How to Meditate

These are just two approaches to meditation, not the end-all be-all. Though there are many out there, I find these works the best for me. Several people had asked me to explain them throughout the years, so I figured I'd just write it all down and put it out there. Without further delay:

Active Meditation

Sit in a comfortable, relaxed position. I choose to sit cross legged with a pillow under my butt so that it’s elevated, allowing for easier, low-maintenance balance. Rest your hands on your knees, arms fully extended, which also helps with balance. It doesn’t much matter how you sit, so long as you’re comfortable and able to focus without falling asleep. If you’re going to use a timer, start it now.

Once you’re in a comfortable position, close your eyes and begin breathing deeply into your stomach first, then into your chest once your stomach is fully expanded. Exhale in reverse order, starting from your chest, and then your stomach. You will continue to breath like this, deeply and slowly, the entire time. Once you have set your rhythm, focus on tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body, one after the other. Begin with your feet, then your calves, then your quads, etc. Tense one, relax it, then move onto the next. The purpose here is to find and release any tension you may be unknowingly carrying. Pay particular attention to your shoulders and face, which is where a lot of people seem to carry permanent tension.
After relaxing your muscles, it’s time to count your breaths. Count them from one to ten, then begin again from one. If you find yourself distracted by other thoughts to the point that you forget the count, simply start again. The point is to learn how to focus your mind on the number to distract from your worries, and to focus on what is happening in the now. Some people have an easier time pushing away intrusive thoughts than others. If you’re one of these people, focus on what your body is currently feeling - the clothes on your back, the floor beneath you, the air movement in the atmosphere. Listen to every little noise that happens. Simply observe everything without thought, anchoring yourself in the current moment until either you are satisfied, or your timer goes off. Focusing your mind is like a muscle - the more you practice ignoring irrelevant things, the better you'll get at it.

Common problems

Intrusive thoughts: Sometimes you can simply refocus on the numbers, but often this doesn’t work if the worry or thought is a bit more pressing. There’s a general rule about how the mind works, and that’s “what you focus on, you will get more of” or, to put it another way, “what you resist, persists.” Focusing on getting rid of the thought will make the thought stick around. Instead, use imagery. Imagine the thought is attached to a kite, where the string ends with a fish hook that’s stuck in your brain. Visualize dislodging the hook, and letting it fly away. An alternative (which doesn’t involve brain-stabbing imagery) is imagining the thoughts to be sandbags that are attached to you, like a hot air balloon. Cut the ropes and let them drop away.

Too much focus on time/impatience: If you find this to be a significant problem, shorten your practice time - it might be too long. Or, you could even try experimenting with making it even longer. Sometimes when you know something is almost over, you’ll focus on the time that much more and it’ll drag on. A general perspective I keep is this: You have always been here, and you will always be here. This is where you were created, and where you will die. There has never been a before nor an after. Again, focusing on the now will allow time to just slip by.

Sitting down and doing it: This is actually the hardest part of the whole practice. I advise building it into your morning or night routine. Personally, I do it after my daily workout.

Meditation for Sleep

One method I’ve found to be useful for sleeping is to envision a relaxing scene. Lie flat on your back - I find doing this in any other position makes it harder to picture the scene, as gravity feels like it’s pulling in a strange direction in relation to the scene. What you picture will be different depending on what you like and what you find relaxing, but I picture rowing near a U-shaped island with a clear sky and calm waters.

The goal here is to picture the scene completely, all senses included, so that it blocks out other thoughts. Using my scene as an example, I feel the rocking of the boat, the wooden oars in my hands, the warm sun, and the ocean spray. I hear the gulls in the air, the water slapping the boat, and my oars interrupting the waves. Taste and smell are lacking, but the sea air tastes/smells different than inland. Picture the island shrinking slowly as you move away from it, and imagine the details from your perspective.

So long as the scene is calming, it should help you fall asleep. I find the rhythmic motion of the rowing to be something distracting enough. Even though rowing in real life is physically exhausting, I find the repetition to be helpful with lulling off. Continue picturing the scene until you fall asleep.

Editing Music: Psychotic Girl - Black Keys

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