Steps for success
If meditation was an instant noodles cup in a supermarket the label on the back would like this:
Ingredients: timer, quiet place, meditation bench or a cushion, relaxation, openness, compassionate mind.
No artificial sounds, lights, or scents are required.
Preparation time: 15 + min
Knowing the ingredients is not enough to make a delicious meal. You also need to have the instructions. In this guide I am offering you not just one but two best meditation recipes. They are mindfulness of breathing and cultivation of loving-kindness (also known as Metta Bhavana). There are other types of meditations that you might have heard about but we will focus on these two for the following reasons:
- These two mediations have been practiced for hundreds of years and proven to be working by modern-day researchers.
- The results are experiential i.e. you can gauge the effectiveness from your own experience rather than relying on someone’s success story.
- Both of these are practical and relatively easy to learn. I practiced them on a train, in an office, or a beach albeit the end result is different based on the environment.
- They are religion and belief agnostic. Neither of them requires you to become a monk, join a cult, or dress in pink robes.
- They are simple. There is no need to complicate this subject. I follow the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) principle where possible and you should too.
Mindfulness of Breathing
As you have guessed from the name the first mediation focuses on mindfulness. I think that the word mindfulness does not accurately reflect the purpose of this meditation.
Most stressed-out people already have full minds. Instinctively my first reaction would be to reject anything that adds extra stuff to the full plate. A more accurate name in my view would be, “a focused curious and exploratory attention to breathing that makes you feel amazing if you continue with the practice”. I am still waiting for the world to pick this name instead.
When we focus our attention on one thing our minds become grounded. That one thing could be anything but it is easier to focus attention on your breath. Breathing has a rhythm to it that acts as a metronome so you can come back to it when your mind starts drifting distracted by thoughts (and yes it will happen). By keeping a curious attitude you can teach your mind to find endless depth and new dimension to your breathing with every inhale and exhale.
Mindfulness meditation begins with a body scan that serves two purposes. First – it relaxes your body as we gradually moving our attention from the top of your head to your toes. Second – it brings your awareness to the present moment.
You then will start counting your breaths first counting inhales then exhales. Counting is needed to guide and support your mind when it begins to wander. Counting works like training wheels on a bike. Once your mind settles that additional support is no longer required. Remember the scene from Forest Gump when he sprints forward and his metal leg braces fall off as he no longer needs it?
Once you notice that your mind is settled you will begin concentrating your attention on subtle qualities of your breathing. These qualities can be a feeling of cold and hot air around your nostrils or pauses between inhale and exhale phases. Through these stages of mediations, you will finetune your attention and become fully aware of the life around you.
The purpose of the mindfulness of breathing, in a nutshell, is very simple. It is training for your mind to stay in the present moment. Yeah, yeah I know you heard this before – live in the Now, be present etc, etc. But listen – this practice is really about that. Breathing is one of those obvious things that is happening in the current moment not in the past or in the future. Each breath is grounded in reality. By bringing your attention to your breathing you are pulling yourself out of future or past thoughts back to the present moment. In the present moment you are alive and not being chased by tigers or tormented by past mistakes.
Meditation trains you to stop catastrophizing future events, feeling guilty about the past and myriad of other things that our minds are good at doing. That is why being distracted by thoughts in your mediation is a good thing because this is exactly what will happen on a daily basis. When facing stress, concerns, worries you can bring yourself back to reality when you are safe, well, and still here.
Mindfulness meditation is truly a proverbial gift that keeps on giving. When your practice deepens you will start appreciating the present moment even more. You will find subtle qualities of your breath, sensations in the body that will amaze you. The same will occur You will become fascinated by living. Imagine how much positive impact it will have on your life? Being able to enjoy life to the fullest even in its dull moments. Like a toddler being fascinated with a mobile toy with colorful objects so can you see the beauty of the world in its simplest forms. This is the kind of thinking that created Zen-inspired tea ceremonies, the Japanese art of mending broken bowl with gold, and so on.
Loving-kindness or Metta Bhavana
The second practice Metta Bhavana is translated in English as loving-kindness. It is the closest but not an accurate translation from Sanskrit. The word love is used in the context of compassionate feelings rather than romantic affection toward someone. It is important to remember when you select people to generate that feeling during your meditation stages.
Metta Bhavana is a staged meditation with the feeling of loving-kindness directed towards yourself and loved ones progressively moving to a person that you have a conflict with or have not forgiven. Cranky bosses, angry commuters, or unpopular politicians are great candidates for the last stage. In the final stage after building this feeling for these groups of people you do the same to every person and living creatures in the universe. Sound pretty cool right?
The practice will take 10-15 minutes daily and if time allows you are welcome to extend it for a longer period of time. Remember to be consistent. The effects are a bit like compounding interest in your savings account. Investing 15 min every day will get you further than doing the whole hour only once a week. We will begin the practice with only 5 minutes gradually expanding it to 15.
How to use skills learnt from meditation
Remember that mediation is a practice and it does not stop when you finish your 15 minutes. Like in basketball, players practice their skills before taking them to a real game you will be applying your mindfulness skill to daily situations.
Raise awareness using a quick body scan
When your patience is tested take a long breath and go through a quick body scan – how are you responding to the triggers? Is your breathing shallow or deep? Are you breathing fast or slow? What sensations do you feel sensations in your body?
Generate compassion while interacting with people
When speaking with people engage your Metta Bhavana muscle. Generate the feeling of goodwill towards the person you are conversing with and feel the connection between you.
Listen from the heart area
Try to listen from your heart by placing the center of attention to your chest. Find the difference in your perception. Notice how the need to speak is replaced by attentive and kind listening. Practice this with people you are on good terms with. Practice this with whom you don’t know very well. Pick a person that you do not get along well and listen to them for the first time with the kindness of your heart. How does it feel?
Stay patient while learning meditation
If you are a beginner reading this before you had a taste of your first meditation this may not be making sense. I promise you that it will with time. Remember this is an experiential learning and the only way to understand it is by doing. Because it is going to take the time you have to be gentle on your learning path. When your mind drifts away with an exciting or worrying thought or a worry, notice it and bring it back to mediation. There is no good or bad meditation experience. It is all a learning and which time you try you get better at it.
This post is a part of 6 articles mini-series. You can read the rest of the posts by the links below: