Over the past few years I have experimented with different forms of meditation. Here are a few lessons I have learnt along the way:
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated or spiritual. Mindfulness meditation; simply sitting, focusing on the breath and coming back to it again, again and again…can be useful for training concerntration. This practice has taught me the importance of coming into the present moment and focusing the mind. It is not about having no thoughts, rather being able to notice the constant stream of them and choosing which ones are useful for you.
‘To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is just to watch them….let them come, and let them go’ (Shunryu Suzuki).
A group can be helpful to maintain a regular practice. Attending a weekly meditation centre when I first started to explore meditation (the London Buddhist Centre which taught the mindfulness of breathing and the metta bhavana) helped me to understand the foundations of meditation. It also motivated me to keep up a regular practice and introduced me to a whole new community. Keeping up a practice in our busy world can be hard, two hours a week with a group of like-minded people set the foundation for my next few years of self-practice.
Total immersion through a course or retreat can be an invaluable personal experience. I have attended a couple of meditation retreats. A 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat was one of the most insightful experiences I have had. There are many types of retreats to choose from though. They provide the opportunity to learn a meditation style in depth through a structured course. They are an opportunity to remove yourself from all daily distractions and focus on yourself; a rare experience.
Anything that immerses you in the present moment can be a meditation. Drawing mandalas and painting forces me to focus completely on one thing only. Thoughts of the past and present can dissipate. Anything that brings this, whether it is dance, yoga, hiking or fixing a bike can be a useful meditative practice.
Letting go can be revolutionary. I have used movement or stillness to practice letting go. The most beneficial method for me has been yoga. I also recently used a sensory deprivation tank, a lightless, soundproof pod filled with salt water that you float in. This experience of complete stillness, letting go of holding my body in a position, was fascinating. I have also used free dance forms to completely let go of inhibitions or my usual ways of moving the body. I have found releasing fixed ways of holding the body or mind incredibly useful.
‘Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that it is’ (John Kabat-Zinn).