The practice of connecting to the Higher Self is unique to everyone, but mindfulness meditation is always a great place to start your journey.
So what is meditation? There are a number of variations, but at its core, meditation is simply an act of being and stillness intended to calm our overactive minds. The most common way to do this is by focusing on your breath: counting your inhales and exhales, paying attention to the expanding and contracting of your chest, or feeling the sensation of the air as it moves in and out of your nose and mouth.
It may feel strange to dedicate time, space, and motivation to something so simple, but once you realize how difficult it is to concentrate on your breathing for even a single minute without thinking about what happened yesterday or what you need to do today, you’ll quickly realize the value of a practice that gently trains your mind to stop endlessly jumping from thought to thought. In meditation, we are working with that very attachment to thinking, taming the mind so that our consciousness can relax and expand in a way that we can connect to our Higher Self, and in doing so, access all of our best qualities.
The Practicalities of Beginning Meditation
Like any new practice, it can be helpful to start with the absolute basics. Here are the main elements that are helpful to have in place when beginning a session.
Finding a time
Committing to a specific time to step into your practice can be the difference between simply wanting to meditate and actually meditating. Be honest with yourself about your routine and determine where you could find 10 – 15 minutes in your schedule on a regular basis to step away from the demands of your life. Don’t be afraid to set yourself up for success! For instance, many people like the morning for meditation; however, if you are not a morning person, don’t task yourself with waking up early for a difficult sit. Instead, reflect on when you naturally experience moments of calming wakefulness and choose a time when you are less likely to feel distracted, tired, or over-stimulated.
Finding a place
Building your ideal meditation space may be the inspiration you need to take your seat, but to start, all you really need is a place where you feel comfortable seated. What is most important is that you feel safe, relaxed, and contained. It can be helpful to sit in the same place each time so that you get a felt sense of practice when you revisit your meditation spot. It’s very likely that you’ll intuitively choose someplace quiet, private, and with good natural light that inspires you to sink into the present moment.
What to Wear
Like finding the right time and place, there are many ideals for meditation apparel but once again, it’s very likely that if you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, you’re ready to take a seat! That said, don’t be afraid to throw on your favorite yoga pants or go-to sweatshirt if you feel like those items could support you in having a more comfortable session.
How Long to Start
There is no silver bullet for how long you should sit for your first meditation session but there is a rule of thumb that it takes 5 minutes for the mind to relax and another five to experience meditation. If the idea of sitting for 10 minutes feels like too much for the mind to handle, don’t be afraid to start with a 5- to 6-minute sit. Consider adding a minute a week until you are comfortable sitting for the recommended 20 minutes a day.
Stepping into the Practice
Once you have committed to your time, place, and duration – not to mention your meditation outfit! – it’s time to step into your first session.
Find a comfortable Seat
Any posture where you can focus the mind and relax the body is suitable for meditation, that said, the cross-legged seat is the most commonly utilized meditation posture, partially because the body has the ability to rest in this pose over long periods of time. (Note that this doesn’t mean the lotus position where your ankles rest on your thighs, but rather simply sitting cross-legged on the floor as you did in Elementary school.)
The basics of this posture include:
- Crossed shins that allow the knees to widen as needed
- A cushion underneath the neutral pelvis so that the knees fall below the hips
- A tailbone that grounds and reaches towards the floor
- Firm shoulder blades that facilitate a strong back and an open chest
- Chin slightly tilted downward to reduce the urge to jet the neck forward
Find your body’s natural representation of this posture so that you remain upright and gently alert while still allowing for the bend of its natural curvature. If you become fatigued in this posture or you experience pain from injury, feel free to use a chair instead with both feet planted firmly on the floor. The most important point of the posture is that the body is facilitating an easy flow of breath for your practice.
Set an Intention
Once you have taken your meditation seat, take a moment to recall your motivation. What has brought you to practice today? Use the felt experience of your drive to set an intention for your practice. You may simply state, I practice today for the benefit of my mind, my heart, and my well-being. Remember, when we work to foster the health of our own consciousness, we are inherently working to heal the collective consciousness as well. Call on your intention in moments of difficulty that arise when you are in your session.
