Imagine living with less fear, regrets, anxiety, jealousy, greed, and anger. Imagine instead living with more compassion, self-acceptance, understanding, selflessness, and peace. Does it sound like a dream? Does it sound like an impossibility that sounds great in theory, but can never become a reality? I am here to tell you that it is absolutely possible. In fact, many people now, in the past, and in the future, have lived and will live this way.
All of our problems start in the mind. We cannot always control what happens to us. We know that all too well from our life experiences. Over the years we all create default settings in ourselves. So, when our ego feels attacked or we feel judged, our go-to responses are defensiveness and self-protection. You can change your default settings to something else, something more nourishing and evolving. How? Meditation.
How to prepare
We need to cultivate the mind for meditation on a daily basis. This means slowly working towards letting go of the things that are preventing us from progressing and replacing these barriers with more meaningful beliefs and goals.
1. Make time for daily introspection. Meditation is not contemplation and reflection. We are actually putting our mind on one sole focus when we meditate, whether that’s the breath, a mantra, or any other technique. Therefore, creating dedicated time to think in our day gives us a chance to digest all that has happened. It helps us to evaluate our feelings and how we want to proceed on certain matters, thus decreasing the chances of our mind wandering during meditation.
2. Limit negative mental stimulation. Determine what parts of your day you can control. Where can you remove negative influences and replace them with uplifting images and messages? Although subtle, social media has the power to affect our thoughts and attitudes. Over time, others’ posts, opinions, and photos deeply play into our psyches. Exposing ourselves to violent images, obscene music, and vulgar language all have an affect on our subconscious too. The more you can eliminate these types of stimuli, the calmer your mind will feel and the more at peace you will become.
3. Resolve any conflicts within the mind. Okay, so easier said than done, right? Meditation will help you get to the root of any internal struggles you may be having trouble resolving. Alongside though, you have to do the outer work in terms of taking action. If you realize that your history with a particular person has kept you from changing certain habits, then what steps will you take to begin creating healthier patterns? It may be challenging at first to institute new ways of being, but it’s necessary in order to find inner harmony.
What to do before sitting?
There are many things we can do before we actually sit down to meditate that will help us meditate longer, focus better, prevent physical discomfort, and develop our patience in the process.
1. Abstain from eating or eat something light before meditating. Traditionally, meditation was practiced in the early morning before sunrise or just as the sun was rising. You began the day with silence and connecting to a higher spirit. Additionally, when your stomach is empty or close to being empty, you are able to concentrate deeper. Try it and see. I have found that when I have eaten very lightly throughout the day and I sit for evening meditation, my mind has a much easier time focusing. If you need to eat something before sitting, then make sure it’s healthy and light, like fresh fruit.
2. Practice yoga or simple exercise. The purpose of yoga, or the physical asana practice, is to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Traditionally, yoga is always followed by meditation. A 10-minute yoga sequence or even just a few Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) can have an immense benefit on the body and mind. Every pose has a reason and purpose. Walking and light stretching can also help generate energy in the body needed for concentration during meditation. Meditation is not a passive activity, therefore we need to create and preserve energy in the body, so that we can direct it towards raising our consciousness.
3. Find a comfortable seated position. Before beginning any meditation practice, it’s important to spend some time determining what seated position is most comfortable for you. It’s natural to sit down at first and feel okay, but after a few minutes pass you begin to notice some aches and pains in the body. Experimenting over time will help you figure out what types of support, if any, you need in sitting comfortably. The less we are distracted by what’s happening in our body, the more we can bring our attention to our meditation.
Below is a video I created to help beginners familiarize themselves with the basic principles of sitting, while also providing some tips on how to sit comfortably.
VIDEO: How to Sit for Meditation
4. Find a quiet place to sit. Similar to ridding any distractions caused by the body, we also want to prevent distractions from the outside environment. Our minds naturally gravitate towards noise, especially when we are trying to still our thoughts. For example, a truck driving by, kids playing, a dog barking, people yelling, all have the potential to grab our attention. The more regular we become in our meditation practice, the less these things will have an affect on us because we will have developed more control over our minds. Of course, having a quiet place to sit will always be preferable. We also want to meditate in a space that is positive and uplifting, including being free of shouting, crying, clutter, and dirt. These all play a factor in being able to quiet the mind.
How to begin your meditation
It’s difficult to sit and withdraw the senses immediately, especially when we have spent the entire day talking, listening, walking, reading, driving, eating, working, parenting, observing, and any other number of activities. Our minds can easily be over-stimulated without us even knowing it! We think it’s normal because it becomes a part of our daily existence. This is why being quiet and sitting in silence can be challenging, because we rarely do it.
1. Prepare the mind. Our preparation of the mind continues as we sit. We chant mantras and prayers in Sanskrit so that we can elevate the mind and put it into a higher state of consciousness. There are other ways of also achieving this same state of awareness, such as reading excerpts from inspirational books, saying affirmations, and practicing breathing exercises.
2. Create an uplifting environment. We light incense because it purifies the air and in turn, our minds. We can achieve that same elevated state by lighting scented candles, rubbing essential oils on our wrists and palms, and including fresh flowers on our altar. Creating a sacred space in the home helps to motivate us to practice everyday and reminds us of our higher-selves whenever we walk by it.
How to end your meditation
It’s equally important that you have planned a way to end your meditation, just like you do with the start of your practice. It helps us to maintain the stillness and keeps our spirits uplifted throughout the day.
1. Have a close. It’s a good idea to have a proper close to your meditation. Instead of immediately getting up after taking the time to calm the mind, take a couple of minutes to just sit and bring your awareness back into the room. You can end your meditation similarly to how you began, repeating an affirmation or saying a prayer. Both will help solidify the benefits of your meditation within the mind.
2. Use soothing sounds to come out. If you are timing your meditation, then having a bell or a soothing sound to come out of your silence is more preferable than a jarring alarm. Many alarm clocks offer the option of setting a more peaceful sound, such as birds or the ocean. There are also free apps available on smartphones, such as Chakra Chime and Meditation Timer that provide calming sounds to help you come out of your meditation.
3. Take your meditation with you. The purpose of our meditation practice is so we can take the calmness we create during our sit into the rest of our life. We want to maintain that even mindedness afterwards. Turning on the television right after you are finished meditating to watch the Walking Dead is probably not a good idea. Give yourself some quiet time, at least time without any media or electronics. Try to stay in that space of intentionality for as long as you can.
After my meditation I always like to read an excerpt or chapter from a spiritual book, listen to uplifting music, or a watch and listen to a talk from a guru/swami on YouTube. Of course, if you choose to supplement your practice in this way, it will lengthen the time you devote to your practice. However, ideally you want to create a daily ritual, which will help seal your dedication and serve as motivation. This may take some effort on your part in restructuring your time and schedule, but the benefits are immeasurable.
If you have any questions or would like to share any insights you’ve gained from your own meditation practice, I would love to hear from you. Blessings on starting this journey to inner peace and sustained joy!