The How and Why of Meditation

Musings on Meditation II

This is the second in a series of posts on meditation. Read the first here.

Disclaimer: The world of meditation is vast and complex, just like you and me and all human beings. Different lineages, schools of thought, religions and traditions have different approaches. Feel free to to form your own opinions, get curious about what I say, disagree with me, and discover your own path. What follows is an expression of my own views, experience and learning.

Now that you’ve understood (and possibly experienced) what meditation can be like: relaxing, casual, delightful, aligned with your heart’s desires…let’s dive in a little deeper. This post is really about how to craft a meditation practice that works for you. Read on for my tips and ideas, and remember: be as creative, imaginative and true to yourself as you can. There are no wrong ways, only your ways.

3. Clarify your intentions (ie. why you want to meditate)

It may seem obvious, but knowing why you want to meditate will make it much easier to create a meditation experience that works for you. The answer to this question needs to be personal, because meditation is personal. Note that ‘because it’s good for me’ isn’t a specific enough intention to actually help in making choices about how to meditate. In clarifying your intention, you are seeking insight or information that will help you narrow down your options from the vast array of meditations available into something tangible that you can be guided by. Your intentions, like your desires, are guiding stars to help you navigate the complex world of meditation and chart a course that gets you where you (specifically) want to go.

Here are some questions that may be useful to reflect on. These can be helpful whether you haven’t yet started to meditate or have been meditating for a long time (just adapt as needed):

  • what do I want to feel more or less of by meditating?
  • why am I drawn to meditation?
  • what about meditation appeals to me, and what doesn’t?
  • is there anything I don’t want, don’t like, or find off-putting about meditation?
  • what qualities of life are important to me, that I want to cultivate in myself?
  • what do I need (in this moment, or over the long-term)?

Reflecting on these questions will tell you whether your meditation will be more about (for example):

  • self-care and support
  • helping you sleep better
  • recovering from illness, pain or stress
  • celebrating and appreciating the beauty of life
  • planning and organising your day
  • honing your skills and instincts
  • connecting with a higher power
  • enhancing self-awareness
  • supporting intimacy in relationship
  • or any of the other things that meditation can help with.

Needless to say, you can have multiple, overlapping intentions and goals, and meditation can end up serving you in ways you never even imagined. However, for the sake of ease, keep your reflections simple and close to the essence. This way you will be able to guide yourself towards what matters most to you in this moment.

4. Be yourself (ie. adapt your practice)

Meditation is an arena to discover and celebrate your individuality and uniqueness. It is not a one-size-fits all approach. In a room full of people meditating, everyone is having a different experience, and this diversity should be encouraged and relished as much as possible. To that end, whenever you are learning or hearing about meditation, remember to adapt as much as you adopt.

Please know that there is no better or worse in terms of technique or time or anything else when it comes to meditating. The best way is the one that works for you, taking into account your preferences, personality, inspiration, life situation and circumstances. There are many variables involved in meditation, and no one correct answer or way to do it. Some possibilities for adaptation include:

  • duration: meditate for anywhere between 1-20 minutes
  • frequency: meditate 1x, 2x or multiple times a day or week
  • time of day: meditate when you wake up in the morning, while you are commuting, as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break, during lunchtime, in the evening, before bed, or when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep
  • place: meditate in your home, in bed, on your couch, in the shower, outdoors in nature, or anywhere else you’re comfortable
  • position: lying down, sitting, standing, moving around, dancing, or in any other movement or position
  • style: what kind of meditation you do, also known as your ‘doorway’ or technique
  • accessories: anything you may choose to use to support your meditation, eg. music, movement, essential oils or incense, art or visual stimuli, food or drink, other beings or people, physical supports like cushions, blankets etc.

There are infinite ways to play with, explore and modify a meditation experience or practice. Everything you do should be guided by your own experience of what works and what doesn’t. You are the expert. Think about crafting your meditation as you would a custom-made, exquisitely tailored pair of shoes. You are as unique as your feet and the terrain you walk on, so keep fine-tuning your approach and seeking out the perfect fit for you and your needs in each moment.

5. Trust your instincts (and use common sense)

It is very important to cultivate a healthy trust in your own instincts as you explore the meditative journey. Your instincts are nature’s wisdom expressing in you, steering you away from what could be dangerous or unhealthy, and showing you what could help you survive, adapt and thrive in your environment. Instincts come from a very deep and ancient part of our biology, and are an essential way that we know ourselves and the world. Of course, our instincts can occasionally be wrong or misguided, which is why we supplement them with other ways of knowing (emotional, rational, spiritual, common sense etc.) However, by and large, it is healthier and safer to trust rather than suppress your instincts, and to give them their due weight as valuable sources of information that have served us for millennia.

Since meditation is such an individual and intimate experience, our instincts are an excellent ‘barometer’ for the health of our practice. To state the obvious, it is basically about how we feel before, during and after meditation, both in the short-term and the long-term. Each of us will have our own language to describe how meditation affects us, but in general: if you feel more relaxed, free, alive, joyful, connected… then you’re on the right track. On the other hand, if meditating makes you feel anxious, closed, drained of energy, detached, dissociated, annoyed, or frustrated, then something is wrong with your approach or your framing (not with you).

You can use your instincts to evaluate not only your meditation itself, but anything anyone tells you about meditation too. If you are introduced to something or try something that just feels wrong to you—beyond the normal feelings of anxiety when we encounter something novel or unfamiliar, and actually wrong deep down or wrong in some fundamental way—then trust yourself and stay away from it. At the very least, if you choose to still proceed, exercise great caution and re-evaluate frequently. It is your responsiblity to protect yourself from harmful or toxic ideas that can and do arise in certain situations and environments. If, for example, your meditation makes you doubt or critique yourself excessively, and does not encourage your innate wisdom, that is a definite warning sign to re-evaluate what you’re doing.

Be honest as you evaluate, so that you can get true feedback and make the best choices and adaptations that work for you. There is no point trying to fool or convince yourself into liking something that you actually dislike. It is counterproductive, unnecessary and exhausting. Just accept that you like some things, and don’t like others, and use what you love as an indication of what to nurture and encourage in yourself. Makes things simple, right?

See you in the next post for more about emotions and the natural rhythms of attention.

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