Meditation, Part One: Getting Started

June 15, 2016

 

There have been times in my life when outside forces presented emotional challenges and pain so deep I felt they might swallow me whole. While meditation has been important to me in my everyday life, it has also played a huge role in seeing me through the painful stretches.

People seem to belong to one of three camps when it comes to meditation. The first have a daily practice, or at least make time to settle into the silence with some regularity. On the other end of the spectrum are those who think the whole idea seems kooky and way too woo-woo to have any real value for sensible folks like themselves. This post isn’t designed for either group—though I suspect at least some of the nay-sayers might be willing to give it a try, just so those who know them never find out. If that sounds like you, make sure no one’s looking and keep reading.

The final group is comprised of people who find the idea intriguing and have a sense that developing a meditation practice could indeed benefit them, but for one reason or another are doubtful they’d be able to master it. Maybe they tried once or twice, but couldn’t seem to find the sweet spot meditators speak of. Or maybe the mere idea of sitting still and silent seems so unlike them that they just can’t wrap their heads around it. In any case, these are the folks I hope to reach today (well, them and you secret readers).

You can do this. Maybe not on your first try. I doubt many find much peace on their first go-around. But let me ask you this: What have you ever learned that you mastered immediately? It takes a little time and patience, but you really can do this.

Formal teachers of meditation often have one preferred method—they’ll tell you to position your body this way or that, to play soft music, or might insist on absolute silence. Some will ask you to chant. Others might have you believe that the only way you’ll benefit is to give them thousands of dollars and in return, they’ll assign you a syllable or two that is the (only) key to the door.

I say hogwash. Just like most destinations worthy of the journey, there are many roads to finding the meditation sweet spot. What works for me might not speak to you. The biggest thing is to start somewhere. Right where you are works just fine.

I prefer silence, though that may be due in part to the fact that much of my life is noisy. I find that only in the quiet am I able to fully get where I want to go. I like to either sit on the floor on my zafu and zabuton (round pillow atop a square pillow) or on the little loveseat in my office. I don’t do any pretzel pose and I place my hands however they feel comfortable. Settled in, I close my eyes and breathe. Because I’ve been at this a while, that’s all it takes.

Here’s what you might expect if you’re new to this: You find a quiet spot, sit, and close your eyes. You’ve heard you’re supposed to pay attention to your breath, so you consciously try to slow it down, which makes it speed up after the first few exhales. You wriggle a little and hope you’ll relax soon. You remember you’re almost out of milk and remind yourself to pick some up. Oh, and your car needs an oil change. Ugh. You readjust in your seat and think again about breathing slowly. You try to think of nothing, which floods your mind with everything. You open your eyes and look at your cell phone to check the time. Three minutes have passed. What the hell?

It gets easier. It really does. In the beginning, you might want to try a guided meditation. There are tons available and while I’ve never been able to find the sweet spot with them, they’re fabulous at redirecting your thoughts and helping you relax. Most walk you through an exercise where you envision yourself in nature. You stroll along and feel the gentle breeze on your face. If (when!) your thoughts and worries intrude, you are instructed to see them drifting away on clouds, or carried downstream on leaves floating atop the water, or written in sand and washed away by the tide. You can certainly do that with errant thoughts, with or without an mp3, but if you think getting one will help, try it. If nothing else, guided meditations can bring enough still and calm to ready you to move on without them.

You also don’t have to limit yourself to sitting while meditating. Walking is popular with many meditators—though don’t try it on city sidewalks. 😉 If you have access to an unoccupied stretch of outdoors, a solo, silent walk can be fabulous. So can your daily shower. Once you’ve shampooed and rinsed, close your eyes, stand under the stream, and breathe. Don’t concern yourself with how quickly you’re breathing, just breathe. After a few minutes, your world will be just you and the water. Ah, maybe not quite the sweet spot achievable with silence, but it’s still pretty sweet.

A few hints: Set a timer so you won’t feel the urge to check the clock. Many people shoot for an hour, but that’s a little ambitious for newbies. Give yourself 15 minutes or so to start. If you’re not the only one home, close the door and let people know that unless the place is burning down, this time is yours. They might object at first, but they’ll come to terms with it. You deserve 15 stinking minutes. Take them. Oh, and make a commitment to yourself to come back tomorrow to do it again. And the day after that. And the one after that. I promise, after few weeks you won’t need to push yourself. You’ll turn into one of those people who try to convince everyone they know to give themselves just 15 minutes. You know the type.

