What Is This Meditation Thing All About Anyway?

Meditative Dawn Over Great Salt Pond

by Karen Keller Capuciati

I find that people are really interested when they discover I have a meditation practice.  They are genuinely curious about why I do it, how I do it, and what I get out of it.  Then I often hear one of these two responses:  “I wish I could meditate but I just have too many thoughts running through my head” or “I could never sit still long enough to meditate — I need to be constantly doing something.”

I have to smile at those replies, because, while meditation has had a huge impact on my life, I still have a mind that likes to banter on endlessly.  And my husband often complains that I can’t sit still and relax, that I’m constantly doing something.  Those qualities are not obstacles to meditation at all, as many people seem to think.  Nor are they likely to be erased immediately from your life by the practice of meditation.  There is no need to consider these qualities as problems or obstacles. They are merely another part of you, and meditation allows for all your qualities to coexist.

So, then, why meditate?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I didn’t really understand the value of meditation when I first started.  My yoga teacher, Jane, had suggested I try meditation — and gave me the name of a teacher — when I told her about the emotional difficulties I was having as a result of my father’s failing health, among other challenges I was facing in my life at the time.  I didn’t quite understand how meditation would help me with my emotional turmoil, but Jane’s instincts were very good.  Meditation has indeed had a profound influence on my life.

Let me give you an example:  An old pattern of mine was to run from difficult situations, try to avoid them at all costs.  If I was working on a task that I thought was too hard, I would often just abandon it.  If there was an emotional conflict, I would look to either placate or escape.  Even when Dad was in Hospice, I could feel that old pattern of wanting to bolt.  I could hear my mind screaming, “I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

But meditation has given me a different perspective.  Instead of just reacting to the fear and the discord, meditation has given me a greater awareness of situations in my life, as if I am the observer.  The observer then has the ability to choose how to proceed.  I was able to stay with my father in that critical time of his life because I had gained the strength and understanding to recognize the importance of being present at this time and override my old habit of avoidance.

If any of this speaks to you, then here are some ideas on how to incorporate meditation into your life:

  • Finding a meditation teacher is one way.  This is how I got started and what I recommend.  Your meditation experience with a teacher will be stronger — as mine has been with my teacher, Marilyn — because of the energy they bring to the process.  They will also guide you through the meditation, so you don’t have to worry about “how” to do it.
  • Locate a drop-in meditation group in your community.  You might find a group for beginner meditation that will offer some background and techniques for starting out.  Some of these classes may be free or “donate what you wish.”  Here are some ideas on where to find a meditation teacher or group: yoga, Pilates or martial arts studios; hospital integrative health centers; an organic food market; alternative health newspapers like Natural Awakenings; churches and temples might also have contemplation & prayer groups.
  • Listen to a meditation audio-CD.  Find one that interests you.  I got a few recommendations from my friend, Ann, who is a great yoga teacher.  One of her recommendations, Jonathan Foust’s meditation CDs, can be found on Amazon and you can take a listen before you order them.  Ann specifically mentioned Foust’s Art of Relaxation CD.
  • If you’re a reader, like Kim and I, here are two new books that have recently been recommended to us.  Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program, by Sharon Saltzberg, and Meditation For The Love Of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience, by Sally Kempton.  I am familiar with the authors, and I’m eager to read both books.  Kim is already reading Real Happiness.  There are really so many books about meditation, just find one that interests you.
  • As for actual process advice, try sitting on the edge of your bed for 5 minutes every morning.  Keep your mind clear — if your mind starts to race, gently bring your focus on your breathing.  Everyone can afford 5 minutes, and it’s a starting point for a great and productive habit.
  • Another beautiful way to meditate is to find a comfortable seat, set a timer for the amount of time you want to meditate.  Begin to take in every sound.  At first you’ll hear the most obvious sounds like an airplane overhead or a bird singing.  As you allow all sounds to be heard, you become aware of the subtler sounds, like the wind or your own breath.  You do not need to label the sounds as you listen, just focus on the sounds themselves.  Then take a subtle shift to allow your whole body to listen.  Every experience will be unique, but you may feel your whole body expand, and you’ll feel as if all the sounds are coming from within you.  Play with this – it’s so much fun!
  • If you feel your mind is too active to meditate, consider a walking meditation, tai chi or yoga.  These can be meditative, while the activity occupies the mind.

I hope you can see that there are many opportunities to incorporate meditation into your life.  The best advice is to find the practice that “feels right” to you and one that you can practice every day with joy.

One Response to “What Is This Meditation Thing All About Anyway?”

  1. Kim Matthews says:

    I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation for thirteen and a half years–long before my mother got sick–and I just picked up an additional technique to do at bedtime. I honestly don’t know how people manage to be caregivers without some sort of spiritual or stress-relieving practice. Whatever form you choose–whether it’s going to church, counting beads, walking, knitting or chanting, a meditation practice will strengthen and renew you.