As we continue our series on Spiritual Practices in Times of Crisis, (the previous post on Gratitude is here), this ancient practice has the power to transform everything in our lives.
Today we take a closer look at:
Meditation is one of the most direct tools we can use for awakening our spirits and welcoming more calm and joy in our lives.
By sitting in stillness, we discover that there is an ocean of peace that is always available just under the surface when we turn down the volume of our thoughts and allow ourselves to be with what is.
It’s not a cure-all for our challenges, but we become less ruled by them when we experience our thoughts and feelings as being transient - not solid and permanent as they seem to be when we are resisting them.
Divine wisdom, guidance and intuition rise to the surface when we take the time to quiet the mind and soften the heart.
In the first few breaths of a seated meditation, you realize how loud your mind really is and it can leave you feeling as if you are not doing it right or that meditation is not for you.
No worries. Me The Thinker is just doing her job and trying to run the show. And she can be very persistent. She's got some serious control issues.
Just stay with the practice.
Gradually, the mind chills out a little and takes a back seat, and increasingly more time is spent in a restful state of calm.
You return to the day feeling refreshed, clear, calm, mindful, aware, kind.
All that when you just breathe.
Decades of scientific studies have linked meditation to profound health benefits. These include:
Lengthening attention span
Mayo Clinic studies confirm that meditation enhances emotional and physical wellbeing by reducing negative emotions, increasing imagination and creativity in addition to assisting with anxiety, cancer treatment, depression, headaches and sleep problems among many other health issues.
And here's my personal favorite benefit: You know those times when you get so much done in a short period of time because you feel "in the flow?" Meditation brings more of that into your life. The time you devote to the practice is repaid with clarity, focus and flow.
The benefits trickle down to all parts of your life, including your health, your relationships, your connection with your higher wisdom and your ability to show compassion to yourself and all beings.
We've known about the positive effects of meditation for decades.
So now is the time for all of us to write it into our spiritual practice time and reap the rewards of becoming more healthy and awake in our own lives.
And it doesn't have to be hard.
Preparation: Set your timer for 1 to 5 minutes, but don’t start it yet.
(No rush to add time. Keep it short and focused until you are feeling more solid in the practice. It’s the quality that counts.)
Choose a quiet setting. Take a comfortable seat with a straight spine. Eyes are softly closed and hands rest on the thighs, palms up or down. Relax your face. Smile slightly.
To slow down, it's helpful to begin with three deep breaths, making the exhales longer than the inhales. If it's comfortable for you, exhale with an open mouth and a "haaah."
Then just breathe normally.
Start your timer.
Breath Awareness Meditation:
Be present with your breath as it goes in, and goes out.
You can lightly hold the mantra:
I breathe in. I breathe out.
Allow your breath to slow and deepen.
I breathe in. I breathe out.
Your attention is gently on the words, gently on the room, gently on the breath.
Keep it easy and sweet. Like a vacation from your concerns.
When you realize that you are thinking of something else, (totally expected), label it “thinking,” and watch it disappear. Poof. Pop the thought bubble.
When an emotion rises into awareness, (also totally expected), see if you can name it and allow it to be present. Give it some love. Give yourself some love.
Now move gently back to watching your breath go in and out. No judging. No commentary.
You only have one gentle focus.
I breathe in. I breathe out.
When your timer rings, sit for a moment with no practice. Just be for a bit.
Way to go, sweet friend. You did it!
ABOUT THOSE THOUGHTS
We all live with an incessant talker in our heads.
According to scientists, our minds generate an average of 70,000 thoughts a day—that’s about 49 per minute.
No wonder we’re all tired. We live with a very noisy roommate.
So, we're not trying to banish all the thoughts. They live there. They are just doing their job. The problem arises when we give them too much power. After all, they are just thoughts.
Thoughts that are running wild.
Me, The Thinker, spews thoughts that jump from topic to topic in rapid-fire conversation with themselves.
Then there’s Me, The Soul, the witness behind the chatter, observing it all.
Most people who have not thought about consciousness and have never attempted meditation go through life unaware that this distracted “monkey mind,” as Buddha described it, is not who we are.
We are the peaceful Self, Soul or Atman - the loving spirit beneath the drama of our thoughts, that will live on after we leave our bodies for what author Anne Lamott describes as a "fairly significant change of address."
It makes a lot of sense to get to know ourselves better before The Big Move, right?
So, back to those thoughts.
When you are meditating and you catch your mind wandering, the practice is to label the thinking as “thinking.” Then return to your breath awareness.
And you label the rising emotion as what it is. Then return to your breath awareness.
If you spend your entire meditation going back and forth between labeling and coming back into focused awareness, you have had an extremely helpful practice.
Because at some point, your mind will slow down and absolutely everything in life will seem less dire and troubling.
You will find that you are responding instead of reacting to life.
You will feel more awake.
You will know who You are - a soul made of Love - and You will be more at peace.
TIPS AND TOOLS
In times of change and challenge, our spiritual practices are more important than ever.
So bear with a little frustration and persist with your meditation practice.
Just one to five minutes daily to start. Moving up to 5 minutes twice a day. Then lengthening one minute at a time.
You want to feel good about it, so don't push the time envelope too quickly.
If you are a big Thinker/Planner, have a pad and pen beside you. If there is a thought that is so awesome that you have to remember it, jot it down and slide back into your breath awareness.
If you are really sad or overwhelmed, give yourself some love before you start. Hands over your heart. I see you. I feel you. I love you. Spend a few minutes in loving-kindness. Then allow your spinning thoughts to rest, while you turn to the practice with a soft heart. If you are in great distress, let go of the practice and stay with what is, with loving-kindness, for your 5 minutes.
If you have practiced for awhile and are ready to deepen your meditation, see the August 31 page in Every Day Spirit: A Daybook of Wisdom, Joy and Peace. The essay is called, Meditation Extras.
Of all of the practices we will discuss in this series, these first two, Gratitude and Meditation, are incredibly transformative. They are more than worth your time.
Make them a priority each morning and/or evening. Really.
You will feel a decrease in your stress levels in a very short period of time.
And an enhanced spiritual connection that brings hope, joy, peace and perspective to all aspects of your life.
And more love. You will feel more love.
This is how we change the world - by changing what is inside ourselves.
These times are asking this of us. Now is a time of awakening.
Now is the time to be the change we wish to see in the world.
I'm sitting beside you in every breath. There's no place I'd rather be. So much love and many blessings, Mary xo
There will be a LIVE workshop on Zoom on July 19 that will cover Gratitude and Meditation as part of The Soul Seven spiritual practices. Learn more here on the Events Page.
Previous post in the series, Spiritual Practices in Times of Crisis, is here.