Meditation is often thought of as this mysterious state that we need advanced training to achieve, but actually something similar to mediation can be achieved very simply anywhere and at any time. This is especially the case as there are multiple different types of meditation and it is actually pretty loosely defined. In cognitive behavioural therapy for example, a form of meditation known as ‘mindfulness’ is used in which the practitioner is taught to not block out all thoughts, but to allow them to ‘drift by in their mind like clouds’ so that they can recognise the contents of their own mind. Meanwhile some religions use meditation as a way to achieve ‘enlightenment’ or ‘oneness’ or to pray, and others will meditate ‘on’ a subject meaning they simply devote thought to it. Others will use meditation as a way to relax and to silence their thoughts, and this has been shown to have many positive effects, helping people to focus, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and generally improving calm and cognitive ability.
As such then, meditation should really be thought of as the ability to consciously control our thoughts rather than letting them control us all of the time. In particularly it is the ability to sometimes ‘shut off’ some or all of our thoughts so that we can concentrate or simply relax and allow our body and mind to recover. It is no wonder then that it results in a calmer existence and an increased ability to concentrate.
For many this is very hard to do and you often find that you end up with wondering thoughts that you can not silence. What may surprise you then, is that you probably have experienced states at least close to meditation on several occasions and can return to them at any point – even while going about your daily chores.
One quick way to reach a zen-like calm is to simply concentrate on your breathing, and many people already use this as a way of getting over fear or anger without even realising. It is the conscious control of thought using breathing techniques and in that sense it is meditation on a lower level. Simply when you find life is getting on top of you, take a moment out of the daily grind and concentrate on slowing down your breathing and on taking deep pleasant breaths. This does not necessarily mean using any particular breathing technique which might be specific to certain particular types of meditation, but can just be any simple and slower form of breathing that you find relaxing, and that will then have a positive knock on effect on your body, lowering your heart rate and countering the damaging effects of adrenaline.
There are many other techniques you can perform easily through the day as well which will help you achieve meditation like effects. For example, have you ever gone into a cinema to watch a film and come out feeling disoriented and confused? If so, then that is because you were so focussed on the film that you shut down other portions of your mind that weren’t in use. In particular this includes the ‘self aware’ thought processes that we consider to be our ‘inner voice’ which is what monitors our environment and our higher brain functions. This is what monitors the passage of time and puts it in context with what we are meant to be doing, and as such shutting it down will mean we do not notice time passing in the same way – which is essentially a meditative calm. A far surer way to achieve this is to sit down and read a book, while other people have less mentally taxing hobbies that can achieve the same concentration – for example painting for many people can make time pass quickly and all problems go out of the window. If you struggle to meditate as such then, taking up a hobby that you are passionate about can have just the same positive effects.
Finally learn to sometimes enjoy the smaller moments in life we have when we can relax. Whatever’s going on, we can almost always afford ourselves ten minutes out of our schedule to just relax. If not, even the time we spend in a lift or on a bus is time that we can relax. And yet most people spend these periods thinking about all the stress waiting for them when they arrive. Instead then, think of these points as a ‘bubble of time’ where you can relax completely and forget all worries and concerns. Put yourself into this bubble time whenever you get the chance and use your controlled breathing when you do, or read a book. Certainly learn that when you actually do have a day off, you can take the opportunity to really relax and make the most of having no commitments at all…