Warmly~

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14 Comments

  1. Reply

    Julie

    Big smiles, doing this is so necessary for my being. Love this lady.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Me too, Jul. It helps keep me sane(ish). Imagine how nuts I’d be without it! 😀

  2. Reply

    Malcolm Campbell

    I remember the falling asleep part. Used to surprise and anger me because I vowed, with a little of my Scots’ heritage profanity, that it (falling asleep) wasn’t going to happen this time. I have very little discipline, so my meditation is more ad hoc than daily. But I had good teachers, so I can slip into it after long absences easier than falling off a log. I think your advice here will help people reach the point where they no longer need lengthy rituals or an hour of affirmations to find the sacred centers of themselves. They’ll tell people who ask how they meditate so effortlessly that they had good teachers.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      I’ve done plenty of nodding off, too. Like you, it ticked me off (but without the profanity, of course, because I’m such an effing lady). It happened even sitting up, but more frequently when I was reclined. Eh, sleep is good too.

      And I agree about being able to get right back into it after lapsed time. Sit, shut up, breathe, and boom. There. 🙂

  3. Reply

    Deborah

    It took me a while to figure out the correct way to meditate. When I quit worrying the peace actually settled in around me, embraced me and I relaxed into breathing and wondering along on a cloud, or perched on a tree limb. Wherever I let my mind take me. When I’m there I’m free, calm and centered. I love walking meditation, as long as I don’t close my eyes and trip–not cool. ♡♡

    1. Reply

      Beth

      It does take a while, but is sure worth the investment of time. And the walking–yes. At the cabin last fall, we took a walk in the woods. The hubs and the pooch went one way, I wandered off in another. After a few minutes, there was this wonderful moment. I realized that the only sounds were my breath and the leaves beneath my feet. I was 100% there and it was truly kind of remarkable.

      Oh, and I want to mention a CD you sent me some time back. It was the Wise Woman Retreat one. There’s a track on it where you are asked to enter a room and see a large table surrounded by comfortable chairs. In the chairs are the people who have supported you throughout your life. I really love that whole CD, but the first time (okay, the first several times) I listened to that specific track, I found myself weeping. It was wonderful.

      I love that you’re sometimes mentally perched on a tree limb. ♥

  4. Reply

    Margi

    Several years ago, I stumbled upon a sort of meditation. It’s 3 pairs of phrases I say -in my head- to help myself slow down, calm down, and be in the moment. I started it as a way to help me fall asleep for a nap, but have found myself using it when I’m wound up about anything. During a trans-Pacific flight a few months ago, we hit a bit of turbulence that took my breath away, mostly because it surprised the heck out of me. I went immediately into my sorta mantras to keep myself from bursting -or leaking- into tears.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      I love that, Margi! I do something similar and it really does help. I sometimes repeat them in my head throughout the day, even when things aren’t crazy. Keeps me grounded and reminds me of who I really am.

  5. Reply

    Vanessa

    Thank you for your light…

    Namaste,
    Vane

    1. Reply

      Beth

  6. Reply

    Amy McMunn

    You wrote this for me! I am your target audience!

    Having recently emerged from divorce and a toxic year following as my family adjusted, life DID seem to swallow me whole. I remember asking FB friends about mediation, and your words were so helpful! Explaining the little fidgets and thoughts that can sabatoge a beginner’s efforts affirms and validates that we dot, in fact, suck. That it is normal. That it will get better.

    Thank you for writing this!

    1. Reply

      Beth

      I remember that post, Amy, and actually thought of you and it while I was writing this. It’s funny how quickly we tend to give up on things we try to learn as adults. We’d never look at our babies when they first try to walk and fall on their rumps and say, “Well, I guess she’s not cut out to be a walker.” 😀

      How has your meditation practice been going? Have you found methods that work for you?

  7. Reply

    Tammy Minnis

    I suck at formal meditation. Really really suck at it. I fall asleep every damn time.

    For my own sense of peace, I am a big believer in silence. In fact if I need quiet time at home and that is not being respected, I will get up and move to a different room so I can get it. Now I don’t think you would call it meditation because I’m usually working on something or reading. But I do know this, I love the sound of silence. When the TV is turned off (I honestly wouldn’t even own one if it weren’t for my family) I can feel the tension in my face muscles relax.

    I’m sitting here, really laying here, on my couch in the middle of the night and everyone is asleep. No TV. No music. But it’s really not silent. I can hear my cats pattering around, the clocks ticking and the crackling of my fire place. I don’t think I am capable of tuning all of that out.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      We all have our own way of finding the peace we need. My mom didn’t meditate, but she stayed up later than everyone just to have some quiet time for herself.

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