Meditation is an exercise that is often overlooked or deemed too bizarre for the common man. It inspires visions of cross-legged monks chanting in mysterious tongues for hours at a time. What many people don’t realize, is that they already take advantage of meditative benefits within their daily routines and that with a little discipline or purposeful application, these benefits can be amplified. Before we get into the different methods of meditation it is important that we clarify our goals and what we can expect to gain from the experience.
Why Should We Meditate?
Meditation is not purely a spiritual discipline. Many of the rewards have been examined and proved useful by science. For example, it has shown to combat mental degeneration and aid in the preservation of our aging brains. Those who have been practicing meditation for an average of twenty years often display more grey matter throughout the brain than non-mediators. Grey matter includes regions of the brain that are involved in muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Previously, the assumption was that the effects were small and distinct within regions of the brain most commonly associated with meditation. But new observations present evidence of widespread effects that encompass regions throughout the entirety of the brain.
A mere eight weeks of mindfulness has shown to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs our ability for learning and memory. As well as other areas that are responsible for emotional regulation and self-referential processing. It also decreases brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. Meaning that not only does meditation alter the brain itself, but also our subjective perceptions and feelings.
Another study shows that mindfulness training can also improve our tolerance for physical pain. Participants of this study were given a hot sensation without any instruction beforehand, then again, with guided meditation. With the application of mindfulness, researchers discovered their participants experienced as much as a twenty-seven percent drop in pain sensation. They also measured a forty-five percent drop in brain activity related to the pain-matrix. With this information, they were able to conclude that meditation improves both our perception of pain and our neurological response to it. Further studies on avid mindfulness practitioners have acquired evidence linking the number of hours of meditation directly to one’s ability to endure physical pain during the experiment.
Mediation And Self-Awareness.
As we discussed in my previous post, meditation reduces activity in our default mode network, or the ego. This is what is responsible for a wandering mind and self-referential thoughts. Otherwise known as our “monkey mind,” our ego is active when our thoughts are not focused on anything particular and wandering aimlessly from thought to thought. This kind of thinking has been associated with unhappiness, chronic worrying, and unnecessary suffering.
Meditation is the pathway to learning to take control of the monkey mind and replace it with the mind of the wolf. Over time, you will become capable of snapping out of the default mode network on command, which will allow you the power of dominating and directing your thoughts, feelings, and actions, in a way that remains congruent with your purpose.
There are many forms of meditation and ways to practice mindfulness, but for the purpose of this blog, we will define any meditative practice as the specific focus of our cognitive power.
Whether we are quieting the mind entirely, or we are channeling our thoughts on a particular activity: This is meditation.
When the musician gives himself over to the music and focuses his power on playing an instrument: This is meditation.
When the weightlifter turns off the senseless noise of the world around him, puts his mind into his muscles, and moves weight with accurate control: This is meditation.
When you walk in the wilderness and become in tune with the landscapes that surround you and the energy which flows through it: This is meditation.
Even now, as you read my words and commit your concentration to understanding what they mean: This is meditation.
Quieting your mind is at the very core of any form of meditation. It will determine the strength of your focus and the rate at which it begins to fatigue. You’ll remember from my post on Wisdom and Mastery that, mastery itself, is applied focus over time. Therefore, meditation can only be a useful tool in your quest for mastery. Anyone who has not taken advantage of this practice should start now and commit a small portion of their day to it.
As a beginner, I recommend you find at least ten to twenty minutes each day to focus on meditation. Whether you decide to use that time in one sitting or break it up into two or three sessions, you should begin to notice improvements in as little as two weeks.
You are probably currently wondering where to begin. The following information will give you a very basic overview of meditation and allow you to begin immediately. But as you become more familiar with your own preferences and roadblocks, I encourage you to seek out further knowledge that will aid you in your development. There are many alternative methods that you might find more suitable to your needs.
A Beginner’s Guide To Simple Meditation.
Before we begin, I suggest you find a quiet space that will be free from any noise or distractions. You may sit with your legs crossed and your spine straight, but this position isn’t necessary. Choose a position that is most comfortable for you and that will allow you to relax your body.
At first, I would not recommend laying down, as to avoid falling asleep and defeating the purpose of this exercise. But if laying down is your only option for comfort, do your best to remain awake and alert.
Step One: For the first few minutes, allow yourself to get comfortable and become aware of what is happening in your mind. Let the thoughts flow, examine the focus of your attention, and withhold from attaching any judgments onto them.
