meditation is a solid path to peace. if you meditate every day, you will feel better. life won’t necessarily be easy or even objectively less difficult. but you won’t mind it as much. you’ll find yourself less controlled and obsessed by your emotions. they’ll stop really being issues in the way they once were. your fluctuating moods will stop making a difference to your days and you’ll be calmer, more in-control of your life.
the best way to start meditating is to breathe. i’ve explained in various articles the simple technique i teach for basic breathing meditation but i’ll cover it very quickly here and you can look at one of the in-depth articles in beginner meditation to get the more intense details if you want to try it. but this is what we’re talking about. split your time in three. in the first period, breathe slowly in, out then count. try to make your breaths as long and slow and controlled as possible. if you lose track or get distracted, start again at 1. when you get to 10, start again at 1. in the second period, count then breathe. slow your breathing even more. try to take at least a two-second break between breathing out and breathing in and a five-second break between breathing in and breathing out. the slower the better. in the third, pick any number between one and ten and use a different one both before and after each breath. 5-pause-in-pause-out-pause-5-7-pause-in-pause-out-pause-7, etc. yes, this is a modernized adaptation of a traditional meditation form taught since the time of the buddha. it’s not my invention, just my version.
the next step, though, if you want to make your meditation practice as easy-to-repeat as possible, is to relax into it and use guided meditations. the problem with this is that there is so much badly-guided meditation out there in the guise of mindfulness and self-improvement positivity nonsense, it’s hard to find the right balance of peace and harmony to get you through it. so i usually recommend people go to one source for their guides — plum village. this is a tradition in the zen lineage taught by thich nhat hanh and his followers, the tradition i am loosely attached to and tend to find the most-applicable of modern interpretations of the buddhist way of life.
there’s a problem, though. ok, there are several — the plum village translations of traditional buddhist texts are unreadable scholarly tracts rather than relatable modernizations and that is simply not good enough. accuracy and history are unimportant if the reader doesn’t immediately understand the information in the sutra. i wish people understood this more deeply. but the main problem has little to do with what is being published, as you’re not likely to start there. it has to do with the meditation form. if you read the meditations, they’re absolutely perfect. simple guided meditations with basic instructions and calm words. and when you listen to them they’re absolutely amazing. calm voices and beautiful poetry conveying exactly the kind of information you need for good meditative practice. so what’s my problem with them?
outer. fucking. space.
if you’ve ever studied how the brain works, we have the ability to focus for about 2-3 seconds before getting distracted unless we specifically do it intentionally. we won’t accidentally focus on things longer the 3 seconds. unless we’re obsessive. and that’s a whole other issue. what has that meant for human language? it means a pause of more than about 2-3 seconds in common, everyday speech sounds awkward. we even call them that — “awkward” or “pregnant” pauses. if you talk to someone who frequently pauses in their speech, you are jolted to attention every time it happens like the floor has shifted under your feet. we process language in an automatic way. when there’s a break in the flow of language, we don’t notice. we drift off in some direction. the next word, though, is like being hit in the face with a flying piece of stone that’s hit us at a thousand kilometers an hour. even after only five or ten seconds.
that’s what happens in their recorded meditations and with many from other sources, especially in this model. so what it forces you to do is either repeatedly be shocked by the restarting of the words after the breaks or actively concentrate. some will tell you active concentration during meditative practice is good. but i think they’re missing the point. meditation is about programming the subconscious to ignore emotion, mood and stimulation. you can’t focus your way to that result. it has to happen at a deeper level. the words have to soothe what’s below the surface. the stream of words, even if you don’t understand them, calm your subconscious mind and train it over time.
but all is not lost. the meditations are still wonderful. and after reading and listening to a few you’ll be able to write your own. so here’s a simple solution. actually, two.
either modify the recordings (a lot of effort) or record your own. just repeat, continue talking. never stop. it will take you ten or fifteen minutes — you’re recording the meditation in realtime, remember. and you’re only really trying to meditate for ten or fifteen minutes.
listening to your own voice might not be the most comfortable exercise. so ask someone whose voice you want to listen to to read the text. it’ll only take a few minutes of their time and you’ll be able to use the recording multiple times a day. if it’s someone you care about enough to want to have their voice be the soundtrack of your relaxation, i expect they won’t say no. and you can offer to do the same for them in return.
the key is to keep repeating the pattern. instead of giving a guideline like “think this as you breathe in, this as you breathe out” then leaving you to do it, repeat it in time with what you expect your breathing to be. it doesn’t have to be exact. your breathing will adapt to the speed of the recording.
i’ll leave you with one that might get you started. of course, these are just basic ideas and you can expand on them.
i am sitting here surrounded by the environment i love, that wraps me in its warmth with sunlight and protects me with the sugars it presses in my mouth and i demonstrate that love through my attention to its continued survival.
breathing in, i taste the sunlight that surrounds me.
breathing out, i express the love for the plants sheltering me.
i am sitting here guided by the knowledge that all things are connected and my life is touched by the beings i value and spend time with. i return their love with my devotion to their happiness.
breathing in, i inhale the smiles of those i love.
breathing out, i focus my decisions on spreading happiness to those who are crying.
i am sitting here strengthened by the commitment of those who have given me knowledge and understanding. i will repay them by sharing that wisdom with the world and commit to every moment and breath being in the service of those around me rather than to benefit my selfish inner-self.
breathing in, i drink the peace of a community in harmony surrounding me with its collective energy and supporting me in every step of my path.
breathing out, i walk forward from this moment linking hands with those around me and holding them up as they embrace me in love.
thanks for reading!