La Jolla | California
It’s a great paradox of life. We spend our whole lives seeking to achieve that which comes naturally when we stop. Look not beyond the mountain, for happiness lies in the here and now. If you ever doubt this, simply stop doing what you’re doing and watch a cloud, catch a sunset or lose yourself in the stars at night. Peace and happiness reside in the realm of stillness.
So what’s the goal here? Well yes, this post, but also out there, the world, life, what’s the goal?
Be happy and enjoy life right? Some people might say be successful or start a family, but I would assert that the baseline reasons to both of those things is still to be happy and enjoy life. You work a job to make money so you can afford to live, pay bills, save and… enjoy life. If you are passionate about your career and you love doing it, then you are doing it to…. enjoy life.
No matter where you come from, what your background is or what you believe, those goals are pretty universal.
I think we can also probably agree by now that after a certain level of income, money doesn’t bring any more happiness. There are all kinds of studies and articles available on this topic already, but if you want to do your own research, interview some well to do people and their families and friends, the answers may surprise you. They have a lot of the same mental hangups and problems that people of a lower income level do. The problems may change a bit along the way, but they are still persistent, which starts to beg the question “If money is not a universal happiness driver than what is…”
Now that exact level of income where money stops being a happiness driver, may be a bit different for all of us and its hard to focus on anything but money when you are struggling to survive, I get that. So for the sake of this conversation let’s assume your basic needs of food and shelter are being met. If you are in this category, you are a prime candidate for meditation in my book.
Why Should You Care
Simply put, meditation is a way to get happy and enjoy life more.
Sounds a lot like what everyone is really looking for at a basic level doesn’t it?
There are also a great many additional benefits that come along with this “happiness” that live more in the real world like: less stress, enhanced creativity, more productivity, better sleep, healthier immune system, more intimate relationships and so on and so forth.
Maybe it’s my perception, but I think most people come to meditation now for one of its tangible benefits rather than its spiritual connection…. and that’s ok. It has a great number of tangible real world benefits and if everyone selfishly just wanted those, it would still make the world a better place and I am good with that.
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What is Meditation
This definition was given to me by the man who taught me how to meditate. A fascinating man with a crooked path of a life as diverse as I have ever heard from a life as a professional football player to monasteries high in the swiss alps. His name is Michael DeFrancisco. I am not saying he is the ultimate authority on the subject, simply that it worked for me. Have you ever met someone who’s voice resonates at a different level, almost as if you can feel it in your chest? Well, that’s him, it’s really interesting.
His definition of meditation is a simple as his teachings on the subject and I think that is why it worked for me. He states that meditation is simply another state of wakefulness.
Right now we have 3 separate states: We have waking, dreaming and sleeping. Well, meditation is simply another state that we can access throughout the course of a day. So now we have waking, meditation, dreaming & sleeping.
Scientists, Psychologists and generally folks smarter than I have gone to great depths to actually prove this is true and describe what actually happens to your brain during meditation.
So, at its core, it’s that simple. Meditation is simply another state of being that you can utilize throughout your day to achieve positive results.
Now, what you actually do during meditation will differ depending on the type of meditation you choose to practice.
3 Types of Meditation
Open Monitoring- This type of meditation often involves a sort of non-judgemental monitoring of breath, thoughts and often times your physical state through body scans…etc.
Focused Attention- This practice typically involves the concentration of focusing of the mind as dictated by the type of practice. Examples would be Zazen or Kundalini Yoga
Effortless- Designed to take you beyond thought, the most common form of effortless meditation is Transcendental Meditation or TM for short. This happens to be the type of meditation that I was trained in, but I often practice forms of the other two as well, they are simply tools, no one tool is right or wrong. Simply use whatever tool works best for the job at hand.
What Are The Benefits-
To me, meditation is one of those very amorphous things where you can get out of it what you want. If you go in looking for stress relief, you can find that. If you go into it looking for enhanced creativity, you can find that as well, a lot of it will be dependent on what you are focusing to find.
Truth be told you could write volumes on the benefits with little to none know side effects. So instead of shifting the focus of this article off of the practical application of a meditation practice, I am just going to give you two resources.
First, here is a link out to a well-researched article outlining some of the main benefits. Second, if you are truly serious about learning more aobut meditation, I am going to recommend Sam Harris’s book “Waking Up”. As a teaser though, they include: reduced anxiety, enhanced cognitive response, better mood, stronger immune system, superior negotiation skills, better decision making, enhanced creativity, lower blood pressure, increased attention span, less loneliness, and superhuman pain tolerance to name a few.
How To Meditate-
Ultimately none of this matters if you don’t do it right?
The way you access meditation is through a series of actions that set the conditions for that meditative state, not unlike going to bed. When you go to bed you, turn off the television, brush your teeth, wash your face, turn off the lights, lie down in a bed and sleep comes. We will create a slightly different set of conditions for meditation, but the concept is the same.
What I really like about this concept is that it’s essentially the methodology we like to use in other areas of our lives. We “set conditions” for success, for health, good long term finances, for making good decisions…etc and so on much in the same way we set the conditions for our mediation practice.
