How do I meditate?
You are probably thinking the same thought that I did when I started trying to incorporate meditation into my day: It cannot be as simple as sitting on the floor and not thinking can it? The answer is yes, it is...and no, actually it is not. I thought it would be easy to clear my mind and focus on breathing alone for a few minutes. Ha! Truth is, I made it less than ONE minute before my mind started thinking about what I had to do after I sat around on the floor doing "nothing" for however long I decided to commit to.
"The mind is tricky. Thought is an inherently complicated procedure. By that we mean that we become trapped, wrapped up, and stuck in the thought chain. One thought leads to another which leads to another, and another, and another, and so on" pg. 64. This endless thought chain, and environmental/physical distractions, are the real obstacles to meditation and are what most people who ask "How do I meditate?" are alluding to. They want to know how to overcome those obstacles to get to the mental space where meditation starts to pay it's elusive dividends.
Bhante Gunaratana dedicates four chapters in Mindfulness in Plain English to meditation distractions, problems, and mental/physical detractors. He also gives other tips scattered throughout the remaining chapters because he knows that these are the crux of the "how do I meditate" conundrum. All of the tips boil down to two main points: be mindful and do not get frustrated. It does not matter how you sit, where you sit, or if you sit at all. If you get frustrated and forget to be mindful, you will waste that time or worse you will quit. Here are a few of Gunaratana's tips that I have found especially helpful as a fledgling meditator:
"don't get frustrated over the nonstop chatter in your mind. That babble is just one more thing to be mindful of" pg. 100
"The instant that you realize that you have been unmindful, that realization itself is an act of mindfulness" pg. 105
"When any mental state arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation, switch your attention to the distraction briefly. Make the distraction a temporary object of meditation" pg. 116 then go back to focusing on your breath.
"These distractions are actually the whole point. The key is to learn to deal with these things. Learning to notice them without being trapped in them. That's what we are here for." pg. 115
"Your ability to cope with trouble depends upon your attitude...Your ability to deal with some issue that arises in meditation will carry over into the rest of your life and allow you to smooth out big issues that really bother you" pg. 92. You have to go into meditation knowing that it will be hard. You cannot go into it as I did thinking "it is just sitting on the floor so it cannot be that hard." That is a naïve thought and is ultimately why I almost quit after just a few tires (before getting to the chapters on problems and distractions). My attitude was wrong, my ability to deal with how hard "just sitting on the floor" ended up being was none existent, so I did the only thing that made sense - stop meditating. Gunaratana is absolutely correct in his observation that how you handle the small, temporary issues that arise while meditating is a micro instance of how you handle the larger life issues. If you can master your small scale approach, you can certainly master the larger one.
The key to this mastery is practice and study. "The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself" pg. 92. Your favorite professional sports star, musician, chef, doctor, coach (life and/or sports) did not become great by snapping their fingers, turning in circles three times, and wishing on a four leaf clover. They put in the work to study their craft, to look at all of the angles of the traps their profession could spring and to find ways to rise above them without becoming consumed, or ruined, by them. Similarly, you will have to put the work in, beyond the sitting, for your meditation practice. You will have to spend time understanding why such-and-such distraction ruled a day, or more, of your meditation time in order to move past it. You may not be able to overcome these issues on your own. That is when books like Mindfulness in Plain English will augment your practice and may even prove to be the key to unlocking that part of your brain that has been resisting the process all together or wrestling with traps.
Always remember, no matter how frustrating it gets, how many distractions arise, or how much better others may seem to be doing at meditation than you are that "there is no such thing as failure in meditation" pg. 105. As long as you are trying, putting in the work, and opening your mind to the benefits it will bring then you will see rewards. I have already felt like my mind observes better, and from more angles, then ever before. I feel that when I am presented with unexpected life challenges that my view of them is more zoomed out, if you will, and I can see more possible solutions than I would have before I began incorporating meditation. Gunaratana says near the end of the book that "Meditating your way through the ups and downs of daily life is the whole point of vipassana [meditation]" pg. 162. For now, I am happy with being able to meditate for a few minutes every day. I hope to one day reach the goal Gunaratana sets of meditating through it all and being ever mindful. For you, I hope all of the same! It does not matter if you dive into meditation with your whole mind, body, and soul or if you take it in baby steps as I have. It just matters that you try, and keep trying, to dedicate the time. You got this!
I want to hear how it's going! Drop a comment below, send me an email, reach out via the socials below, or somehow reach out to let me know how meditation is working for you. It could be a great New Years resolution...just a suggestion. After the start of the new year, we will be diving into our next book - The Life Giving Leader. I am certain that it is not too late to get that added to your holiday wish list! Come on back January 17th to join the start of that conversation, until then Happy Holidays and happiest of New Years!