Practiced in moderation, meditation can change our lives in a powerful way. It can improve our inner dialogue which is so important to our emotional health. Do you ever take notice of what’s going on with your inner dialogue? Most of the time, our attention is absorbed by useless and compulsive thinking; one unpleasant memory after another, one anxious thought after another, one complaint after another, negative self-talk, and the list goes on. There’s no end to the stuff we think about. To add fuel to the fire, this compulsive thinking is amplified by digital gadgets. They absorb a lot of our attention and put more stuff into our minds; one video after another, one text message after another, one Facebook post after another, until we are drowning in stuff and are consistently missing out on the present moment. For some of us, we can live like this for years. What does that do to our habitual state of consciousness? And you as a person? What kind of person does that state of consciousness produce? Anxious? Angry? Depressed? Continually dissatisfied? Meditation can help train the mind to dissolve compulsive thinking, bring us into the present moment and restore our emotional health. Science has proven that the health benefits associated with meditation are numerous, a few being a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression, improved focus, an increased sense of connectedness and empathy, overcoming addictions, enhancing the immune system and reducing physical and emotional pain.
Some may think the idea of meditation is all about stopping thoughts or eliminating feelings. Not so. Here’s an analogy that may help. Imagine yourself sitting on the side of a busy road, the passing cars representing our thoughts and feelings. All you have to do is sit there and watch the cars. Sounds simple right? What usually happens is that we feel a little bit unsettled by the movement of the traffic so we run out into the road to try and stop the cars or maybe even chase after a few, forgetting that the idea was to just sit here. All of this running around only adds to the feeling of restlessness in the mind. Training the mind is about changing our relationship with the passing thoughts and feelings. Learn to observe them without judgment or opinion and then let them pass. Will we sometimes become distracted, follow our thoughts for too long and forget what we were supposed to be doing? Absolutely, but as soon as we remember, we can go back to the side of the road and continue watching the traffic go by.
If you’re new to meditation, a good way to get started is with a guided meditation and many can be found online. Begin with 5 minutes a day. Find a quiet place where there will be no disruptions. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on a bed. Start by becoming aware of the space that surrounds you and whatever is taking place in that space (outside noises, furniture, lights). Acknowledge the beauty, goodness and energy in that space. Have an appreciation for what is. Close your eyes and begin to take deep belly breaths, inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds. Try to feel the subtle energy field in the body by concentrating on your hands, feet or limbs. Don’t be surprised if the unconscious mind quickly produces a thought and claims it to be important (follow me, you need to think about this, this requires your immediate attention) as it is very clever; but if you know that this is what it does, then you have come to an awareness and you don’t have to follow the thought. You can allow it to pass through your mind and return to your breathing and be at ease with both body and mind.
Resources – Eckhart Tolle on meditation; Headspace Meditation; scienceofpeople.com
Guest contributor - Glenys Bowers, R.H.N., firstname.lastname@example.org 604.375.9471