I’m not sure I’ve ever meditated consciously before this month started. I’ve done a decent amount of yoga and spent time silent in the wilderness, but I’ve never made a focused attempt to spend time meditating. Throughout the course of July, I meditated on 26 days with lengths of time ranging from 10 minutes to 1 hour. In the process I learned a few things about my lifestyle (busy), my mind (always going), and the practice of meditation (vast and overwhelming).
First, what I learned about meditation: I learned that I know nothing about the various types of meditation and that it would take a lifetime to really start to understand even just one style. I started this month with the ambition that I would learn about all the different types of meditation to try and get a rapid and solid grasp on what works for me. I quickly became overwhelmed with the sheer amount of content on the internet that is geared toward meditation. It varies by region, by religion, and by blogger. I even found a style of punk-fusion style of meditation called DharmaPunx, who knew? I wasn’t quite sure what was legitimate information and what wasn’t, there was too much of it to properly educate myself. Therefore I decided that it would be best if I just made things simple. So I chose four different styles to practice, one each week:
I found this approach to be less overwhelming as compared to overloading myself with the entire world of meditation practices.
I learned enough to know that I don’t trust guided meditations from YouTube. This might seem obvious but where else should I have gone? A generic meditation website won’t tell me how many people are viewing it’s site (a way to gauge legitimacy) whereas with YouTube I can see how popular a given meditation is. I thought that by finding the most popular videos that I would be all set and get some great guided meditations done. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Most of them creeped me out actually. The thought of having someone that I didn’t know trying to relax my subconscious through the internet was kind of disturbing to me and I couldn’t simply let go. Therefore, I didn’t find a lot of value in doing the guided meditations. I think that if I found a practitioner that I trusted and built a relationship with over time then that would be ideal. However, as for the YouTube guided meditations, I think I’ll leave those for the millions of other people who enjoy letting strangers take over their thoughts.
In drastic contrast to the guided meditation experience, I found tremendous value in doing Reflection Meditations. I spent a week meditating on my 2011 trip to Israel. I kept a journal while I was there but hadn’t touched it in the year since so it was a good excuse to bring it off the shelves. My meditation strategy was to read one entry per day and then spend 30 minutes meditating on my experiences. Surprisingly (to me), meditating brought me immediately back to the places I visited, the food I ate, and the people I was with. I think this experience will help me to keep a journal next time I travel because then years later I can reread select entries, meditate on them, and relive the experience through my writing.
My third week of meditation was Chakra Meditation where I spent one day meditating on each of the seven chakras. This was an intimidating area of practice because it has been practiced for thousands of years and has a deep history tied to a variety of religious practices. Thus, knowing nothing about the practice, I was again overwhelmed with information on the internet. This is when I went to the Boston Public Library and checked out the book, “Meditation for Dummies”. It had a simple, 2 page explanation of the seven chakras so I simply used that to help me through the week. I liked this meditation practice because it helped me to focus on particular areas of my body as well as behaviors (good, bad and indifferent).
During my last week I tried a variation of Vipassana meditation where I engaged my five senses, simply trying to be present wherever I was meditating. This coincided with a trip to the Colorado Rockies. It was a very practical meditation technique that I can see myself using in the future. The technique I used was to spend a few minutes focusing solely on each sense individually. Then toward the end I tried to let all of my five senses absorb my environment all at once. After I was done I felt incredibly calm. Being present is a hard thing to do, even in the mountains. It’s easy to lose sight of where you are and what you’re doing when you’re physically pushing yourself. You can lose sight of the forest through the trees as they say. So taking time to really focus on my immediate surroundings was valuable.
One lesson I learned about myself this month was that living in the city wasn’t an excuse for me not taking the time to slow down and meditate. It was actually my own behaviors and lifestyle. I missed the same number of meditations while I was in the Rockies as I did while I was in Boston. So clearly my fast-paced, agenda-driven life was common despite where I was or what I was doing. I mean, it’s hard to tell your friends or girlfriend, “Sorry I can’t hang out or talk right now because I have to meditate first.” It was a very similar experience to my month-long experiment of getting 8 hours of sleep each night. Slowing down is not something I’m used to but I see the value in it and I’ve realized that I need to make a concerted effort to be calm, spend some time in my own head, and reflect on my thoughts, my experiences and my surroundings.
Would I recommend trying out meditation to other people? Definitely. Just be wary of guided meditations online and don’t try to make things too complicated. Just sitting in silence can be extremely beneficial (and surprisingly difficult) and remember that meditation takes a lifetime to master so don’t get discouraged when it seems difficult or overwhelming.