“In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
You know those annoying people who cannot stop talking about meditation and how it can transform the way we live and relate to the world? Well, I am one of them. Unapologetically so and yes, my friends, colleagues and family start rolling their eyes every time I start this evangelical spiel or look around furtively for the nearest exit.
I know many of you parents with little kids might be throwing up your hands in the air with, “Where’s the time?” Trust me, one thing parents need in their chaotic life is some time for themselves when they can just be still, even if it is for five minutes. If you have not done this before, you might dismiss it with “Not my cup of tea!” Fair enough, but let’s take this analogy one step further as in this day and age when there is this mind-boggling range of tea available for each person’s palate, whim and fancy, there is nothing like, “Not my cup of tea.” Similarly, there is no one-size-fits-all in meditation and let’s see what will work for you.
Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and just focus on your breathing. There is no need to make it deep and slow, just breathe naturally, and in time you will notice that it will slow down. You could focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen, the rush of air in your throat or the tickling feeling in your nostrils. To give yourself an anchor, you could count your breaths from one to hundred. Be mindful of any thoughts that come up and stay curious but do not engage with them.
One thing that helps me meditate is what Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, calls ‘feeling your body from inside-out’. Focus on your right foot, even with your eyes closed. Can you feel the sensation inside it? Disengage from every other part of the body and feel that sensation. Slowly scan the rest of your body, one part at a time from the inside out. Just become aware of the sensations — heaviness, tingling, pinching, burning or cold sensation. As you breathe in and out, lose the shape of your body and see all the sensations as a cloud. Let your rhythmic breath loosen the tightness around these sensations so that the heavy cloud feels lighter and makes you feel as if you are floating.
Metta or Buddhist loving-kindness meditation
This is one of my favourite forms of meditation and I do it almost every day. In this, while meditating, we practice self-compassion; only when we are compassionate towards ourselves can we be compassionate towards others:
Self: As you breathe gently, infuse your body with loving kindness. Allow warm feelings of love and acceptance to flow through your body, open your heart and feel the compassion at a cellular level with “May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be healthy and may I live in peace”. (You can say anything that directs warmth and acceptance to your own self.)
Loved ones: Now, visualise one or more people you are close to, whose presence gives you a sense of joy. Open your heart and direct the same messages to them.
Neutral person: Now, bring into your awareness somebody for whom you have neutral feelings and send loving kindness to that person.
Conflicted relationship: At this step, bring into awareness somebody you have been experiencing conflicting feelings towards. Maybe your heart might be completely closed towards them. Gently open your heart and send loving kindness to them. It’s alright if initially, you cannot muster much of it, only do what seems possible to you at that time.
Living beings: In the last step, you can open your heart wide open and softly send this loving kindness to all the living beings in the world. With some practice, you will find that by this stage, you will feel expanded and your heart will be suffused with a sense of love, peace, acceptance and attunement with the world. Now, take this loving kindness feeling into the rest of your day.
If there is a niggling voice saying to you right now, “All this is rubbish! I can barely go through the day and she is asking me to become a Buddha”, listen to that voice, smile and then let it go.
This mediation by Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing approach can do wonders for people who are experiencing pain in their body. Sit down on a chair, planting your feet firmly on the ground. Suppose you have pain in one leg, imagine that you are breathing in from one leg, directing your breath up your leg, towards your open heart from where it goes down the other leg into the ground. It goes through the ground back to the first leg where you breathe it in again to repeat the circle of breath — in from one leg, up to the heart and then out of the other leg. Visualise the breathing in bringing in cool, relaxing breath and breathing out cleansing your body of all the discomfort. You could also see the breath as white light, which gently massages your body. You could do at least ten breaths or more till the time your body feels more relaxed and easy.
Letting it go
Breathe softly and scan your mind for any resentment or pain you are keeping locked in. Visualise it as a tight knot holding you down. Breathe into it slowly and deeply. Now imagine it slowly melting away and leaving you feeling light and free. Try ‘healing hands’ where you rub your hands together and then gently place them where you are experiencing pain and slowly visualise letting it go. Through these strategies, you will train yourself not to ‘brace and tighten’ and get stuck in the pain cycle (emotional or physical) but to relax and let it go.
You could also try walking meditation, where you go for a gentle and slow rambling walk in a park and just quietly observe the world around you. Each step connecting you to the ground you walk on, almost like kissing the earth and feeling grounded in the present moment. I practiced this for the first time in a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist master, and it was one of the most powerful and transformative experiences.
There are also some fantastic apps like Waking Up, Calm and Headspace that can give you bite-sized guided meditation. I use them often while I am travelling and suggest it to my therapy clients as they are a brilliant resource.
However, for whatever reason, if you feel that you are not ready for meditation, then I would suggest that at least spend a little time every morning, or whenever you get out of bed, to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about slowing down our minds, coming back to our body and experiencing inner stillness. It could be while you just have your cup of tea, go for a walk or just water your plants.
I firmly believe that if there is anything we need in this frenetic, stressed-out, “living in the fast lane” world, then it is stillness and silence that daily practice of meditation can give us. Most importantly, do remember that meditation is a practice and the more regular you are with it the better you will become; so do not become disheartened if initially, your mind keeps squirrelling away. Start with just five minutes and then slowly build it up. Keep your expectations low, we are talking about bringing in the stillness and not enlightenment (though hats off to you if you do manage that).
Professor Richie Davidson, author of Science of Meditation, is among the most prominent scientists to have done a lot of research in this area along with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist monks. He talks about how our present world is very ‘stimulus driven’ where our attention is constantly being hijacked without our awareness by various shiny objects — anybody who has spent endless hours scrolling social media posts and YouTube videos will get that — and how meditation can help us become more “self-driven” where we start taking charge of where we want to direct our attention and energy. It builds little sanctuaries in our harried, rushed existence where we can disengage from the endless chatter of the mind, and just be still and present in the here and now. As travel writer Pico Iyer put it beautifully, “In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”