A four-part series exploring supportive habits to help ease our paths through life: journaling, meditation, nature immersion, and positive philosophy.
Adding to journaling’s daily benefits are those times I spend meditating. The benefits of quiet time with the mind are vast and far too many to cover in a short post here, but I’ll share the ones that have touched and helped me the most.
There are lots of mediation methods, from simple and flexible to ritualistic approaches found in Zen, TM (transcendental meditation), Vipassana, and many more. While I’ve taken some Zen training, my approach is for me easier and less ritualistic, although not without some steps and actions.
For me, the effort is well worth carving out 15-20 minutes most days to sit and quiet my mind. At least, aa best I can, despite the ever-present efforts of what Zen calls “monkey mind” or the internal, constant chattering “monkey” of our internal dialogue. Truth is, you can’t gag or fully tame the monkey, but you can learn to live with and accept it, thus living in harmony with the little, chatty, furry devil. Our monkey minds also help keep us on top of things. Only when he or she gets too excited does the noise become a deterrent.
The calming effect of daily meditation on the nerves, blood pressure, heart rate, and the ability to kick into a focus mode outside of meditation when you need it, become one’s toolkit through a meditation practice.
My technique is flexible, one where I usually sit in a chair but sometimes use a zabuton cushion with a zafu to floor sit. While floor sitting feels more traditional, the chair is often more comfortable. I sit straight with neck and head aligned vertically with the spine (this posture takes work to keep up during a session). Then I cup hands in my lap, take off my glasses, and keep my eyes closed.
For each session, I use a smartphone app, Insight Timer, to time sessions with opening/interval/ending bells or chimes. The free app also connects with other meditators in your area or beyond, which could lead to a community involvement if wanted.
As for technique, I vary between several. My Insight Timer presets’ interval bells helps me to switch techniques, if desired, for each interval (e.g., a 15-minute sit might have three five-minute intervals set up). The various methods I’m currently using:
- Follow the breath – Pay attention to your breath coming in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Feel the air flow, the temperature changes, and become aware of it moving down your windpipe, filling your lungs, and expanding your diaphragm, then as it exits your body. Breath normally, but with purpose. This method is a core one I use and helpful when the mind wanders too much.
- Counting breathes – Inhale normally, then on exhale slowly utter the countdown number, starting at five for the first inhale/exhale, then going down to one and finally zero. Stretch out each number (or word if “zero”) slowly so it takes the whole exhale breath each time to pronounce. Repeat the countdown string as needed. This also is a great technique to help quiet the monkey… a bit!
- What is this/I don’t know – A favorite of mine when dealing with something I worry about (physical or otherwise), this one helps detach myself from the need for answers and opens me to acceptance of what is. This technique consists of saying “What is this” mentally on inhale, then “I don’t know” on exhale. Repeat.
- Mantras – Occasionally I’ll add a mantra to help focus on acceptance of some particular need. Mantras (and technically the above “what/don’t know” is a mantra too) can be phrases, strings of words, or any repetitive thought you want to employ. Mentally state the mantra, associating parts of it to inhale/exhale if desired, and continually repeat the mantra during an interval or for the entire session. Examples (not exhaustive):
- “Peace, love, understanding” (e.g., series of words helpful to you)
- Empowering phrase or personal mantra (e.g., “No one can take my joy away from me.”)
- Part (or all) of the Lord’s prayer
- Chanting mantras (e.g., “Om Mani Padme Hum” – Buddhist mantra related to compassion)
However, wherever, whenever you meditate… it’s all good! Don’t feel you have to always formally meditate: I’ve had some great flash meditation moments on buses and such when I just closed my eyes and followed my breath quietly for three minutes.
And don’t feel meditation is a religious thing. It can be, but almost all I know who meditate are doing so to gain an inner sense of peace and better, learned control of their thinking. If you’ve ever taken yoga classes, then you’ve had bits of meditative time in each session. While some think of yoga as a “religion,” it shows mediation can easily be part of everyday life.