Step Two: As you begin to settle into your position, shift your focus away from your thoughts, and onto the experience of life as it is happening at this moment. Allow the thoughts to fade away and all of the subtle nuances of this experience to come to the surface.
Step Three: Now turn your attention to the sensation of your breath as it flows in and out of your nose or mouth. Make no effort to force it, allow your breath to continue naturally, then slow it down to a four-second inhale and exhale.
Step Four: While remaining aware of the sensation of the breath itself, expand your awareness to also include the sensation of your chest and stomach. Feel as your breath causes them to expand and contract.
Step Five: Like before, while remaining aware of the sensation of your breath, and the sensation of the movement of your chest and stomach; expand your awareness once more to include the pounding of your heartbeat between them. This should cause the flow of stray thoughts to cease, and you will begin to become aware of your entire body as it exists in the present moment.
This method takes advantage of the fact that our mind’s focus can only be directed to a few areas at a time. By focusing on the three sensations included above, we are manually turning off our flow of thoughts and catapulting our awareness into the present. To use this exercise effectively, you must continually monitor the strength of your focus on the sensations, and keep your thoughts under control for as long as possible. In the beginning, you might find it difficult to maintain this presence for very long. But over time, with a daily commitment to this practice, you will notice considerable improvement.
Another method that is very similar to the one above implements the use of vocalizing and mantras. Instead of manipulating our thought flow through forcing our focus on the three sensations, we must keep our breath work the same, and use our vocal chords to quiet the mind. Think before you speak is a popular phrase because it is impossible to think while you speak. Which is why people who don’t think very often have so much to say and why so much of what they say is incredibly stupid.
As a beginner, I recommend you keep your vocalizations very simple. Stick with the classic “OM” or a casual hum. Notice the sensations of the vibration throughout your body and allow it to calm you. Remember to breathe and to keep the breath at four-second intervals. When you advance and are able to keep your thoughts under control, then you can take advantage of vocalizing words that serve a purpose. Or even meditating on thoughts, symbols, or events. This will help you self-empower, focus your power specifically, or influence future outcomes.
Many of you who have never practiced meditation before might encounter a number of excuses to keep you from doing so. But if you’re here to develop your wolven instinct, there is no way around it. Here are a few of the most common excuses and a simple reminder of why they are bullshit.
1) I don’t have time.
Remember the idea of Mental Real Estate.
Each day is made up of 24 hours, in which most people sleep somewhere between 6 to 8 hours a day. Meaning there are only 16 to 18 hours that are spent in a purposeful state of mind. Unless you’re an insomniac and only sleep one hour a week.
Your mental real estate is divided between time and focus.
Time: How many hours your mind is able to be consciously directed.
Focus: What you spend those hours thinking about.
Now break down your average day, consider what your goals are and think about how much mental real estate is being used to generate the desired results. When the value of mental real estate becomes clear, perhaps there will be more effort made to fill it with priceless thoughts. Instead of useless worry or distractions.
It was Malcolm Gladwell who said that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. This is a phrase that is now constantly repeated and praised as the guideline for personal development. But if you take those 10,000 hours, fill them with unnecessary information and improper practice. Not only have you doubled your learning time, but you’ve also taught yourself movements or ideas that now have to be unlearned.
No matter what method of learning you choose to pursue, quality content is the factor that will determine your rate of learning as well as your ability to successfully apply that information in a way that generates the desired results.
This applies to learning emotional intelligence, development of muscle memory, academics and effective environmental influence.
How are you using your time wiser? How many minutes a day do you spend on social media, when you could be meditating instead? It’s only 10-20 minutes.
2) I can’t stop my thoughts.
Thoughts never stop forever. The purpose of meditation is to monitor the mind, catch it when it wanders, and guide it back into focus. Over time the mind will become more disciplined and your skills in directing your cognitive power will increase. In time you will be able to control your focus on command.
3) It’s too hard.
Nothing worth doing is going to be easy. Are you the wolf or the rabbit? The warrior or the victim? You have to earn your right to be here. We all do.
4) There are too many distractions.
Saying that you can’t meditate because you are too distracted, is no different than saying you can’t sleep because you’re too tired. Meditation will give you the skills to overcome those distractions and cope with them in a productive way.
Take the time to consider the information in this post and give meditation a try for a few weeks. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to answer questions to the best of my ability. Or to even help you with some issues that may arise.