This is what comes up when you search meditation on Google:
These stock pictures are everywhere, they build a perceived image of meditation that’s very far from the truth.
Just like in fitness or nutrition, finding information on meditation can prove difficult, most meditation guides are trying to sell you an app, audio guide, a cushion or some other thing you probably don’t need.
This is really discouraging for beginners, you get a lot of conflicting advice and you’re not really sure where to start or what to believe.
There's also a lot of content out there with very confusing mystical wording and a lot of gatekeeping, claiming that you need to do it a certain way or you're doing it wrong.
I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, but I've been through a journey with meditation in these last years and feel like I found success with it. So I’d like to share some of the things I've learned.
What is meditation?
Throughout human evolution, and during our own experience in our lives, our mind has learned to react a certain way to different situations, these behaviors are designed to help us survive.
These reactions come in the form of anxieties, fears, desires, cravings and other emotional reactions. Which can prove negative in our lifes, specially in an overexposed, fast-moving, everything-is-fighting-for-your-attention kind of society.
Even though meditation can be relaxing and can help in the short term with negative emotions, that's not the point of meditation.
Meditation is not about getting rid of these emotions either, it will only help you be more aware of why they happen and give you an opportunity to react differently, or ultimately to not react.
These emotions are fruit of thoughts about something that happened in the past or an expectation of the future, so when you learn not to react on these thoughts, all there is, is the present moment, you learn to just "be".
You probably have already meditated without knowing it.
Accidental or unintentional meditation is when you enter a meditative state without being aware of it. This can usually happen when: walking, going to sleep, showering, dancing, praying, driving etc.
You're shutting of everything else, it's just you and the present moment, in the simplest terms, that's what meditation is about.
But to get the most benefit from meditation, it needs to be intentional, to train your mind to be in that state at all times.
Meditation by Concentration
This is the type of meditation that most guides teach you.
To do it, you don’t need to set an alarm, app, audio guide, there is no need to cross your legs or keep a specific posture, in fact, some of those things will only be make the process unnecessarily more complicated.
Doing some of those things might help you, but it always depends on the person, experiment and do what works for you, any guide that tells you must do one of these things is bullshit.
If you want to think of meditation as connecting with nature, connecting with your body, connecting to god or something else, that's fine, do whatever helps you.
At the core, meditation by concentration is about turning off everything else by concentrating on something for a relatively long period of time, everything else is optional.
What worked best for me at the beginning was to concentrate on my breathing:
- Find a quiet spot to avoid noise distractions
- Close your eyes to avoid visual distractions
- Focus on your breathing, feel the air flow in and out of your lungs
- If you get distracted by a sound or a thought, don’t worry about it, just go back to breathing
You don't have to do the first two, but it helps tremendously if you do.
Don't try to "not think of anything" because it won't happen, you'll end up thinking about not thinking, just keep trying to concentrate on your breath and you'll indirectly clear mind.
When you first try it out, you might not be able to do it for long. You might feel like your mind won't shut up, random racing thoughts keep coming at you. It will be discouraging, but it's actually a good sign.
Our minds are always busy, but most of us are not aware of it, because we never stop to listen, when you meditate you start to become more aware of all the thoughts you weren't listening to before, the goal is to be aware of these thoughts.
You know you're getting better when you lose track of time and sessions feel extremely therapeutic, helping you deal with stress and anxiety.
After a while, you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time. You might even get some visuals, vibrations or overwhelming feelings of euphoria,
You might start to crave and chase these feelings in your meditation sessions, but if you do, it will only delay your progress, don't let these feelings distract you and keep meditating.
At some point you won’t feel the need to focus on your breathing. You can meditate by concentrating on anything, your pulse, a visual, a mantra, to music etc.
This process can take months or years, and as with everything, don't give up, you'll get better with consistent practice.
When meditating by concentration, you’re doing an effort to concentrate on something, you're trying to control your thoughts, by doing something.
You're making an active effort to avoid thoughts by keeping the concentration going, this mean that your brain will never actually shutdown, because it's doing something.
There's another meditation type of that takes different approach, most people call it the “Do nothing meditation”.
Do nothing meditation is literally about doing nothing, you just sit in a quiet place, with no expectations, you accept anything that happens, you don’t have to deal with it in any way. You do not have to run away from your thoughts, you don't have to chase them or suppress them either.
You reach a meditative state not by turning off your thoughts and emotions, but by simply by observing them until they’re unimportant or gone.
The great thing about this technique is that it trains your mind in the long-term to actually be mindful and present, you get the benefits of meditation even when you're not meditating.
I am not saying that one technique is better than the other, in a way they're actually very similar.
I only happened to discover "do nothing" last and found it was better for me, but both are beneficial in different situations and I try to do both kinds of meditation.
There are other types of meditation, but I found these to be the most straightforward, less opinionated and the most helpful for me.
It's important to try and research all types of meditation for yourself, because while most guides on the internet will recommend you to start with meditation through breathing, other types of meditation might be better suited for you.