With so many forms of introspection and mental awareness training going by the name of “meditation,” it can often be difficult to understand which one is for you, or even understand the benefits of the practice. So with that in mind, I thought I would share my own personal perspective on the technique and the benefits it brings me.
If you’re new to the idea of meditation and wanting to experience it, one of the most accessible techniques comes from the oldest tradition of Buddhism called “Theravada” and is called “vipassana” in its native Pali (In English it translates as “insight”) Although based in the Theravada and a lot of training courses will offer it in a Buddhist context, knowledge of Buddhist Dharma isn’t a pre-requisite, or even essential for the technique, making it ideal for beginners to join in without fear of embarrassment.
Vipassana promotes a quality of being which in Pail is known as “Sati”. (In English it translates to “Mindfulness”) But what is it ? Well, simply put, mindfulness is a state of open, nonjudgmental, and non discursive attention to the contents of consciousness. Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to modulate pain, mitigate anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self awareness.
The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but is in no sense easy to master. Indeed, true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice. Happily, however, the benefits of training in meditation arrive long before mastery ever does.
One of the earliest challenges every meditator will face is referred to as “monkey mind”. That is distraction caused by the inability to focus. This can be from external stimuli (which it is more easy to remove yourself from) but also internal ones too (which are harder) How often have you paused for reflection only for something else to “pop into your head” and then dominate your thoughts and distract you ? Most of us fall under the spell of “monkey mind” at some point or another in our early practice. It can be a frustrating experience !!!! Meditation is a technique for breaking the hold this spell has over us. The technique allows us to awaken from unfocussed thinking and from the easy habit of hanging onto the pleasant (rejecting the unpleasant), so that we can enjoy a mind that is undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.
My practice routine
- I put some relaxation music on, nothing with a heavy beat, or words. Just something that can fill the background space.
- I sit. It’s important to be comfortable when you’re meditating , more so than being cross legged (lots of people think you have to be cross legged, but its more important to be comfortable – remember, we’re trying to remove internal distraction and nothing screams more loudly than “this hurts !!” I personally sit cross legged, wrapped in my prayer shawl on a cushion.
- I close my eyes and feel the points of contact between my bum and the cushion and the shawl wrapped around me. I then start to open my mind up to the sensation of sitting, the pressure of the floor, the warmth of the shawl, etc.
- Gradually, I start to focus on my breathing, slower and deeper. I pay more attention to the feeling it gives me, without trying to control it, just letting it come naturally and fill me.
- I personally find as my focus on my breathing intensifies and takes hold, other perceptions and sensations continue to appear: sounds, feelings in the body, emotions, etc. Any time my mind wanders in these sensations, I pause and return to the sensation of breathing. The idea being that any moment I notice I have become lost in thought, I notice the thought itself as an object of my consciousness. Then return my attention to the breath—or to whatever sounds or sensations arise in the next moment.
- When its time, I come out of that moment (generally about 20 minutes or so, sometimes longer) and the day continues !
The above works for me and is the basis of the “vipassana” practice, I find it gives me a sense of peace, which has made me less emotional and affected by the ups and downs of the day. According to my fitness band, I find that my heartbeat slows too, not as low as it gets when I’m sleeping, but slower than my usual 65 beats a minute during the day. I appreciate its not for everyone, even that reading something as simple as beyond frustrating, but it’s worth sticking with, even if the benefits of full mindfulness escape you, just taking 20 minutes out of your day to stop and reflect is a powerful benefit that you deserve, so stick with it and let me know how you get on !!!