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 relative success with it. So I’d like to share some of the things I've learned.
What is meditation?
There are multiple understandings of meditation depending on who you ask. I like to define meditation as a practice to become more "aware".
We're all aware, all the time, if I asked you if you were aware, you would probably say yes, you don't really have to think about it to realize that you're aware.
The difference of a normal state and a meditative state is our degree of awareness, most of the time our attention is focused on our thoughts. We tend to get lost in our minds, and we start identifying ourselves as these thoughts that the mind creates, and we suffer with them.
We forget that we're not these thoughts, they shouldn't affect you, because we're just aware of them.
Anxiety and curiosity were the main reason I started meditating, and after doing it on and off for a few years, I started to realize that meditation is a lot more than a tool to used to relax or help you with emotional issues.
It's "the tool" that will lead you to realize your true awareness nature, so in my opinion, the reason you start to meditate or the type of meditation you do is not the most important thing, as long as you focus on the awareness aspect of it, just start, and with time everything else will come.
You probably have already meditated without knowing it.
Have you ever been so concentrated when doing a task that everything else around you kind of disappeared? this state is called flow or being in the zone.
You're shutting of everything else, it's just you and the present moment, pure awareness, in the simplest terms, that's what meditation is about. You know you came out of this state when you try to remember what happened, and it was just blank.
To get the most benefit from meditation, it needs to be intentional, to train your mind to be in a similar state at all times.
Object based meditation
At the core, object based meditation is about bringing your awareness to an object, this object can be anything: breath, sound, sensation etc.
To do this, you don’t need to set an alarm, app, audio guide, there is no need to cross your legs in a lotus position or keep a specific posture, in fact, sometimes trying to do those things can make the process more complicated.
Doing some of those things might help you, but it always depends on the person, experiment and do what works for you.
What worked best for me at the beginning was to pay attention to 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, specially at the beginning, as any sound or visual change will distract you easily. You can sit or lay down, choose whichever position you can hold comfortably for a while.
Don't try to "not think of anything" because it won't happen, you'll end up thinking about not thinking, but if you end up thinking about not thinking, that is fine too, the key is to be aware of it and bring back your attention to the breath, your mind will eventually settle.
When you first try it out, you might not be able to do it for long. You might feel bored, or like your mind won't shut up, random racing thoughts keep coming at you. It will be discouraging, but it's actually a very 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 concentration starts to become effortless, you are less bored, thoughts don't disturb you as much, sounds don't distract you any more, but most importantly, you are enjoying it and want to do it more.
After a while, you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time. You might even get some visuals, vibrations or 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 any object, your pulse, a visual, a mantra, to music etc.
Depending on the person, this process can take months or years, and as with everything, don't give up, consistent practice is what is important.
When meditating by being aware of an object, you’re doing an effort to concentrate on something, you're directing your awareness and by doing something, there's an effort.
There's another meditation type of that takes different approach, it has different names: effortless meditation, just sitting, objectless meditation, doing nothing.
Objectless 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.
Objectless meditation can be harder than object based meditation because it's harder to know when you're doing it right.
Remember that trying to do nothing is also doing something, it might sound confusing, but there has to be no effort, at all. You are not directing awareness to awareness either, as that is "not possible", what you're doing is just being "aware" by effortlessly not giving your attention to any object.
You do not have to run away from your thoughts, you don't have to chase them or suppress them either, just be aware of them without judgement.
Don't worry to much about "thoughts about being aware of thoughts", they will inevitably show up and it is normal, it's what the mind does, just be aware of them too.
You could put most meditation practices in these two categories, but there are a lot of other practices that I didn't cover.
I find objectless meditation better for me, but in the end, it' doesn't really matter what meditation technique you use, it's all about awareness, find what gets you closer to your awareness.