Table of Contents
What is meditation?
Meditation can be best described as a training to reprogram your mind. And just as any kind of hacking, it’s hard work!
The earliest references to meditation have been found in the Hindu Vedas, but it can be found in many different cultures today - from Christian meditation to Islamic Sufism to East-Asian religions. As you can see in the quite extensive Wikipedia entry, there are zillions of different types of meditation and approaches to it.
Traditionally however, it is understood as an effective way to hack your mind to remain present in the current moment, and to cultivate positive attitudes such as compassion, love and generosity. At the same time, meditation is not really about achieving a specific goal, for example to feel more relaxed, but is rather an emphasis on where you already are.
Finally, meditation is a very personal thing and everyone has to find out what method is best for her/himself. Below are therefore some basic instructions to give it a first try. You can also check out some audio guides in the links.
If you wish to learn more about other types of meditation or read some studies about meditation, you can also find a list of recommended books below.
Why should I mediate?
It’s true that, from the outside perspective, meditating might seem a little crazy. Why should we sit for hours on a cushion and learn how to stop doing stuff when there is still so much to do, and still so many fights to fight?
A first reason is that meditation can help you deal with emotional challenges, high levels of stress, and prevent burnout. If you cannot come out of agitation, irritation and care for yourself instead, how can you expect to care for others and work towards better societies? Moments that we dedicate to ourselves are far too few. But they are crucial to make our work more sustainable. So don't feel guilty about taking some time for yourself!
Secondly, by training your mind to be fully aware of the present moment, you become less reactive, less impulsive towards external events. Your mind becomes more stable as you are taking each moment as it arrives, which in turn helps you develop your powers of concentration, self-reliance and confidence.
Lastly, a large number of scientific studies (see below) have highlighted that meditation has positive effects on the parts of our brains that are associated with learning, memory, and emotion regulation.
How to meditate
Here are some instructions to start with meditation, you can start by sitting for 5 minutes per day and increase the time progressively as you see fit.
First of all, sit comfortably with your back straight and free from any support. Keep your head, neck and back aligned. Relax your shoulders and let your hands rest in whatever position feels comfortable. You can sit on a cushion on the floor or on a chair, if that feels better for you. You can either close your eyes or keep your eyes half-shut with a soft gaze on the floor in front of you.
Give your full attention to your breathing. Feel how your breath goes in, notice the short pause before you exhale and feel your breath going out all the way until the end. Then start again. Whenever you find that your attention has wandered off into thinking or dreaminess, notice this and move your focus gently back to your breathing.
It is really quite simple - but it’s not easy at all. Even after years of practice, your mind will continue to wander off continuously and this is normal – it’s just what the mind does. Don’t get frustrated about this but try to congratulate yourself for having noticed it, and note briefly where your mind has taken you – are you thinking about a past incident or are you worrying about the future? Then go back to your breathing.
If you sit in any position for a longer while, it is inevitable that you will get uncomfortable at some point. Try to resist the impulses from your body to shift, simply notice, observe and welcome them in your mind. Then escort your attention gently back to your breathing to remain present, moment by moment, breath by breath.
Accept that every meditation session is different and that you will experience many different distractions. The two main ones being distractions coming from your body and distractions coming from your monkey mind.
Books and texts
- Wikipedia: Research on meditation
- Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University: Eight weeks to a better brain, Harvard Gazette
- University of Toronto study: Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention (pdf)
- University of Wisconsin: Meditation produces positive changes in the brain
Talks and other videos
- Pema Chödrön – Getting unstuck: Fear and fearlessness YouTube link
- Pema Chödrön – Going to the places that scare you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLw5QFaFUgIYoutube link