? Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.
Make a commitment to yourself and honour it because you’re important. You know you’d invest that time every day for your best friend/dog/kids/mum/whoever so do it for you. If you miss a day, start counting again, just like the breath. And remember… kindness, always.
Namaste and big count-y love,