So our goal is to create a simple practice that you will actually implement in your life. To do this, we will eliminate the main blocks and aversions that people normally face to distill the practice down to the most elemental and basic parts or as Tim Ferris would say, the MED (Minimum Effective Dose).
I would recommend you start with something like this…
Step 1- Plan out 10 minutes early in the morning once you are awake, but before you have eaten and ideally before you have done any work or taken many “inputs” such as radio, tv, email, work…etc.
Step 2- Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit. NOTE: You do not have to sit cross-legged on the floor, just find a comfortable place that you can sit with your back relatively straight. Clothing should be comfortable, nothing binding.
Step 3- Close your eyes and to start, focus your concentration on your breathing. In through your nose and out through your mouth. No counting, just focus on the breath. After a minute or so, simply drop the focus on the breath and just breathe normally, be still and sit quietly. If you have a thought creep in, no problem, simply acknowledge the thought and watch it pass by.
If it happens again, not a problem simply notice it as a thought and watch it pass. “Oh look, Mat is having a thought about X, interesting” and watch it fade. What you are doing here is important, you are separating yourself from your mind. As my teacher would say “What we do is we don’t do much”.
If it happens again, not a problem simply notice it as a thought and watch it pass. “Oh look, Mat is having a thought about X, interesting” and watch it fade. What you are doing here is important, you are separating yourself (the self or watcher) from your mind (ego), but don’t worry about all that psychology right now, just sit still. As my teacher would say “What we do is we don’t do much”.
Step 4- At this point, you are not trying to focus on any one thing or at the same time trying to not focus at all. There is no trying, just sit there qietly and let whatever comes, come. You are not doing it wrong if you have a thought, it’s natural, simply see it for what it is “a thought” and watch it pass by you as you simply sit. One example given to me early on that really helped me is think of all the voices
One example given to me early on that really helped me is think of all the voices in your head as people and all of those people in a room. What we do with meditation is to not eliminate the room but rather realize that we are actually in a much larger room. So visualize your point of view as you see all these people and you slow begin to back away and they get smaller and smaller and smaller until you can no longer see then and all you have around you is space.
That is what you have available to you at any time and one way to access it is meditation.
Step 5- There is no goal in here, simply sit quietly and enjoy the peace and stillness with no agenda. Maintaining that “state of innocence” is a major tenant of my teachers process. There is no right or wrong. If you are sitting quietly, with your eyes closed watching thoughts pass and not focusing on anything in particular, you are doing it right.
Step 6- When you time is up slowly start moving your hands and feet to start coming back to the state of wakefulness and feeling the sensations around you. If you can, lie back or lie down for a few minutes and let everything just wake back up a bit. Slowly open your eyes take in the scene around you in a meditative way.
Slowly get up and go about your day. You did it right.
Key Points To Remember
- There is nothing to accomplish. If you go deep in one session and in the next session your mind is racing, that’s ok. It’s perfectly normal and that’s how it was supposed to happen, do not try to force anything. Every session will be different and maintaining that innocent & agendaless practice is very a powerful aspect of this type of meditation.
- Thoughts are normal. Do not try to control them. Acknowledge them as a watcher. “Oh, I see a thought now about my relationship, interesting” and let it pass. “Now I see a thought about work” and let it flow past you. You are simply observing them and are doing nothing wrong if you have thoughts, the key is to be the observer of them, notice them and you will not get sucked into them.
- After the initial focus on the breath has been let go, do not try to focus on anything specific, just close your eyes, let go of all thoughts and attachments and just notice things as they come into your consciousness and then watch them pass. You are doing it right.
- If you feel tired, surrender and let sleep come. Often times you will fall asleep quickly and remove that tiredness very rapidly, meditative sleep is very powerful and rejuvenating. Once you have woken up, simply start the meditation process again.
- Meditation is very energizing to me, so my practice consists of a long meditation (20 minutes) in the morning and a 5-20 minute meditation mid-day depending on time. If I meditate in the afternoon or evening I have a hard time shutting my brain down for bed, so I schedule them earlier in the day. It may affect you differently, so try it out and see how you feel after to determine your optimal times.
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You can know something intellectually and still not truly understand it. As with all of the important things in life I feel it is a necessity that you seek the direct experience here. You must do this for yourself. You can read all the scientific studies, give a dissertation on it and even talk about it with others, but it all means nothing if you have not actually experienced it. There is an old Buddhist saying that “the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon” Meaning, everything you “know” about meditation is not meditation, because the real power lies in the experience itself.
Another great practitioner that I have worked with over the years gave me a great visual during a session a few years back. He said at any time you can go within yourself simply by “closing your eyes and just going quiet”.
You see he continued, “we all have this red wagon of baggage that we all carry around with us at all times. It contains all your past experiences, your ego, your thoughts on who you are or will be, all your past pain and so on. It affects us, slows us down and drastically impacts our experience of the world.
But, when we meditate, we get to drop the handle, set aside our wagon, even if just for 5-10 minutes and just enjoy.”
In the end it comes down to this: close your eyes and just get quiet. You’re doing it right.
Wisdom is knowing I am nothing. Love is knowing I am everything…. and in between the two my life moves.
– Nisargadatta Maharaj