In this post I’m going to talk about meditation. There’s a lot of different styles and types of meditations out there but I’m going to be working off the model from The Mind Illuminated as I think it is in a league of its own in terms of better understanding the technical aspects and how to progress.

When I meditate I usually have two objectives:

1) Unguided Focus and Relaxation. I’m either looking to calm down and slow down the mind and its stories. Practicing being an objective observer that is not emotionally impacted by my mind. Being able to sit down, close my eyes, stay alert, focused and joyfully experience a deep relaxation and focused state. If you’ve ever been into snowboarding or skiing it’s a lot like when you go from a groomer run (how your body feels) to experiencing the perfect powder (where your body can enter into a state of total relaxation and ease).

2) Intentionally Focused Emotions & Visualizations. The other type of meditation for me is more of a guided type. Guided meaning there’s a theme beyond observing the mind objectively, you’re looking for a way to direct your focus towards a feeling (often things like gratitude, abundance, joy, happiness) and / or you might be visualizing the completion / recovery of a life / work / health challenge. These meditations are powerful and can produce amazing results for people.

For this post I’m going to dive into unguided, slowing things down. Training the mind in a way where you have a better ability to focus and more awareness around the thoughts, the stories and the overall status of it where you’re mind is going day in day out and how you can better take control.

There’s some basic rules to go through:

A. Establish a consistent practice. Before we dive further I would like to suggest if you’re never meditated the biggest challenge is probably simply establishing a practice. For me and the Mind Illuminated the recommendation from the master teacher author is to do 45-60 minutes per day. Now that can be a bit excessive and for many quite a challenge to go from nothing to that level.

I’ve personally done 45 mins / day for 45 days straight and I can say I did experience some pretty profound calmness of mind and body when I actually practiced at that level. And I could see myself revisiting that length as I get older, but for now at my age and life situation with so much going on I prefer to practice for 20 mins / day. That’s a spot where I start to really feel the benefits. Even doing just 5 mins is probably worth it because it will establish a practice. The main point is pick a time, duration and start doing it daily.

B. Set a goal. Create a goal before you sit down and close your eyes. It can be as simple as wanting to simply remain for the duration of your sit or more advanced such as making progress on how long you hold your attention on a certain object. The mind can be thought of a lot like a curious energetic dog. It wants to run towards the next shiny object and it’s often eager to bounce around to different ideas. This was probably advantageous for our evolution, our attention and mind being able to wander and quickly be attracted to the next thing that could really help us hone in on, perhaps food or avoid dangerous predators.

You can’t actually “control” your mind per say. You have to think of it as a part of you that needs training. A lot like a young puppy through positive, consistent reinforcement and setting intentions before you even sit down  to practice you can gain a “sense” of being able to direct it more and more. Intention is the way you do it, you set an intention to do focus on the meditation object you wish to focus on during the duration of meditation session (often the breath) and while watching that you gently, positively reinforcement when you realize you’ve wandered to other thoughts. Inevitably your mind will get distracted and drift away most likely to a thought, once you realize this appreciate that moment and redirect your focus back to the object.

So in a nutshell this type of meditation is a lot like sitting down quietly, focusing on your breath, having your mind wander to thoughts, and other thoughts, then another part of your mind remembering that you’re supposed to be meditating. You then consciously in your mind thank that other part of you who remembered to meditate and go back through your process of focusing back on the object of meditation.

Technical. I’ll touch on some of the more major things that resonated with which I think you should be aware of and also wrap at the end with a basic step by step on how to get started. If you’re hungry for even more details, I highly recommend The Mind Illuminated because it is extremely detailed in how the mind works and how one can systematically progress through levels to become a more advanced meditator. It also goes into detailed length as to the potential obstacles and challenges one might experience along the way.

Attention and Peripheral Awareness. Think of the mind a lot like your vision. You can focus on a specific point with your eyes, but you always still have a peripheral vision and of what’s going on. Think about your thinking. You can be focused on reading this post, on seeing each character making up each word and completing each sentence but you’re likely still aware of the environment around you and you have some peripheral awareness of the temperature of the room, perhaps some emotions that you recently experience or thoughts that are dwindling around wanting you to focus on something else. When you are focused on my words, your attention is directed towards reading them and progressing through this sentence meanwhile your awareness is all around you.

Conscious Power. This is the overall power you have to consciously direct your attention and awareness, it is limited and through practice of meditation you can build its capacity. I will avoid the term “concentration” as it can mean a variety of things and often cause confusion. Attention and Peripheral Awareness will be much more beneficial to work with and understand. If your attention grows more intense and gets more focused on an object you will often see your peripheral awareness collapse to almost nothing. Think of an experience where you’re so focused on the object of attention that your focus is locked in and has pulled in all your peripheral awareness away. This draws almost all your conscious power and as a result you no longer have much peripheral awareness because you’re so locked into that thing, thought, point of focus.

