When can you say that you have mastered meditation?
Mastering meditation is simply meditating regularly. Are you? For every regular meditator there are 10 people that have tried and stopped. Check out our online guided meditation modules on the 'More than Just Mindfulness' podcast. They have been designed to help you learn to meditate and build a sustainable practice. You can choose what to listen to and when and all for free.
About Learning to Meditate
Meditation is officially hard. Every article and book on meditation says this. In reality, it is only Difficult because of the way it has been taught Traditionally. If you’ve tried meditatiojn, you will pfrobably have experienced the busy mind that meditators in the East call the Monkey Mind. For most new meditators, the monkey mind becomes a frustrating experience.
When I first learned to meditate, I like most meditation teachers, learned the traditional way by sitting for a set time each day and trying to focus on my meditation experience with willpower and focus. Doing this typically makes meditation an uncomfortable experience which we are expected to overcome through willpower. It soon just becomes yet another chore that we feel we ‘must do’ because it will be good for us like exercise and dieting. We then need to fit in our meditation sessions alongside, work, commuting, family, exercise, socialising, me time and so-on.
Meditation rarely wins this competition for our time and attention.
Before we go into the details and provide you with the resources (online meditation courses built from a set of podcasts) you need to build your practices, we need to address any misdirection you may have received from being taught the traditional way and lay the groundwork for you to build your practices in a frictionless way.
“The undistracted awareness of the experience of the present moment”
- my definition.
Mindfulness is a natural trait, a natural state of mind. Nothing more, nothing less.
What is Mindfulness?
When your cat walks across your lawn, that is mindfulness. If you are alone in the dark, in nature, say in a forest for example, that is unfamiliar, you become hyper-aware, aware of every sound and movement. The busy modern mind becomes relatively silent. That is mindfulness. When a sniper focuses on a target to the exclusion of everything else and connects to the sensation of the rifle, and a visual connection to the target, that is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is our sentinel mode. It is how we monitor our environment. Mindfulness is part of our birthright as human beings, part of our genetic blueprint. Mindfulness is how we are designed to be in nature and in unfamiliar territory. Alert, open, calm, relaxed, ready and balanced. We are all born with this capacity but we get incrementally overloaded by the modern world which brings a state of constant distraction and rumination while we struggle to manage the ever growing complexity that we experience.
Why we need to Meditate to experience Mindfulness
Over our lives, we unlearn Mindfulness. Day-by-day it is driven out of our experience by the frantic nature of our modern lives. To return ourselves to being accessing this natural state of mind, we need to retrain ourselves to do so. We do this with mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation is how you can relearn Mindfulness.
This is why I made these podcasts available online. So you can create your own guided meditation courses that you can listen to whenever and wherever you want.
With the growth of the mindfulness community has arisen a number of practices where students can assist their present moment awareness during their days but I need to clarify something here.
Don’t think that if you adopt some of these day-to-day practices especially things like mindful eating, art, colouring etc. that you will somehow not need to learn to meditate.
Sorry but No Meditation, No Mindfulness.
Meditation is a safe way of exploring our inner experience so long as (very important this), the meditations ‘only’ consists of observation. If you discover meditations that include affirmations or mood changing or belief changing elements treat them with care as there are often unintended consequences.
Whenever I teach a meditation that might alter your mood, such as gratitude for instance, it is with the sole objective of enabling you to observe that experience, never of changing your inner experience. Your inner experience will inevitably change in time as you meditate more. There is no need to change anything directly.
We do not regulate the breath in mindfulness meditation. We observe the breath.
If you are a novice meditator, do not chase after imaginative inner experiences at an early stage, say within a year, no matter how tempting it might be, and how fun it might become. You need to put in place a firm foundation before you go exploring the mind.
Everyone has a unique response to meditation. Ensure that the meditations you adopt are a frictionless and a positive experience for you. If you visit The Restful Mind podcast you will find a library of meditations recorded at my guided meditation courses.
If you experience any troubling emotions when meditating, or about meditation, let me know. I will find you an alternative meditation or practice. Mindfulness meditation is a passive observation of the breath and an awareness of the thoughts arising and subsiding but we can also focus on other elements of our present moment experience which can. make the discomfort far less..
You may experience positive emotions, a sense of connection or even euphoria when meditating. This is fine, enjoy it, just don’t expect it all the time.
Following the breath is the basic practtice of mindfulness meditation.
The script has four lines:
Notice your breath
Your mind will wander
Return your attention to the breath
The Following the breath meditation is at least 2,600 years old.
It was taught by Buddha and is documented in the Pali Canon, writings on the life of Buddha, in a chapter called the Anapanasati Suta.
Why does Following the Breath matter so much?
If you only practiced following the breath for, let’s say between fifteen and thirty minutes per day, you would over time, accrue all of the benefits available from any meditation. There is no need to do any other meditation.
But, and it is a big but, the chances are that you won’t do that. The likelihood is that at some point you will drop your practice.
Why is something so simple, so difficult to practice?
There are many reasons that students stop practicing meditation but high up the list is that the practice becomes uncomfortable as we discover first-hand how busy and destructive our minds can be. Also if life is moving at a thousand miles per hour you Will struggle to fit it in. Other reasons are that there appears to be no progress and the measure of progress is unhelpful for a new meditator such as a desire to switch off your stress or silence your mind. These are unhelpful goals when working with the mind.
It is difficult to introduce and maintain, in a frantically busy life, an activity that not only has no instant payback, but that only has the word of fluffy meditation teachers and optimistic sounding scientific studies as evidence. If you make meditation a goal-oriented and willpower based activity your chances of building a sustainable meditation practice is slim. I did it only because of sheer luck. I discovered, by chance, a practice that allowed me to work through my personal baggage and release it layer by layer. I had misread and misunderstood a meditation from a book by Eckart Tolle but this practice turbocharged my progress and I became seriously motivated to continue. These sort of experiences aren’t unusual for long-term editators but to get there I had spent years following the breath.
The reason that following the breath is enough on its own is that all experiences will arise in it over time. All your emotional baggage, all your doubts and fears and worries and anger and guilt and shame and grief and resentment and everything else. Over time, following the breath becomes the lens through which we witness the arising and the passing of our entire lives. It is the cornerstone of meditation, the essential foundation and every other practice leads to it or stems from it.
The way that all of this gets processed, isn’t by wallowing in our misery in a stressful meditation experience but by discovering, over time, softly, gently and calmly that all of this discomfort can’t compete for our attention with the simple and neutral experience of the rising and falling of the breath. At some point, this experience of what we call ‘returning to the breath’ becomes an activity that is triggered by any life difficulties, adversities or stressors.
But in any case, as you aren’t going to keep it up on a daily basis (I didn’t. I tried and failed to learn to meditate many times over the course of twenty years before it finally clicked in my thick head!), then we need another strategy. One that is informed by what I have learned and also by, more importantly, my failures.