Meditation is definitely one of those Marmite subjects, it inspires extreme reactions in so many people. Talk to somebody about this and there is a whole spectrum with which the conversation can travel in, from distrust, disinterest to evangelising about its efficacy and how effective it is.
For these reasons, for me, it sits in the same camp as breathwork (and from a mental, emotional & physiological point of view it is pretty close). It is a shame that it can have such extreme reactions in people, as I find anything that falls into this place becomes misunderstood or simply undervalued. Maybe the lack of more contemporary science hinders its acceptance – pushing it more into the camp of wellness, woo-hoo hippy type culture, creating images and visions of something counter culture and scary (in itself fine, but the connotations for too many people unhelpful).
From personal experience this is what I’ve learnt / realised / understood:
- It’s a very powerful and calming manner to start my day. 20 minutes in silence, focused on breath, focused on what it important for me (love, health, happiness, strength) and then silence drops me very consciously into a space where I feel ready to start the day. Choosing to clear / clean my mind every morning has a very different impact from the same process that happens whilst sleeping. The second 10 minutes, where I drop into a deeper state feel wonderful. I believe that this is a result of accessing a deeper part of my mind, using different brain waves. What ever the case this pleasant sense of peace settles me and prepares me for what is to come.
- It can be really hard sometimes, it can be easy sometimes, it is never the same and like anything it is a practise that improves / changes / shifts the more I engage. Some days my mind wanders everywhere, some days I am still and utterly present. I find both equally beneficial as the more challenging days I feel more grounded once finished and the easier days I feel really settled. Both remind me that meditation is something that grows and changes as I do. I started meditating for around 5 minutes, to a guided app and it took me over 2 years to get to a place where I knew the kind of regular meditation I wanted to take part in. This has felt incredibly rewarding from a personal point of view. More importantly, the more I have practised, the more I have learnt and the more I have got back from meditating
- The changes that I have felt were imperceptibly subtle and something that I didn’t notice from day to day. It was only after I persisted and meditated for 6 months that I realised I had changed, for the better. I could recognise that the act of daily meditation had healed some kind of tear in my fabric. Some sense of un-ease at the world (where this comes from I don’t know, but suspect it is some kind of inherited sense of trauma, my brother has spoken of something similar he recognises in himself). This sense of un-ease would almost always rear its head at various times leading to self-destructive behaviour. It became very clear to me that I felt a sense of peace, of calmness and no need to engage in anything that drew this un-ease to the surface. The switch in me felt deeply profound and the more practical result was a complete happiness to stop drinking alcohol
- Pre-running races the use of guided meditation to get into the headspace to run as well as I can, on that day, is very powerful. Allowing the mind to utterly focus on the task at hand, to the exclusion of anything else is so helpful – and not just for running.
- When I really don’t want to meditate, when it feels hard, I know that’s when I need it most. Every time this happens I have never regretted meditating and am very grateful that I have managed to. It is easy to practice something from a place of calmness and peace. Far harder when you feel fractious and difficult, however I know that taking the time to do this works and shifts how I feel, both physically and mentally.
- Children enjoy meditating and it has a really calming impact upon them. It settles a room, allows a sense of safety to grow and helps them take ownership of their own feelings. Having taught meditation in school for 3 years I am a massive believer in its efficacy. By exposing children to meditation in school, in a safe and easy way, they may well come back to this at a later point in their life. This helps break down barriers (usually unhelpful) where a lack of understanding leads to fear and turning away from something that is potentially helpful.
- In a similar vein it would appear that lots of people expect too much from meditation, too soon. A common refrain is “I can’t sit in silence” and a lack of appreciation that meditation is a practice, one that if you start slowly and in small understandable steps make it very accessible. As we grow older we have a tendency to choose not to work at things that need practice. This in itself sending a message to yourself that you don’t need to push or use parts of yourself. The moment we stop using something, it stops being useful and atrophies over time. By working at something challenging we keep ourselves vital and healthy.
- The people who appear to need meditation the most are the ones who fight any interaction with meditation.
- There is a belief that doing other tasks, that lead to flow (gardening, walking, running) are mislabelled as meditation. Flow is great, the sense of being present in an action is something we all hugely benefit from. However this is deeply different from sitting still, either in silence, or being guided by a voice to let our mind settle. One shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the other, nor should you exclude mediation from your life if you find flow in other areas.
- I have meditated anywhere, in busy environments (the tube) or in complete peace in nature. Both felt different, both equally effective in their own ways. Choosing to meditate allows me to do this at any time, anywhere. It isn’t something that I need to ask permission to do – or in fact need any equipment to do. I can just meditate.
- Reading about meditation I believe (and Dr Joe Dispenza is great on this) you do actually change your brain – due to accessing areas that ordinarily you don’t. The idea that we can change our minds and therefore ourselves (hopefully for the better) through something as simple as sitting and clearing out minds is incredible.
- Meditation is ancient. I haven’t come across stories of people being hurt or damaged by meditating – this something that makes it worthwhile for us all.
- Beginning with an app (in my case Headspace) was what I needed.
I’m sure that there are other things I’ve learnt or realised and forgotten here.
I’d love meditation to be part of the curriculum for all school children. What a great way for everybody to start the school day.