Meditation is like Marmite

Mentioning the word meditation tends to have a bit of a Marmite effect on people.

They either meditate and love it; or the thought of it instantly creates resistance.

Perhaps the thought of waking up at dawn to fit in an hour of meditation before heading to work, green smoothie in hand, has something to do with it. It’s hard to relate when you feel like you barely make it out of the door each morning with your children in tow and a black coffee in hand in lieu of breakfast (if you’re lucky!). 

Yes, tales and myths about meditation are plentiful.

Yet, it is probably one of the simplest and most accessible ways you can use to manage your mind.

“Why should we be managing our mind?” You may ask

Our brain works in such a way that we spend significant parts of our life living on autopilot, reacting to what happens impulsively. Without realising it, we rely on our quick default mode to react to our circumstances, rather than reflecting and responding more skilfully. The capacity to reflect and respond lies in our ability to notice, pause and make a wise decision before our autopilot starts running the show.

Many of us have forgotten how to be present in our life. With distractions all around us and the rise of smartphones, we are rarely truly in the moment. Moments come and go unnoticed. We are too busy scrolling, future planning, or going over that discussion we had last week with a colleague (replaying it in our mind more favourably). We don’t have time to be present!

Another moment comes and goes… and we miss that one too.

The truth is, without developing an ability to be in our life when it happens, we can’t make choices on how we want to interact with our experiences. And whilst they seem insignificant, these small choices are daily opportunities we have to lay the path for who we are becoming, and the life we wish to live.

Whether we are intentional about our actions and thoughts or not, they are like a dot-to-dot design that emerges more clearly with every choice we make.  We can be deliberate about these choices and choose the design we want to create. Or we can let our default mode make these choices for us.  In other words, we can let ourselves flow through life on autopilot or we can be intentional about the way we choose to live.

Put simply, meditation is a form of mind training which allows us to develop our ability to be more present. And in doing so, it opens up the opportunity for choice. 

As Viktor Frankl eloquently says:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

I don’t think meditation is for me because….

There are a lot of preconceptions about meditation.  You may be thinking: “I don’t think meditation is for me because … “

…I tried it a few years ago and it just didn’t do it for me.

One popular myth about meditation is that we either love it or hate it, there are no nuances.

In fact, there are many different types of meditation, from mindfulness meditation to Zen meditation, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, Qigong, and more. Meditations can also be guided (where a teacher guides you through the steps to follow) or unguided. You might have tried a particular type of meditation which didn’t resonate with you. If so, don’t give up. Explore other styles, and you might find one (or several) that work(s) for you. 

…My life is chaos, there is never a moment of peace.

Another widely spread belief is that you can only practise in a peaceful and serene environment.

Actually, you can meditate pretty much anywhere, any time. No need for props, waterfalls, or a perfectly peaceful setting – all you need is yourself and a willingness to try. I used to meditate on the train to work in the morning, surrounded by people, in the midst of announcements, the screeching noise of the train breaking and the occasional passenger chatter. Is it easier to meditate in a quieter environment? It probably is. But it isn’t indispensable.

…I’m really bad at meditation, I just can’t keep my mind quiet.

“Oh”, I hear you say, “but the last (and only) time I tried to meditate, my mind was all over the place, and that was only for a few minutes. Clearly that must mean that it isn’t for me”.  I can’t tell you how often I hear this from my clients and students. The practice isn’t in desperately seeking for the mind to be quiet, blank, or empty of thoughts. The practice is simply to be with what is, to notice what is, and to continually bring your awareness back to your meditation focus (your breath, a candle light, a pebble, or anything else around you) when it wanders. The only way you can fail at meditation is by not trying.

…I don’t have time to meditate, I barely have time to cope with life as it is.

You don’t need to meditate for hours. Start small and build up from there. To begin with, five minutes may be enough. Often, the times where we feel we are most rushed and stressed are the times where taking a pause is most important for our wellbeing.

…I don’t like green smoothies

Well you’re in luck. Green smoothies are optional (and honestly, they don’t taste as bad as they look)!

Intrigued and willing to give it a try?

If you are interested in managing your mind more skilfully and want to give meditation a try, here are a few simple steps to get started:

  • Find a comfortable position, whether it is sitting, lying down, or standing up. Start with noticing the touchpoints between your body and its support. For example, notice the soles of your feet firmly resting on the ground.
  • If that feels comfortable close your eyes or lower and soften your gaze to avoid being distracted.
  • Notice any tension you may be feeling in your shoulders, jaws, and in the skin of your face.
  • Slowly bring your awareness to your breath and simply notice the sensations of the breath within your body. 
  • Notice how it feels at the rim of your nostrils, in your nose, at the back of your throat, in your chest, perhaps in your abdomen. Notice where in your body you feel your breath the most. Can you sense the difference in sensations between your inhale and your exhale?
  • When your mind wanders, gently redirect it back to your breath. And congratulate yourself, you have just practised mindfulness! You were present, you noticed and you brought your mind back to the object of your meditation (in this case the breath). It is perfectly normal for your mind to wander, it happens to all of us, even the most experienced meditators. Don’t let it discourage you. The practice is in training your mind to notice and come back. It isn’t about desperately avoiding the mind wandering itself.
  • Stay here for as long or as little as you want. Gently blink your eyes open when are you ready.

Breath awareness is a great way to start a meditation practice. The beauty of it is that your breath is always with you. Whether you are on the tube, watching your children play sports or sitting at your desk in the office, you have all you need.

The key to learning any new skill is to practice regularly. You can’t learn to play the piano by playing once for a few minutes. Similarly, learning to meditate and training your mind takes practice and dedication.

There will be days where your mind feels like a still lake on a summer’s day and days where it feels like rough waves in the midst of a storm. Either way, simply practice with being with what is.

And don’t get discouraged. Remember that the work is simply in noticing when your mind wanders and bringing it back to your focus.

What do you think, could you dedicate five minutes of your day to learning to manage your mind and live more deliberately?