Meditation can be a scary word. I used to feel it was akin to locking myself in a cage with a tiger (my mind being the tiger). I loved my mind, my intellect, so much and all the fabulous things it could do, all at once. My agile mind made me feel powerful, but when it came to observing this wild nature on a meditation cushion and applying effort to control and silence it, well- the cracks became exposed, battle ensued and I became the underdog.
You see, when I am identifying with my mind, I am so fully absorbed in its frenetic dancing, that I cease to realise that it's really utter chaos going on-- a mish-mash of past and future, expectation, hindsight and mayhem-- no wonder we get stressed. Once I attempted to set myself at a distance and observe the mind, I noticed this freneticism is not power at all, it’s weakness. The more my mind falls at the feet of multi-tasking (what I previously perceived as agile feats of mental dexterity) the split–focus and fracturing became habit and weaken my mind's power.
Meditation shows we can regain our mental strength through single pointed focus. And thus it is THE essential training for a strong (stress free) mind. But it need not begin by chaining yourself to a cushion and battling your mental demons head-on. There are mindfulness training exercises you can use as a bridge to practice single pointed focus in your everyday life.
2 essential conditions to create a bridge from active mind to meditative mind
1) single pointed focus
But what the heck do I mean by that?
Well if ultimately meditation is about controlling the movements of the mind and so we can become absorbed in our true self, deeply present in the bliss state of Samadhi, we can train for this by establishing single pointed focus while out in the world and practicing (this is the key word) deepening our absorption in this focal point.
You know the feeling when you are in ‘the zone’? It may come when you are in a creative space- writing, playing music or crafting; or while you are in nature- gardening, hiking or surfing; or while you are engaged in physical activity- yoga, at the gym or running. We all have the capacity to drop into a zone where our mind naturally dives deep into the task at hand and become so viscerally present you may lose track of time, have little control over what you are doing and feel as a creative force is working unconsciously through you and afterwards you may even struggle to remember what happened.
This ‘in the zone’ feeling is the stage I am talking about, the bridge from busy over active mind to slower brain waves and single pointed focus. A perfect training ground for meditation and proof you can get there!
Typically in yoga we begin by syncing movement and breath to establish this state of mind. The past and the future dissolve and there is only NOW. Then we may practice focused Pranayama (breathing exercises) to further deepen our absorption, pacify the nervous system and therefore quiet the mental activity.
6 mindful practices to prepare you for meditation.
Try these at home to access this ‘bridge’ for yourself out of the chaos of racing thoughts and prepare to one day, sit on a cushion and ‘meditate’
1. Pause. Take 3 deep breaths. Feel the breath moving in and out of the body. The breath is always present; never past or in the future. Practice watching the breath even just for 3 breaths, whenever you remember to do so, and you will be present.
2. Washing up: Not one of my favourite jobs, but to just experience the sensation of warm water and moving the dishes about, cleaning them with full presence, makes it far more enjoyable (and I feel calmer too). NB—you can try this with any chore that is repetitive and relatively simple.
3. Gardening: Feel the textures- the soil between your fingers, the textures of the plants and leaves. Smell the dirt, the flowers. Awaken to the sounds of being outside. Activate all your senses and become absorbed in the task of being in your garden.
4. Cooking: Best done with a recipe you know by heart. Allow yourself to be absorbed in the ingredient preparation. Feel each ingredient, slice, dice, do you thing with absolute engagement in what you are making. Soak in the colours, smells and tastes (go on, have a sample)
5. Walking: Forget reading your phone as you walk and instead - Feel the ground beneath your feet. Feel the body in motion. Feel how your weight transfers from one foot to the other and the ripple effect of placing the foot on the ground, up the lower leg, knee and hip. Feel how the torso and arms wish to move. No need to change anything, just observe. Play with the gaze too, you can open up peripheral focus and allow the eyes to drink in all the scenery, rather than just focusing on your route.
And if you are walking with other people around (crowds can be a lot of fun here to sharpen your focus) still using our peripheral focus, identify the gaps between people. Allow the task of weaving through the crowd to deepen your absorption.
6. Eating: Allow your gaze to take in the food you are about to eat even before it touches your lips. Acknowledge where the food came from and give thanks. Raise the food to your lips, smell, feel and finally taste. As you chew, really zone into the tongue and taste the flavours-- some may light up before others. Experience the dance of sensation in the mouth. Pay attention to everything. Chew sufficiently until the food is soft enough to swallow. Feel the aftermath of the empty mouth, with lingering sensation before taking the next bite.
AND... Keep practicing! The journey is the destination.