John Ward is a Pennsylvania state-certified Peer Support Specialist, Mensan, and unfortunate-therefore-fortunate possessor of over a decade of mental illness lived experience.
Mental Health Quick Hits is a recurring CBTN series of articles that cover pertinent topics and/or practices with utility in facilitating your coping with and ultimately recovering from mental health/mental illness issues.
Today’s article covers with extreme quickness and simplicity # easy steps you can take to immediately begin meditating.
HOW TO MEDITATE IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS
STEP 1: Find a quiet place.
Inside or outside, the latter weather permitting. As you advance your meditative abilities – which tends more often and not to mean “focus,” at least in this context – you can begin exploring meditation in places or areas with more external stimuli. At the outset, however, it’s best (read: easiest) to eliminate as many external factors as possible; look for place with little to no noise, a comfortable climate, minimal visual distractions, and a place to sit comfortably for an extended period of time.
STEP 2: Pick a two syllable mantra.
A mantra for meditation should be a two-syllable, nonsensical phonetic arrangement of sounds. Never tell anyone your mantra! It should be kept private and silent, extant only in your head. Both the two-syllable and nonsensical qualifiers are important! As an example, in the past I’ve used “AHN-FOON” because phonetically it sounds like breathing in and out and as far as I know it has no actual meaning (it has no personal meaning to me, which is the important part). You will repeat this syllables mechanically in rhythm with inhaling and exhaling (hence the two syllables).
STEP 3: Sit down.
Don’t lie down, but get comfortable. It may seem cliche, but the lotus position is a convenient place to start. Don’t get hung up on the terminology – just sit “Indian style.” The point of this is twofold: One, you won’t relax yourself into falling asleep, and two and to the opposite effect, you’ll still be comfortable enough that distractions like itches, aches and the like won’t hamper your ability to focus.
STEP 4: Close your eyes.
By now you’ve probably gathered the importance of eliminating external stimuli – this is because the objective you are aiming for is inner awareness. The place, mantra and position can evolve as you improve your skills (yes, meditation is skill, and like all other endeavors it gets easier with practice) to include scenarios with significantly more outside stuff going on, but again in the interests of just getting started, closing your eyes is one final step to eliminating outside influences.
STEP 5: Begin breathing slowly in and out.
Develop a comfortable rhythm. You shouldn’t be breathing so fast or deep that it distracts you, nor should you be taking such slow breaths that you have to pause or adjust your rhythm just to get some oxygen. Don’t over-think it – just let yourself fall into a rhythm. In through the nose, out through the mouth is a nice, simple method to start with.
STEP 6: Repeat the mantra you’ve chosen.
Match your arbitrary two-syllable mantra to your breathing rhythm. Syllable one on your inhale, syllable two on your exhale. Again, don’t over-think it. In fact, do your best not to think at all. Just focus on those two simple tasks – breathing consistently and repeating your nonsensical mantra.
STEP 7: Re-center.
Inevitably you’re going to succumb to distractions. You might suddenly find the whole situation ridiculous, or begin wondering if your mantra means something in some obscure language, or just realize you’re daydreaming about something completely random. Likewise you may initially be too tense to fall into a consistent breathing rhythm or get thrown off by noises, uncomfortable temperature changes or one of those pesky, untimely itches that seem to pop up just when things start to click. This is normal – just calmly reset, go back to Step 4 (close your eyes) if necessary, re-start your breathing and mantra, and let yourself drift back into meditation.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
The formless thought and the thoughtless form – meditation is not daydreaming; it is simple clarity. If you find yourself at any point having clearly defined thoughts – memories, things you need to do that day, concerns about your mental health and/or future – Step 7 yourself (re-center). To say these kinds of thoughts mean you’re doing it wrong isn’t exactly correct, but it does mean you’ve started to drift in the wrong direction.
When you truly nail meditation you’ll find yourself in what Western science calls a lucid dream. The key difference is that you’ll still be awake – you will be able to control the aspects of this new, inner reality as you see fit. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get there – and by a while I mean a number of sessions, not a number of minutes into your first session. You’ll find yourself better served by managing your expectations and accepting the fact that it’s going to take some time to reach this point – maybe even weeks or months. This doesn’t mean meditation is useless or “hard” – you’ll reap the mental benefits starting with session one. It simply means that (again, like any learned skill) you won’t be an expert right away. This is normal.
Don’t push yourself too far too fast – ten minutes is more than enough for a first “trying it out” session. Work your way up to half an hour, or an amount of time that fits into your schedule. Maintain discipline. Stick to the seven steps as described. Feel free to do your own research, but the second you decide it’s stupid, a waste of time, or too uncomfortable, it’s not going to do you any good.
I personally promise you that if you stick to this outline and stay with it, you will develop the ability to induce your own “lucid dreams.” Buddhists call this nirvana. It’s not as arcane as some would have you believe – it’s a skill, one you can learn and improve rather quickly if you set aside a small amount of time and develop a consistent routine.
Happy meditating! Feel free to posts your thoughts or results in the comments or in the CBTN community forum.