Monday, December 3, 2007

Help Me – I Can’t Meditate!

Meditation Retreat by The Philosophy of Photography

Many people I speak to about the serenity and calming effect of meditation tell me that they can’t sit still, or that it doesn’t work for them. They are not alone. While some of us find meditation easier than others, it’s a skill almost anyone can learn. Meditation is less complicated than you think; it is simply the calming of your thoughts, deep, relaxing breathing and relief from daily stress.

Don’t think that just because certain thoughts keep returning or you feel fidgety that you’re not good at meditation. That happens to everyone! It takes practice and a little patience, but the results are worth it. When I first started I struggled with the same problems as everyone else. The intention is to keep your mind focused on one thing and to gently let go of the overwhelming amount of thoughts that swirl through your head. Think of it as a mini mind-vacation. Here are a few of the techniques I use to help me focus my attention:

  1. Counting backwards. This technique is highly effective for focusing your attention. Whenever you lose your place, simply start over again. Even if you don’t make it from 100 to 0, you will still feel a calming of the mind and body. Picture a neon sign with numbers counting down. Take deep breathes that raise your belly and exhale slowly. This technique can be done any time.
  2. Tense and relax. When your muscles are tight and stiff, this will help them un-knot and loosen up. Take a few deep breaths to relax the body. Now tighten your left leg muscles for a count of five, then release. Do the same with the right leg, then both together. Progress up the body, making sure to tighten and release shoulder and neck muscles, as well as your face. Your body will feel softer, warmer and less sore. If you’re really tense try repeating the exercise twice. You’ll notice yourself really picking up on places of discomfort and pain and breathing more deeply as well.
  3. Listen to music. Music helps to block out the ordinary house noises that take your concentration away from your meditation. You won’t hear the dog barking, the car next door, the hum of the refrigerator or other annoying intrusions. Music style varies by person. I suggest instrumental, Native American or African drumming, Tibetan bells and gongs or even nature sounds like ocean surf or birds singing. Allow yourself to follow the melody into a different world, where you can escape the demands of your day.
  4. Guided meditation. This is one of my favorites. Unlike music alone, guided meditation will give you step by step guidance, reminding you to breathe deeply and relax each muscle in your body. The soft music lulls you into a calmer state while your mind follows on each exercise to rid your body of stress. Because your mind is creating a picture based on the spoken words, I find this a highly effective method for those new to meditation.
  5. If you fall asleep, it means you needed it. Many people believe that if they fall asleep during meditation it means they’ve failed. Trust me, it will happen to you. When I began meditating I would lay down with my headphones on, and promptly fall asleep 10 minutes later. I usually slept anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. It is simply your body’s response to releasing all that tension. As you practice you will stay awake more often. (Also, sitting up during meditation does help with this somewhat.)

Remember that even small bits of meditation, say five or ten minutes can make a big difference if done on a daily basis. Don’t believe that you can successfully stay in a “perfect, peaceful state,” without lots of practice. After years of hectic rushing, the mind is not used to the slowness of this exercise. Give yourself time.

Recognize that interruptions will happen, and be patient with it. Trying for two short 10-minute meditations may be more realistic for you. Don’t feel you have to sit for an hour at a time. This is simply time for you to collect yourself and unwind. Don’t pressure yourself with expectations, other than this is your time to have a break. Enjoy the peace!

Here are few web sites that have helpful instructions for a beginner:

Beginning Meditation – A Zen Primer.

Beginning Meditation Podcasts.

Getting Started With Meditation (what to expect).

The Basics of Buddhist Meditation.

1 comment:

-gale from said...

amazing and practical - i never knew that i could counter meditation problems by actually tensing up then relaxing to find out points of discomfort - novel! thank you very much for this resource, i'll be sure to visit back again. stay in touch on the web fellow blogger!