Written Tue Jan 23 2009

Ten years ago meditation was not that mainstream, these days more and more people are discovering the benefits, yet to many it is still a mysterious practice. I started meditation almost ten years ago and am still hard pressed to ‘explain’ it. My journey started with Transcendental Meditation which is based on a mantra (in my case a word) that you repeat over and over for 20 minutes. The course is over a week (if memory serves), with meditation every evening so you get lots of practice…which is critical for a beginner in meditation.Why is meditation so hard to describe ? Because it does not fit into anything we normally do. When do you take 20 to 30 minutes to just sit and do nothing ? In our fast paced society we do not allow ourselves chill time. We have to be productive! We have to be busy. There is not time for ‘day dreaming’ which means taking time off just to watch your thoughts is not usual.
So… some basics of meditation. You can meditate for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour…it all depends on you. Meditation is something that should fit into your day and we all have busy days. Even 5 minutes will make a difference.

The intention behind meditation is to relax and to create a space in which you can start to observe your thoughts and feelings. Why ? Because we are not our thoughts and our feelings and meditation is a particularly powerful way to give you the opportunity to discover that. When you inherently know that you are not your thoughts and feelings you can choose other ways of reacting and behaving and that is where you start to experience true power.

There are as many ways to practice meditation as there are flavours of ice cream (ok, so probably not in South Africa so much 🙂 ). I started with a mantra (which I still use almost daily) but have moved onto breathing meditations. In this form you focus on your breathe – breathing in and then when you breathe out you just feel yourself releasing and expanding. I started off with closed eye meditation, these days I prefer a sitting, open eyed meditation where you focus on a spot about 1.5 meters in front of you, and start to breathe. My other favourite (especially when i do not have time) is to do 5 minutes just sitting in front of the mirror…that is one powerful 5 minutes let me tell you.

What confuses most beginners is that they are expecting something – a result! They are expecting to experience a specific thing (enlightenment, peace, harmony). But with meditation what you get is what you get! It is different every time you do it and the point is not to achieve anything, the point is to meditate. One of my favourite books (Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior) says it best. They work with a seated practice of meditation, eyes open.

‘In meditation as you work with your breath, you regard any thoughts that arise as just your thinking process. You don’t hold on to any thought and you don’t have to punish your thoughts or praise them. The thoughts that occur during sitting practice are regarded as natural events, but at the same time, they don’t carry any credentials. The basic definition of mediation is “having a steady mind”. In meditation, when your thoughts go up, you don’t go up, and you don’t go down when your thoughts go down; you just watch as thoughts go up and thoughts go down. Whether your thoughts are good or bad, exciting or boring, blissful or miserable, you let them be. You don’t accept some and reject others. You have a sense of greater space that encompasses any thought that may arise.In meditation you can experience a sense of existence (or being) that includes your thoughts but is not conditioned by your thoughts or limited to your thinking process. You experience your thoughts, you label them “thinking: and you come back to your breath, going out, expanding, and dissolving into space. It is very simple but it is quite profound. You experience your world directly and you do not have to limit that experience. You can be completely open, with nothing to defend and nothing to fear. “

When last did you create a space in which you accepted yourself, all parts of yourself, unconditionally ? Just the thought of creating that kind of gentle lovingness toward oneself gives me goose bumps. How different would the world be if we started our adult lives with this kind of personal compassion already in place ? How different would my life have been ?