On the flip side if you shift energy towards your peripheral vision you’ll notice that you are less able to focus on any specific things. With conscious power this is noticed by being hyper aware of your peripheral awareness. When this happens you become very present, there’s no past or future there’s only now and typically you’re only feeding in what you experience through your sensations.

Cycle of Distraction. Whenever you’re sitting down and attempting to focus on a specific point, whether that’s your breath, a mantra or anything else you’ll find quickly that after only a few moments your mind will wander off. There’s a framework for this and it’s call the cycle of distraction. At first your attention is right where you’ve intended, then after some time something usually a thought will distract you being focused on that. From there you will completely forget that you were meditating, the mind will wander, usually through associating term from term and then you’ll have an “ah ha” moment where you remember that you were supposed to be focused on the breath.

This cycle of distraction is the cycle we’re training to slow down and eventually stop. Through practice of “waking up” to that “ah ha” moment, positively reinforcing yourself each time you get distracted, wander and forget you will be training your mind to hold a stronger, longer attention. You will be rewarding it for helping you stay more engaged in the process.

The Breath. Now there’s one last term I want to discuss and that’s the breath. Many early stage meditators will get a bit mixed up with what this means. I for one was, am I supposed to pay attention to the air and follow it as it comes down my nostrils into my lungs? Is it better to focus on the rising and falling of my chest area outside the diaphragm? And here’s what I suggest based on what worked well for me.

Focus on the area directly outside your nostrils right above your upper life 2 inches in diameter. When I talk about focusing on the breath this is what I mean, focus on the area of your body that the air is flowing across in and out of your nostrils. The outer part of your nostril openings and right below them on your upper lip. You don’t have to perfectly define this area, but that is the area you’ll remained focused on throughout your meditation. You’re not following air going all the way down into your lungs or focusing your attention on your chest rising and falling.

Judgement. The last point I’ll mention is that the mind likes to analyze and solve problems. It likes to slap labels and make sure it has a handle on things. While you’re meditating as you create separation from your mind, to become an observer of the thoughts, the mind will often tempt you to reengage and get back sucked into it by judging and labeling. When that happens just thank yourself for realizing that and thank the mind and move back towards the unbiased, non-judgemental observer watching their breath.

So now that I’ve defined a bit of the more technical parts, let’s wrap this up with a few pro-tips on how to actually progress into the meditation fully. Generally speaking you will want to progress down your attention into more confined specific focus. You will want to prepare, set an intention and move through some steps towards observing the breath.

Pre-Meditation Check List:

The idea here is to juice your motivation and set some intention behind the practice. As with anything if you have more clarity around the outcome, you’re likely to do better.

  1. Motivation. Remind yourself of why you’re meditating. What are the main reasons that draw you to repeatedly practicing. This will carry you through tougher, more anxious sits if you have this top of mind.
  2. Goals. What are your goals for this sit. Are you working on a specifically challenging aspect. Perhaps your getting upset when you forget, in this session you’re going to instead thank yourself when you remember to re-focus on your breath.
  3. Distractions. We all have them, if my mind is particularly rowdy and active I’ll journal down things on a notebook or in my phone that I need to bring attention to AFTER my sit.
  4. Posture. Sit in a lotus or other posture, either on the floor or on a chair. The point here is to be in a position that you feel will be comfortable to let go of all the tension in your body and simply allow yourself to deeply relax all parts of your body. I like Lotus pose and have a pillow like this one I set on while I have my back against the foot of my bed.

Four-Step Transition into Meditating

The idea here to progressively, step-by-step, restrict your attention down toward the more specific “watching of the breath” area. At first the attention is everywhere and anywhere, then we drop it down to just the body, then we strict it within the body to certain parts of the head/throat and torso and finally down into the nostrils. We’re doing all of this while attempting to hold and maintain peripheral awareness.

  1. Open and relaxed awareness, letting everything in giving priority to sensations over thoughts.
  2. Focus on bodily sensations, continuing to be aware of everything else.
  3. Focus on sensations related to the breath, again remaining aware of everything else.
  4. Focus on sensations of the breath at the nose, but continue to be aware of everything else.

Ten Counts: Because the mind likes to do something this can often help focus it down and stay on track. Once you get to the 4th step (which might take 2 mins or 20 mins), you then will do a silent count of 10. Counting 1 in inhale and 2 on exhale. Up to a 10 count. Then once you actually reach the 10th count, you’ll count 1. Then you’ll repeat but now you’ll be on the 2nd series, and when you get to 10 again instead of 10 you’ll say 2. And then you’ll be on the 3rd series and so on and so fourth. Once you get to the 10th cycle, you may be at a point where you can simply watch the breath and allow the feelings of relaxation and joy to take over as you stay focused on the meditation object. If you still feel as though the mind is wandering quite actively, you will repeat the process of counting 10 more cycles again.

If you’ve been able to get a strong handle on this, and you want to go further again I’d suggest checking out the text. I am a strong believer in meditation and believe it can have profound affects on your life, I know for myself it certainly has! I hope this was helpful, if you got something out of it, drop me a comment, share, send me a note. Thanks a lot!

 

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