We are constantly bombarded with recommendations to meditate, but being actually told why to do so – other than the general response of that it relaxes you. Which it certainly does. But what does it actually mean, to meditate? To many people, meditation evokes images of a silent monk, or maybe even a yoga teacher. But you don’t have to be either of these things in order to meditate.
Besides, meditation isn’t just for spiritualists and yoga instructors. It’s for everyone, and is especially powerful for those with emotional blockages and sources of stress. 2020 has certainly been a source of stress, as it is a year unlike any other, at least in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the social distancing and economic downturn because of it. The reckoning of police brutality, racial injustice. Self-care and a peaceful mind equipped to handle these events are not only good for you, but emotionally needed for stability. Meditation is a powerful way to achieve that.
Why? Because meditation is healing. Not healing in the sense that you are suddenly going to be disease free, or will instantaneously feel at peace with everything and everyone. Instead, meditation enables the mind to calmly handle any new stress and anxiety. According to Lauren Schuivens, a transformational facilitator and meditation teacher of Samavira, meditation can turn your mind, which is so often full of negative thoughts, from an enemy into a friend. The way that this happens is fairly simple:
During meditation, the mind focuses on one, or maybe two things, such as your breath or the trees you see on a walk. But the point is, it is focused narrowly and exclusively on that. When the mind is focused, the mind is able to become peaceful and relaxed. It doesn’t have what is known as “monkey brain,” when the mind leaps from thought to thought, much like a monkey leaping from branch to branch. The mind instead reflects something still and quiet.
This may prove to be a difficult task, initially. Which can be especially true if there are kids, phones, or your pet to distract your mind. But if you stick at it, ideally everyday, or most days of the week, the mind will be able to relax into that place much more readily. You’ll likely even find that it can stay in that peaceful place for longer periods of time, and may even carry over when you’re not meditating.
When meditating, instead of attempting to push or force the mind into a space where no thoughts are allowed, focus on one singular thing. This can simply be the breath. When drawing attention to the breath, don’t worry about the quality of the breath, or what you think it should be for meditation. Just noticing it is enough. If you want to add on, perhaps think of a mantra, which is a repetition of sounds or words. You can internally repeat the sanskrit sound “om” or maybe think of an affirming, positive mantra, such as “all is bright.” Perhaps you even think it matches the rhythm of your breath. Adding some sort of visualization may help, too. This can simply be thinking of a bright color, perhaps expanding with your breath.
But there are other ways to meditate besides breathing, mantras, and visualization. Sitting outside, taking a walk in nature, watching the waves at the beach. All of this is meditation, too. If the sitting down form of meditation appeals to you the most, you can incorporate it in your day-to-day life, too. It can be sitting in the metro, or at a stoplight.
Lauren says that visualizing or focusing your attention at your belly around your belly button is useful. This is because the belly is the center of the body. When the focus is there, the mind is able to sink deeper and deeper into the body. Schuivens says that this can lead to “meditation sensations,” like understanding, weightlessness, and bliss. Which sounds pretty amazing.
Sticking to your meditation, whatever it looks like, creates that more peaceful mind. When you are equipped with a peaceful mind, navigating through stresses and past traumas become a lot more easy. You are able to approach them with greater clarity, and with a mind that is free from the negative tangles surrounding the stress or blockages. And if a stressful or negative situation arises or if you get burnout from all that 2020 has brought with it? The more often you practice meditation, the more likely you’ll be able to quickly go to your peaceful mindset.