This simple meditation is one that I hope can get you started on your meditation journey, rekindle your meditation practice, or act as a mindful home for you when you need it.
Meditation may seem complicated or intimidating at first. Pictures of people wearing long, flowy clothes and contorted into the lotus position, with their feet resting on the top of their thighs, surrounded by candles, or sitting outside in a perfect scene… No one that I know has time (or the knees) for that. If you search on the internet, you may find a number of different styles of meditation, some of which have rules or require certain breaths. You might run across words like “mantra” or “mudra” or “mala” or “metta.” (You’ll find other words that don’t begin with “m,” but I was on a roll.) It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.
At its heart, meditation is simple.
It’s just you, getting to know you.
Sure, you can make it fancy, you can dress it up and bring out all the knick-knacks and pretty accoutrements. It can be a form of prayer, or merely a quiet time to clear your mind. You can use it to visualize your perfect day, or achieving a goal. Or you can cultivate compassion or forgiveness. But the foundation of meditation is you, your mind, and your observations. It’s not one thing or another— it is whatever you make of it.
This is a simple meditation adapted from my own practice and modeled after the meditation description offered by Pema Chodron in “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change.” You can do it anywhere, for any length of time.
I encourage you to start here.
Try it for three minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes, at first. After you become comfortable doing this meditation on a regular basis, I encourage you to play around with your meditations. Experiment. Try different teachers. Use music, try meditating at different times of day, look for a meditation class in your area or find a yoga studio that includes a guided meditation at the beginning. But know that you can always return to this meditation. And if you do no other meditation than this one, that’s great, too. You’ve found the meditation for you.
Wherever your meditation journey takes you, this is a great place to start… and return to… again and again.
Setting up in the proper posture helps us be fully present in our body. You want to find a comfortable position so that you won’t need to change positions later (if say, your foot falls asleep). Turn off the notifications on your phone. Consider the six points of good posture: seat, legs, torso, hands, eyes, and mouth.
1. Seat: You may sit in a chair, on the floor, or perched on the edge of a cushion or blanket to lift your hips so you can sit fully upright without creating tension in your low back or legs. Wherever you find yourself, check to be sure your hips are even and balanced.
2. Legs: If you are seated on the floor or on a cushion, fold your legs in front of you. If you feel any point of pressure or tension, consider widening the angle at your knees or moving to a chair. Try to make sure that your knees are not higher than your hips to avoid strain on your back. If you are in a chair, your feet should be flat on the ground.
3. Torso: Sit up straight. If you’re in a chair, consider a cushion behind your low back to help you keep your vertebrae stacked one on top of the other. Visualize opening your chest, opening your heart. Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears. If you find that your chin has a tendency to jut out, try to tuck it slightly so that your head is level.
4. Hands: Find a comfortable place for your hands. The standard advice is to rest your hands palm down on your thighs. But my advice is to find a place where your hands can be comfortable while keeping your torso upright and not hunched or slouched. You might find that it’s easier to keep your palms up, in your lap, or even rest them on a pillow or
5. Eyes: Explore whether you prefer to keep your eyes open or closed. Chodron advocates for keeping your eyes open, gazing softly four to six feet in front. This is thought to cultivate open receptivity. Most traditions encourage us to close our eyes to minimize distractions and help us turn inward. Personally, I normally find it easier to keep my eyes closed, especially at home where I might notice a dust bunny if I left my eyes open.
6. Mouth: Relax the jaw. Consider leaving the mouth open very slightly to help the breath move easily through the nose and mouth and keep the jaw relaxed.
Once you’ve “found your seat” and are prepared for meditation, set a timer, if you haven’t already, and then gently close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Without trying to change it, simply observe it moving in and out of your body. Notice how it feels, where you feel it enter and how it leaves your body. That’s it. Be curious about it — how does it feel in your body? How does it move your body?
When your mind wanders, and it will, simply notice that you are thinking about something else, and gently bring your focus back to your breath. It may help to label it. Once you realize that you are distracted from the breath, make a mental note, “thinking,” and then move your mind back to your breath. You might be tempted to think “Oh, that’s bad, I’m doing this wrong. I’m bad at this…” (At least, that happens to me). But try not to attach judgment to your thoughts, good or bad. Try not to beat yourself up about it, or get pulled into a spiral of self-talk about the fact you’re thinking. Just label it as thinking, and move back to the breath. Accept that you will become distracted. It’s part of the practice.
When your timer sounds, hopefully quietly, pull yourself into the room gently. Maybe take a deeper breath or stretch a bit. You might take a moment to journal about your experience.
If you are having a hard time maintaining your focus on your breath, consider counting as well. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply count on each exhale, perhaps one to ten. When you reach ten, then start again at one. If you count on the inhale, that’s fine. If you forget where you were, just start again. This will help you keep your attention on your breath by giving you something to focus on.
Another technique that I like is to count the length of your breath. On an inhale, start counting slowly until you’ve fully inhaled. Don’t consciously try to lengthen or shorten it. It doesn’t matter how high you count or how slowly. Then count your exhale. Are the numbers the same or different? As you progress in your meditation, you might try to even those numbers out so that they match in duration. For instance, if you count to three on your inhale, but exhale in two, gently see if you can ever so slowly even out your breaths so that the inhale and exhale are both taking to the count of three. Evening out the breath works particularly well to help ground and relax the body.
Remember that meditation is a practice. There is no right or wrong way. Our mind is supposed to wander. Each time it happens, we’ve been given an opportunity to recognize it, and then return our focus back to the present, back to our breath.
It’s practice for staying present, for working with our frustrations, fears, or worries that might creep up during our days. It gives us a chance to explore our thoughts, and then return back to the immediate experience. Whether we’ve starting daydreaming during a meeting, or we’ve been preoccupied with worrying for weeks, we can always refocus our attention on what is going on around us, right now. Meditation is an opportunity to practice returning to our bodies and our current experience when we realize that our focus has wandered.
In this way, it’s a practice for our lives.
Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,
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