We hear again and again how great meditation is for us. It helps with stress, sleep, blood pressure, mood, energy levels, and even changes the neurological structure of the brain (click here for a primer on some of the medical benefits of meditation). How can we develop a personal meditation practice that can actually be a part of our daily lives? Here is a simple meditation exercise. Aim to sit quietly for five minutes. Maybe the amount of time you can sit will lengthen; but even if you can only squeeze in five minutes, the benefits are real and proven. (And keep in mind the yogi adage: don’t just do something; sit there!)
There are a lot of ways to meditate. In my view, there is not a “wrong” way to do it. If you already have a system that works for you, stick with it. Otherwise, try this. Find a comfortable seat. It does not have to be on the ground cross-legged, though of course that works. You can sit in a chair with a back for support. You can even lie down (but beware the tendency to drift off into a nap). The goal is to be comfortable for a few minutes. Close your eyes. Place your hands in your lap. Bring your awareness to your breathe. I find it helpful to have a mantra – a word or phrase to say silently in my head on both the inhale and the exhale. Try “in” on the inhale and “out” on the exhale. Nothing fancy required. Why bother with a mantra? It’s the nature of the mind to wander, like an excited puppy. Having a mantra can help direct the mind, like keeping a puppy on a leash.
That’s it! What to do when the mind invariably wanders? (And it will, mantra or no mantra). Nothing, other than notice. And then come back to the breath and/or mantra. The goal is not to “clear the mind”; if you set out to do that, frustration will arise. Remember, it is the inherent nature of the mind to wander. Just notice and gently call it back to the breath.
Ironically, when you are gentle with yourself and don’t mentally beat yourself up when the mind wanders, you will find moments of mental stillness. Those moments are like a clear blue sky. Enjoy them, but try not to get too attached. The clouds will inevitably pass through again.