Follow the Breath
With your posture and your intention in place, begin to follow the sensation of your body breathing. This may be an instruction that feels conceptual but in fact, it is meant quite literally.
In meditation, we place our mind’s awareness on the inward and outward flow of the breath. You can find a place in your body where the feel of the body breathing is most evident to you. This could be in the rise and fall of your chest, the inward and outward pull and push at the nose, even the extension and retraction of your belly. Wherever it is, continue to bring your full attention to this flow of breathing.
When Thoughts Arise
The arrival of thoughts in meditation is not an “if” but a “when.” A common misconception of meditation is that we are meant to eradicate thoughts from our mind, that thoughts are bad, and that through meditation we can rid ourselves of thoughts.
This is an important (and an often misunderstood) aspect of meditation: Meditation is not the elimination of thoughts, but rather the re-prioritization of thoughts. Thoughts are a byproduct of the mind in the same way in which heartbeats are a natural result of the heart. They are the sign of a healthy, engaged mind. In our daily life, we make choices based on what those thoughts tell us. In meditation, we practice observing these thoughts instead of following and acting on them. We simply allow them to drop as they arise – asking them to allow for stillness, listening, and space.
When a thought arises, it wishes to take our awareness away from the breath and place it on something else, the subject of the thought. It is part of the training of meditation to acknowledge but not pursue a given line of thinking. For example, if you suddenly think of an email you need to send during your meditation, that’s ok! Acknowledge the thought for what it is, but rather than following it and thinking about everything you need to say in that email or other emails you might need to send, gently push the thought aside and instead return your attention to the breath.
This sounds easy in theory, but it can be quite difficult in practice, especially during longer meditation sessions. Remember that the breath is always there for us, anchoring our experience in the present moment, a place of accommodation for our holistic experience that is less focused on the mental and more available to a larger experience of reality.
Close with Gratitude
When your timer goes off and your meditation is complete, rest in the stillness that follows. See if you can’t hold on to the awareness that you have generated for yourself during the session. Even if the session itself was not particularly peaceful or calm, you may now, after the session is completed feel a sense of gratitude towards yourself for having practiced. You may even celebrate a bit, knowing you’ve completed something challenging that brings awareness and compassion to yourself and the world.
Things to Keep in Mind as Continue Your Practice
Congratulations on completing your first session! Here are some things to consider as you continue moving forward with meditation.
Attitudes for Meditation
Aside from the practicalities and instructions for meditation, there are a few key attitudes that one should keep in mind when meditating. It can be tempting to treat meditation like any other form of self-improvement chore to be checked off a list. On a mundane level that may be our experience of it, but the practice is less about accomplishment and more about evolution. Therefore, our focus is more on the perspective we bring to meditation rather than whether we are doing it “correctly.”
Meditation is nothing if not a practice of gentleness. It could be argued the practice is not about returning to the breath so much as it is returning to the breath, gently. When the mind inevitably wanders, notice the tone in which you ask yourself to return to the practice. This is the tone you likely take with yourself in all things. See if you can use meditation as an opportunity to practice softening that tone.
….But Also Discipline
In the meditation community, there is a phrase you will often hear, “not too tight, not too loose.” We neither want to be too hard on ourselves nor too careless. In meditation, we have the opportunity to be uplifted, alert, and aware. If you are a person who experiences lethargy, listlessness, and disinterest, you can use meditation as an opportunity to practice compassionate self-discipline. When you notice you have drifted from the breath, call on a bright, crisp, refreshing tone to ask you to return, staying on task through kindness and engagement.
Don’t Forget Humor
While it may feel like there is no place for humor in meditation, it could also be argued that there is no making it through the path without a healthy dose of this critical mood-lifter. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself or to let out a good long chuckle at the end of a session- you earned it! As Chade-Meng Tan, founder of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institution said, “Great spiritual teachers tend to be very funny people.”
Bringing in the Higher Self
With your mindfulness meditation practice in place, you are building yourself a foundation on which you can grow your connection to the present moment, deepen your spiritual capacity and prepare to step into conversation with the Higher Self.