Meditation for Starters
Meditation has been used by many people for thousands of years to improve their well-being. Though many descriptions of meditation can be found on the internet, there are really no strict guidelines to what meditation is and how to properly conduct the practice. I wanted to provide my own personal take on meditation, what I have learned over the years, and how it helped me become a more relaxed and accepting individual.
If you don’t want to read the whole article here is the Too Long to Read (TLTR) to help summarize what I am going to be talking about:
- I learned that I accidentally was meditating as a child using imagination visualization techniques and still use these as tools today.
- I learned of meditation in college from a practicing Buddhist and philosopher
- Initially, it was hard to start to meditate but over time it became easier
- There are long-term positive effects of meditation and some negatives that are mostly not discussed
- You can use meditation to help yourself sleep at night or have an out of body experience
Now that we got that out of the way…
How I Got Started
When I was young I loved to have lucid dreams. I would do everything I could in order to cause them to happen. For those of you who don’t know what a lucid dream is, your essentially aware that you’re dreaming while dreaming and able to control the dream to some extent. I had learned that if I visualized something in my mind during the day, that I could have a more vivid dream at night. The way I did this is that I would take an object that I saw, such as a cup with some writing on it. I would then imagine the cup in my mind with my eyes open, and imagine what the other side of the cup would look like without seeing it. Think of this as daydreaming but of a 3D object in your mind’s eye. This greatly increased my dreams to be more vivid and rich with life. What I didn’t understand at the time is that this is a form of meditation.
Later in life, I decided to take a Buddhist class because I thought it would be easy and help me to improve my GPA. I didn’t really understand anything about Buddhist philosophy but figured that it would be fun to learn. What this class did was change my life and how I thought about life in general. It all started with meditation.
What I learned from this class is that anything that is letting go of thoughts and is allowing you to focus on one thing at a time, is meditation. I would say that I learned and started to practice what I like to call acceptance meditation.
I am sure there are tons of different names for the meditation practice that I am talking about but what I mean by acceptance meditation is that thoughts and ideas are not evil or wrong, it’s just that they are there. Watching them and allowing them to play out is what is important, not pushing them away. You are accepting that you have thoughts, whatever they are, and that by watching their story or how they process in your mind, you are aware that they are simply just stories. If you watch a thought whatever it is, it has a process to it. First, it will see really important, so important that its the only thing in your life. It has to get done now!
After watching it for a few moments you will see that it starts to change, it because less important and less and soon it floats away. If you do this as the observer watching the thought rather than being caught up in it you can see this process take place. Like a dream that soon is forgotten when you wake up, the super important idea will also be hard to remember as time goes on. A new and more important idea will have taken its place. This will cause you to wonder why this new idea is so important and the process will start all over. Doing this for some time will result in the learned behavior of seeing thoughts as temporary and eventually not to get involved in the story. You will watch them and learn from them.
Here is a good process explanation to be a little more clear:
- Sit in a quiet space that no one or thing will bother you
- Either have your eyes slightly open or closed
- Breath in and out of your nose or mouth whatever is most comfortable for you
- Wait a few moments and a thought or idea will fill your mind
- Watch the idea as an observer, don’t get involved in the conversation
- Watch it turn from being very important to less and less over time
- Eventually, the idea will be forgotten and a new important idea will pop into your mind
- Observe this process over and over again, nothing more
The process of doing this at first is really hard. Sometimes when I start this process I can have a lot of chatter going on, so much that sitting with it can just feel like too much. After working at this for some time though, I can really start to get things to quiet down to the point that I can observe the process. It takes time and takes hard work and a willingness to not get involved in the stories. Sometimes I have found that I am really just wanting to get into the stories, like someone who just wants to vent and complain to be heard. I think that everyone needs that and that is okay. Just eventually its time to let those things go…
Visualizations and Meditation
So remember that cup visualization that I was using as a kid trying to lucid dream? Well, I learned that the visualization of a falling feather as a representation of the thought that I was observing, would drastically increase my ability to observe it. First, the feather would be at the top of my visual field of view (with my eyes shut). Then it would start to fall. As it hit the base of my visual field of view it would drop onto some water and make a little ripple, and then would go away. This would start all over again as there are lots of feathers and thoughts to drop.
Just because I see a feather doesn’t mean that this is what you need to do. Everyone has their own way of seeing things or doing things. Whatever is your way is okay, as long as you are watching and seeing that things change. That is true meditation, an observation of what is.
The Good the Bad the Ugly
There are a lot of great things that meditation does for you. It physically improves aspects of your brain because you can clearly process information. Think of your brain as a series of water lines. If these lines are constantly filled up, they have no room for new stuff. Clearing out those obsessive thoughts and worries can make room for what is really important. The real science shows that meditation helps improve mood and helps reduce stress. Really some great stuff!
The downside to meditation practices is that it makes people more sensitive to experiences. I know from my personal experiences that when I am confronted with issues that typically wouldn’t have bothered me before, I am more likely to react to them. The reason for this is that I am more aware of how they affect me and that I would rather not be involved in that practice or way of thought. This, of course, is a good thing by my standards, but if your way of life, job, or family situation is something that is hurting you, you may be aware of this more.
Life can be ugly and many of us are involved in some pretty ugly things by our standards. This is not to say we cant change or will want to change once we start a meditation practice. Paramahansa Yogananda who came from India and started what we consider modern day meditation practices in America, was once confronted by a future student. The student asked him if he could continue to have sex with random women, the guru (Paramahansa Yogananda) said sure. The man then asked if he could continue to use drugs and get drunk. The guru said sure. The man then asked what couldn’t he do once he started to practice. The guru said that he could do anything he likes, but what the guru could not guarantee that once the man started to practice, that he would want to continue doing those things.
Mediation is not about getting your stuff together and then starting the practice. It’s about practicing to get your stuff together. If you wait to tell you got all the right things going on, well you will never start. I assure you that once you start over time it will get easier as your mind learns that life is a story and a story is great and wonderful, but nothing to get too serious about.
Meditation on Sleep
I use meditation every night that I go to bed to help me sleep. I use my visualization technique of the falling feather. I especially use this technique for nights that I cant sleep very well. It helps me focus on what is important at that moment, which is going to bed and getting a goods nights rest.
For those of you who are interested in lucid dreaming and having Out of Body Experiences, meditation and relaxation practices are key. You need to be able to relax and clear your mind of all thoughts long enough to be able to trick your body that you are asleep. This is just impossible if you’re worried about what you’re going to do tomorrow or how many calories you ate over your day. Sometimes it’s important to just give up these obsessive thoughts and go to bed.
Lee is the creator of Taileaters. He writes about sleep and dreams where explores the symbolic and scientific relationship between sleep and consciousness. He is currently is pursuing his Ph.D. in Jungian Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.
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