A Meditation on Meditation

Earlier this summer I began teaching myself about meditation upon coming to the realization that negativity was wreaking havoc on my life. Okay, maybe not wreaking havoc, but nonetheless holding me back from fully enjoying life and all the joys in it little and large.

Sarah from Teacup Adventure took a free meditation seminar during the spring semester and we had often discussed the benefits of simple meditative practices. I couldn't fit a formal class into my schedule then and allowed this to keep me from pursuing any sort of meditative practice. But then I turned to my most favorite resource - the local public library - and found plenty of helpful literature that made it impossible for me to make any more excuses and guided me on my way to daily meditation. Since it has become such an important part of my life and highly vital to my sanity, I thought it apt to share my piece on meditation in the hopes that someone out there may benefit in some little way.

Before doing all the proper research, I had plenty of misconceptions about meditation as a practice. The act of meditating brought to mind cheesy visualizations and over-the-top nature soundscapes. Come to find, I had actually been practicing meditation in plenty of ways that I never termed as such. When I traveled to India, for instance, our daily yoga practice on the rooftop incorporated plenty of the meditation techniques I use today. I knew that our morning practice was more authentic than the yoga classes offered in the states. Our instructor stressed correct breathing practices for the majority of our sessions, rather than guiding us through a series of yoga poses as most Americanized practice does. And the more I learned about meditation, the more those invigorating and calming morning yoga sessions came to mind.

Other simple practices, like focusing on your breath, giving deep and intentional thought to problematic situations, and reciting positive mantras, are part of what meditation is all about, though most people who utilize these strategies wouldn't categorize themselves as regular practitioners of meditation. It ultimately boils down to gaining control over the mind, through both concentrated thought on certain topics and dismissal of mental distractions that destroy focus. Breathing is also an integral part of meditative practice, as simple breathing exercises are great introductory meditations and can be used to help ease the transition from the hustle and bustle of life into one's daily practice. Mastery of breathing meditations lends easily to all other sorts of meditations as well, so a simple exercise in focusing on each in- and out-breath while gently dismissing other thoughts as they come to mind are great preparation for further practice.

After checking out a variety of meditation books from the library, I created my own meditation journal in which I keep some of my favorite practices and exercises, as well as important quotes and reminders to help me stay focused. Since you can easily search for meditations online, at the library, and even follow them on TV, I won't include any of those in this particular post. Rather, I wanted to share my thoughts on the benefits of this practice and include three reminders that I find to be most vital to successful meditation for me.

First is "What are you choosing to meditate on?" This is an important question to ask yourself both in and out of mediation practice. During your daily routine, where does your mind drift to? When you find yourself deep in thought, what sort of thoughts dominate? Are they positive or negative, productive or destructive, useful or wasteful? What is the content of these thoughts - dreams, complaints, regrets, desires, worries? Being truly cognizant of what you spend your time meditating on, both when you are consciously practicing and when you aren't, is the first step toward successful meditation practice. Having this kind of constant awareness makes it easier to recognize and correct patterns that hinder or detract from the benefits of your meditation.

Next is "How you think determines your reality." As I said earlier, meditation won't do you a bit of good if you don't bring the right mindset to the table. Though related to the first reminder, this one focuses more on your mindset than the content of your thoughts. If you spend a lot of time focusing upon your problems, do you do so with the mentality that they have attainable solutions or from a defeatist frame of mind? While what you're thinking about is extremely important, so is how you think about it. If you don't bring a positive, compassionate, generous, and patient frame of mind to the table, you will be missing out on the full benefits of meditation regardless of the content of your thoughts.

And finally, we have "Attention, intention, and wholeheartedness." For me, these three words are the perfect recipe for successful meditation. One of the traps I found myself falling into most often as a beginner was allowing disruptions to ruin my focus. Constantly paying attention is crucial to a successful meditation session. But beyond staying focused, the intentions behind that focus matter as well. If your heart is not truly in meditation - if you don't believe in its potential to improve your life or if you don't truly want to make it a part of your daily ritual - then you won't receive the benefits as fully as possible, if at all. Wholehearted and good-intentioned meditation is the only kind that succeeds.

Meditation isn't for everyone but I firmly believe in its benefits for those who come at with the correct mindset. It's something I'm still learning about every day, but something I am so glad to have been able to incorporate into my life. Does anyone else practice? Any recommendations for good meditation-related literature?

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