Have you ever stopped to consider how filthy your mind actually is? Not that kinda filthy…I’m talking about the backlog of junk you’re still holding onto. The way that guy on the subway knocked you this morning. The email you got from your boss yesterday. The argument you had with your sister last month. Rest assured it’s there. Collecting and calcifying into a rotting pile in your subconscious mind and hiding under the label “deal with this later”. A bit like NYC’s melting snow this Spring. All looks pure and pristine on the surface until the ice starts melting and you see the residual grit and grim of 5 months worth of trash. Walking down the sidewalk is like an archeological discovery of ‘what lies beneath’ and a brutal return to reality. Seriously, it’s scary what you’ll find.
We’re pretty fastidious when it comes to bodily hygiene, most of us averaging 1-2 showers a day. Yet when was the last time you gave your mind a proper scrub? And be honest - not with a bottle of vino but actually sitting still, in silence for more than several seconds?
Yes, I’m talking about meditation. That word that yogis, mystics and gurus have been espousing for centuries. That word that probably pops up in your newsfeed at least once a week with the latest scientific studies behind why it’s so important. That pesky thing that you know you should get around to doing, but it can just wait till you’ve got life sorted, right?
I don’t need to convince you of the merits of meditation. The list of benefits is endless and the science behind why it is important is ever growing - from boosting happiness, health, improving decision making, relationships…pretty much the antidote to everything.
So if we know it matters, why don’t we do it? And more importantly, how can we start doing it?
Here’s the secret….
Stop waiting for the right time to meditate. For you to be in the right state of mind. For the right teacher to teach you. For the bubble bath. For a quiet night in. It’s never going to happen and you know it.
All you need to do is just decide to start. Today.
“But I’m not good at meditating” - excuse me, since when did we start critiquing ourselves on our ability to sit and breath? Two skills we are all born knowing how to do. And yet, for some reason, sitting still in silence for more than 5 minutes seems like the most difficult thing in the world to do. Or something we have to be highly trained in, an evolved soul or sitting under a mango tree in India in order to be doing it properly.
You don’t need any of that. All you need is to begin. And here are 3 ways you can:
1) Get in the habit
5 mins. Can you give me 5 mins? Wake-up and before you pick-up your phone, before you do anything, sit, stand, or lie down (as long as you stay awake) and do this:
No need to force your breath or critique yourself. No need to worry about lotus position or the right finger posture. Just breathe. That’s it.
2) Observe Your Mind
Part of the anxiety towards approaching meditation can be the total bombardment of our thoughts. We’re told to ’Think of Nothing’. So our mind goes something like this: “think of nothing, think of nothing…but what is ‘nothing’?” And suddenly our mind is on a wild goose chase following all sorts of weird and scary thoughts. And then we get mad. “Why can’t I do the most basic thing in the world? I hate this. I feel more stressed out than when I began.” And just like that, we decide that meditation is not for us. Sound familiar?
But instead of forcing yourself to think of nothing (a difficult and a fruitless endeavor), noodle on this - According to Zen philosophy, you have two minds. The ’Thinking Mind’ the part that is constantly chattering and never stops. And then there is the ‘Observing Mind’. That’s the part that is not the thought, but the part that goes “wow, I am thinking all these weird and wonderful thoughts”. In our daily grind, we’ve fused these two minds together. But when we can separate them, that changes everything.
In meditation, we’re going for the ‘Observing Mind’. That’s the sweet spot of being able to separate yourself from being the thought and getting caught up in it, versus being able to just notice that it’s happening. It’s a bit like if I said don’t think of a red rabbit. Your thinking mind probably just thought of a red rabbit. But it was your observing mind that observed you thinking of a red rabbit. Your mind watching your mind.
Observing your thoughts, rather than being attached to those thoughts is the hairline difference that makes all the difference. The observing mind allows us to do just that - observe and simply separate ourselves from the thought.
So focusing less on having an empty mind and more on observing whatever comes up and accepting that you have that thought, will allow them to surface and disappear as quickly as they arrived. Less forcing, more observing.
3) Get some guidance
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a coach to guide you through the motions initially. I recommend downloading an app - I like Smiling Mind or Breathe that give you simple 5-20 minute mediations. Plus - they’ve gamified it. The more you do it, the more points you get. Who doesn’t love a sticker after a job well done?
And a final word for my achievement junkies out there whose internal PA is saying “I’m not doing anything. I should be doing something.” Don’t take it from me, take it from science. You are doing more than you could imagine by not doing anything. Studies in neuroplasticity have shown that 5 mins of sitting still can rewire your brain. Boom.