You know how you’re mind spins and works all day, regardless of what you are doing? You know how you say that you should try meditating but, rarely follow through? What I’ve found is there are two major obstacles that stop people from adopting a meditation practice. The first is that they don’t know what they will get. Just like any purchase, people want to know what value they are getting for their time. This is a difficult question to answer because if you’ve never experienced the benefits of meditation then words like “presence” and “the Now” won’t mean much to you. One of the realities of meditation is that it takes a significant amount of work just to get to the “starting line”. This means that there is a high likelihood that you will remain fully immersed in 100% thought until, well, you’re not. When you reach the point of which you are only in the Now, this will start to make more sense and you will begin to see the value of a mindfulness practice. The second barrier to meditation is the “How To”. This is not taught in most schools, most homes, or anywhere for that matter. Yet, it is so insanely simple that even a small child can understand. Here is my 4-Step Guide to Meditating.
Step 1 - Get Comfortable
This one should be fairly easy since you do this every day. The difference is that, this time, you want to get “really comfortable”. Try to relax every single muscle of your body, piece by piece. Check in with your toes and then move up all the way up into your face muscles and jaw. You may not even realize that you are holding tension somewhere in your body until you begin to scan through it. Don’t worry so much about how to sit in the beginning. Maybe you want to sit with your back against the couch, maybe you prefer cross-legged on a cushion or maybe you feel better laying down. There is no wrong or right way to adjust yourself so just listen to what your body wants.
Step 2 – Breathe
Once you feel your body is relaxed and comfortable, begin with a few deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. As your breath slows to its natural rhythm, cover it with your attention as it flows down into your lungs, expanding your chest, and then gently out through your mouth as you feel your whole body relax even deeper. It may be helpful to try a few breathing exercises such as square breathing or alternate nostril breathing to keep your mind occupied. Remember, your mind is like a small child. If it doesn’t have a task, sometimes it will run around and do all kinds of weird stuff.
Step 3 - Be Aware
This is one of the most obvious practices of meditation yet, the most difficult. The goal is to essentially be aware of anything that arises within your experience in each given moment. What this will often look like is a focus on either the breath, sounds, bodily sensations or thoughts. What you may quickly realize is that you are pulled away from your focus by short stories and movies within your head. Sometimes they are relevant and sometimes they are completely random. However, if you find yourself lost in thought, do your best to see if you can slow down and capture their image or flavor the moment they enter into your awareness. When you start to become aware that you are not this body, this ego, this “self”, you are no longer bound by the petty wants and needs of it. Of course, it seems almost impossible to stay here forever and those things you have to do to stay alive and well are not going to go away but, this experience of “one taste” or “presence” will certainly give a warm, welcome, respite and fresh perspective to the continual babble of anxiety, fear, and obliviousness that is currently running the show.
Step 4 – Return
As is the way with achieving anything that is difficult, don’t give up and return to your work every chance that you have. Every return to your consciousness is like a spiritual push-up or sit-up. You will undoubtedly get sidetracked, lost, disoriented, bored, fatigued, and uninterested. This is all valuable information to notice, too. What is it that happens you when you sit still? What does bored, fatigued, or lost feel like? Where do you go when you’re not here? What do you think about? Amidst all the breath and body work, you will also receive revelations on what really goes on within your mind. This is part of the fun! And then next time you get distracted by that to-do list, that thing you should have done, or that tornado of nonsense, gently return again…and again…and again. You are here. You are now. You are meditating.
Don’t roll your eyes at me! This is one of the most crucial ingredients for a happy and fulfilling life. Nearly all meditation studies dating back to the 1960’s have discovered that “consistent meditation” greatly improves positive emotions and reduces depressive episodes. Not to mention, it has shown to create slower brain waves (gamma waves) that increase relaxation and focus. Without watching how our mind works, we risk letting it run around on auto-pilot. And, if you haven’t noticed, our default auto-pilot settings are mostly busy, stressed, and unaware. Not to mention, without stillness, how will we ever be able to know what we truly want without all the internal garble, badgering us non-stop? Just imagine what meditating 10 minutes per day for 30 days could do for you.
Total Time: 300 minutes
I don’t just mean from your bed to your car, I mean…really move! A study by the National Institute of health showed that regular moderate cardiovascular exercise will greatly increase your dopamine output and dopamine reserves. Thus, more happiness! Not to mention, even light, regular movement has been shown to improve immune response, improve sleep, combat disease, boost energy, and control weight. So, subtract 5 hours of Netflix, Snapchat, or Facebook from your week and get moving! What would your body and mind feel like after 1 month of regular exercise?
Total Time: 1200 minutes
How many times have you been so absorbed in what you were doing that you forgot to eat or failed to eat when your body needed food. This is a reality for most of us. We then scarf down whatever food we can get our hands on and then move on with life. Later, we feel full and tired and then, interestingly enough, hungry again. This happens because this type of irregular eating has us on a blood sugar roller coaster. According to research published by the University of Illinois, eating regular meals and snacks at the same time every day helps stabilize blood sugar levels. When healthy meals and snacks are consumed on a regular basis, our body feels better, our minds feel better, and we feel happy! Add in 45 minutes per week for an extra shopping trip or some simple meal prep and let the good times roll!
Total Time: 180 minutes
Talk on the phone!
This one shouldn’t even take any extra time because, according to ComScore’s 2017 Future in Focus Report, Americans spend about 3 hours per day using their cell phones. What I’m suggesting is that you set aside intentional time for one, 30-minute, phone call per week where you call someone you care about and simply connect. Don’t just ask about the weather or how work is going; ask meaningful questions like, “What’s the best memory of your life?”, “What was your childhood like?”, or “What is at the top of your bucket list?” People will feel loved and connected through your curiosity and attention. Studies on happiness have shown that, at the end of one’s life, relationships were the #1 thing that they came to care about and remember the most.
Total Time: 120 minutes
Happiness is essentially like a game, except that it’s really not fun when you’re losing. In fact, it’s so easy and culturally acceptable to get “used to losing” that the bar has been lowered significantly. We just assume that being “busy” or “stressed” all the time is part of life. It is for most people but, it doesn’t have to be that way. When you’re in the flow of life, (and I’m sure everyone has experienced this to some degree) it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your external world. It doesn’t matter if someone cuts you off in traffic, what your bank account looks like, or if your partner is in a negative mood. You are just….happy. So how does anyone get really good at any game? They work with someone who is an expert in that field! Duh! Here’s the deal, you have your way of doing things and your way works as best as it can but, anyone wise person knows this: “You need a guide, you need a tribe, and you need to ask for help.” Without this, you are wandering through this game alone, probably missing out on a lot more happiness that you realize. Schedule one hour per week to talk to a coach or therapist who specializes in your area of struggle.
Total time: 360 minutes