The first time someone told me I should meditate by just quieting my mind, I felt:
Confused as to how the hell to make that happen.
Annoyed because there were just too damn many thoughts in there and I didn't see how I'd ever get them to stop.
YOU SEE, WHEN I STARTED, MY THOUGHTS WERE RUNNING AMUCK.
They were dominant little creatures threatening to bring me down at every turn. How could I possibly just let them go?
What took me a few more years to understand is that you should have thoughts running through your mind when you first start meditating. Lots and lots of them. Mountains of ideas and things you should do and mental commentary on everything, everywhere.
There is no way you can just not think at first. Knowing this makes starting to meditate so much more straightforward.
Meditation is working out with no condemnation.
MEDITATION IS A PRACTICE
To practice means to repeat something over and over again to achieve proficiency in it. Meditation is a similar training system.
When you first meditate, you start slow, just like when you start exercising. You can't bench press like a Navy Seal when you've been sitting on the couch your whole life. And you can't empty your mind without training it how to do so.
Meditation is a practice that slowly strengthens your mind like exercise empowers your body over time. You start very small, with just a minute at a time, then build. Eventually, your mind will not only calm itself, but research shows that you will increase neuro-connections and all kinds of cognitive abilities. Your brain will physiologically change.
But there are immediate benefits to meditation, which I will explain below.
Yoga helped me understand that exercise is just a practice. In yoga, you show up and perform the poses, just noticing how they feel. You learn not to judge yourself or your body. You just practice and incrementally improve.
This is a different kind of work out than some trainer telling you to push harder and do more. You may have the goal to be a master level meditator, but you still have to go into your brain work-out thinking that today you will just practice.
The beauty of this is that you won't be about comparing yourself to others who have already achieved a perfect body or mind. Because you will only focus on what you are learning each day, meditation becomes much easier.
So let me explain exactly how to meditate in some real-world, no-pressure kind of way:
1. GET AS COMFORTABLE AS POSSIBLE
First of all, you need to be alone and in a quiet place. The reason you need a quiet place is that you don't need any more distractions than are currently already going on inside your brain.
You can sit comfortably or lay down--the goal is just to get into a place where your body isn't screaming at you to move or reposition.
It helps immensely if you have something like the sound of the air conditioner to focus on. Or just listen to the sound of your breath.
2. OBSERVE YOUR THOUGHTS
Then close your eyes and observe what you are thinking for one minute. You are going to be doing this for a while before you can "empty" your thoughts. Just notice your thoughts, non-judgementally, then let them go and observe the next.
You may have a bit of a mental dialogue going at this point. You'll think a thought and then think that you just thought a thought, if that makes sense. And you'll get very distracted by the way your body feels or things you need to do, or anything you've already been thinking of. Just notice what you are thinking.
The practice here is just to understand what's going on inside your brain. You will do this over and over again. Even now as I meditate, I will often time have thoughts come to mind. It’s natural.
3. PRACTICE MORE
Each time you practice you can slowly build up the time you work out your brain. Eventually, you will begin to observe that your thoughts start to slow down. Don't put a timer on how long this takes to happen. One day you'll just notice that you aren't thinking as many thoughts, or that the time between them widens. And then one day you may see that you more easily let go of a particular thought.
Though the prize is to let go of all thought completely, there will be an immediate benefit, from your first day of practice. For example, just knowing what is going on in your mind is key to replacing your thoughts with more positive ones (a skill I will also teach you.)
After a while you will increase your focus on the sound of your breath or the air conditioner, and lose track of your thoughts.
You may begin to feel somewhat attached from your physical presence. Some feel like they are floating, or numb physically. I don't feel this way, typically. For me, I just feel detached from my thoughts and it feels like I’m about to talk to God in heaven or to connect with Truth. I'm still aware of my body and my physical surroundings--very much so. The experience is different for everyone.
5. CONNECT WITH TRUTH
Once you begin to empty your brain of all the bullshit, you will have thoughts come to you, but they will be different. You will just KNOW they are Truth and not destructive thoughts. You can call this anything you want. You can say you are hearing from God, or Higher Truth, or your spirit guides, or just accessing your true self.
I was taught when I was younger that meditation was evil because if you emptied your mind, you would be susceptible to thoughts from the devil. This seems absurd to me now, but I mention it because you may have all kinds of pre-supposed ideas on why you should not listen for Higher Guidance.
You do not need to be afraid of what you will hear because you are always in control--it's not like you go into a trance. And you have a knowing inside yourself of what is right, and when you tap into Source, you will know it is pure and beneficial.
6. GET ANSWERS
I usually get to ask some questions at this point. Before meditation, I might ponder how to solve a problem, but my brain does not have an answer. Now, I can ask the question and get a brilliant answer. This wisdom is my favorite part of meditation and is very, very powerful.
7. TAKE ACTION
Eventually, you'll want to do something else. It's usually something brilliant and fantastic, even if it seems simple. It can be anything from writing a note about your latest book or scheduling a dental appointment. But it always feels like the next thing to do, and you'll know it will be beneficial. And it won't feel hard to do; it will feel easy.
When I am feeling confused or directionless or even just restless, I will meditate, often many times a day. It is then that I get clear on the next thing to do. And it just feels like the most natural next step to take.
But your practice may be entirely different. Just be willing.
Meditation will change your life in many ways.
There are many benefits of meditation.
You will see immediate improvements like the clarity of vision and increased focus. You will be able to problem-solve more quickly. You will feel compassion and understanding. And your ability to handle stress will improve considerably. The more you meditate, the longer you will sustain the effects. And at the master level, I now have a completely altered, sustainable change in the way I approach my life.