Meditation is something that different people use for different things. Some use it to try and achieve a kind of ‘enlightenment’ in the hope that they can reach some kind of higher level of consciousness. Others try and use it to think – to ‘meditate’ on a subject and hopefully come away with a great deal of understanding. Some use it for prayer in a variety of different religions. Others use it just to relax and to try and feel better about themselves. In cognitive behavioural therapy, ‘mindfulness’ is a form of meditation used to try and not shut out thoughts, but to take a step back and listen to their content in an attempt to better understand yourself. In Tai Chi meditation is something you aim to do while in movement. With all these different types of meditation and all these different uses, one would be forgiven for thinking that there could be no hard and fast rules to abide by and that it is very much a personal experience that you can choose to engage in a variety of different ways.
And in thinking that you would be very much correct; it is fair to say that there are no real ‘set’ rules when it comes to meditation. However what’s also important to bear in mind is that in all these types of meditation there is a common theme – you are trying to direct your thought. Whether that means silencing your inner voice, listening to it, or applying it to solving a specific puzzle of problem. Meditation then is the conscious effort involved in directing your thought and in tightly controlling the content of your mind. And of course there are certain things you can use to improve your ability to do this.
First of all then, it is important to make sure that you are in a comfortable environment and that you have as close to silence as possible. At the same time, you should try to avoid distracting thoughts and focus on what you are trying to meditate on. However what you mustn’t do is to place too much emphasis and thought on the act of meditating. The thing is here that by placing too much stress on things being perfect you become stressed and less able to relax. For example, the minute you think ‘I mustn’t get an itch’ you will find you become covered in them. Some people will even mistakenly believe that they have to be completely still and thus will not scratch the itch – it is very hard to concentrate or achieve enlightenment when all you can think about is your nose. Allow yourself some time to settle in to your meditation then, and do not worry too much if your thoughts wonder a bit, or if you start to itch. Just do what you have to do to stay comfy.
Do not be too comfy however as this can create another problem – falling asleep – which is definitely in the category of meditation ‘do nots’. If you fall asleep then you will not be achieving a new brain state, but will instead just be achieving one that you are very familiar with and that you in fact spend half of your life in – sleep. This is one reason that many who practice meditation use the lotus position – as it prevents them from being able to drift off and also gives them something physical that they can concentrate on in order to focus their thoughts, while slightly numbing their legs. You can achieve something similar by sitting on a wooden chair, or even just on the floor, but not lying back on a sofa or bed in the dark. If you are really dedicated you could even make yourself a one legged stool – these force you to stay away and to concentrate as you need to balance on the stool to prevent it from falling.
Another meditation do not is to expect too much from your session too soon. Many people come away saying that ‘nothing’s happened’… and this is really missing the point rather. Enlightenment, or what was once known as enlightenment, is achieved by allowing your brain areas to shut down while keeping your conscious awareness about you. However this takes years of practice. If you just sit down for a bit and clear your mind it might not feel like much, but in fact it will have lowered your stress levels, increased concentration and generally have had a lot of very positive effects on your mind and body.
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