3 Essential Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Meditation
It sounds simple in practice: just sit down, close your eyes, and clear your mind. That’s all it takes to meditate, right? Well, anyone who has ever tried meditation knows that it’s not even close to being that simple, and depending on your mood (or moon phase?), it can be downright frustrating.
Meditation is more than just a relaxation technique, it’s an art and a skill-set that has been handed down to us from the experiences and trials of thousands of practitioners who came before us. We’ve inherited a wealth of instructions, tips, tricks, and methods that can teach even a complete novice how to meditate.
However, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get into.
Take it from someone who once unabashedly owned a copy of “Meditation for Dummies,” it’s a complex subject with piles of history, coated with millions of opinions. In other words, if you don’t know where to begin, or what to look for, it can be a chore taking the right steps to learning how to properly meditate, or grow in your abilities.
This won’t be so much a discussion on how to pick meditation up from the start, as much as we will be addressing 3 fundamental tips that may aid you in your practice, regardless of what stage of development you are on. It helps to have points of reference when you feel overwhelmed with information, and simply need some structure to your routine.
1. It’s Not About “Clearing the Mind” – it’s about “Allowing the Mind to Clear”
I’ve seen many people get frustrated “trying to clear their mind,” as if it were an exercise. When meditating for clarity, the worst thing you can do is believe when a thought pops into your head, that you must quash it actively. Chasing thoughts and telling them to go away will only attract your mind to those thoughts, and before long, you’ll be wondering what to make for dinner and who your football team is playing next week.
Clearing the mind is a passive activity. You allow the mind to throw whatever tantrums it wants to try and grab your attention. Don’t attempt to “ignore” anything. Just let your mind be, acknowledge anything that happens to pass into your consciousness, and let it do whatever it wants to do. Your only goal in this is to cease your manual thinking process. Understand that you are not what pops into your head at any given time.
That is your ego drawing memories, nothing more. Look upon these mental activities as a quiet, calm observer, not an active participant. You will begin to have success with gaining a clear mind when you relinquish the idea that you need to “think thoughts away.” The very idea is contradictory. To think a thought away is a thought in and of itself, so how could you possibly “think” your way to a clear mind?
Simple, you can’t. All you can do is calmly observe, and let the ego do its thing. Over time, the mind settles when it has nothing to latch onto. Clarity follows in the stillness that this ego-vacuum creates.
2. Don’t Approach Meditation Casually
As meditation has gained in popularity, it’s become more and more of a casual activity. Something to do in between your business meetings or in that ten minute span between your client call and picking up your kids from school.
Admittedly, it can be hard to find the proper time to devote toward meditation if you lead a busy life, but if you want real results from your meditation, you might want to think about taking it more seriously.
What do I mean by this? Well, for starters, you need to designate a proper time where you know you won’t be disturbed. It also helps if you “set the mood.” You have to remember, meditation is a very subjective experience, in the sense that are subconscious minds are quite fickle.
You may never achieve clarity and reap the rewards of meditation if you subconsciously are focused on other activities. Don’t view meditation as something “to just do” during the day. The practice should be held in a kind of reverence, so your subconscious understands that it’s time to get serious and in the right frame of mind.
There are a few ways to cultivate better “space” for meditation. For example, practicing in the early morning or in the evening tends to work, because these are considered “special” or interstitial times of the day, especially in our subconscious. Another way is to light candles or incense in a dimly lit room. Practicing in nature, especially in a secluded place that is special to you, can greatly affect how the mind perceives what is happening. You will have an easier time convincing your mind to stay at rest if it thinks something special is going on and that it should “behave.” The subconscious needs to be guided firmly by sensory cues, because it is more primal than our waking mind. Treat meditation with an air of mystery and your subconscious will get the hint and sink into deeper states with greater ease.
3. Truly Eliminate Distractions
I think when yoga tutorials and meditation guides say to “eliminate distractions,” people often take that with a grain of salt. “Yeah, I’m about to engage in this ancient practice of self-awareness and body mastery, but my Facebook notifications tho.” It’s hard for us to turn off our phones and shut off our TVs and find true peace and quiet. But for meditation, I would say it’s just about mandatory.
Back to the subconscious mind, it gets easily distracted. More so than you would think. As much information as you consciously take in about the world around you, your subconscious is actually taking in a ton more. By eliminating distractions, you give your mind less things to get hung up on.
It’s extremely important to focus on the present environment in this manner, because our minds can be like cats to laser pointers. One errant sound or phone notification or voice or sight is all it takes for our minds to be off to the races. There’s definitely something to be said in regards to “sensory deprivation,” because our society is always in sensory overload.
Compared to what we would be exposed to in nature, we are literally being bombarded with metric tons of data on a minute to minute basis, even more so when we are on our phones and computers. It’s vitally important that your mind isn’t “waiting” for any phone notifications or work calls or anything else of that sort while engaging in meditation, otherwise you are just setting yourself up for failure. Not only will your subconscious anticipate it, but if it actually occurs, there goes any concentration you may have had unless you have a mind of steel already.
It’s so important to meditate in a distraction free environment. Especially focus on the “intangible” distractions, like worry, fear, guilt, anxiety, doubt, and anger. Refer to the first point, and thoughts (and their associated emotions) should be dealt with in a gentle, passive manner. Don’t let fleeting musings of the ego become a distraction. Oftentimes doubt and fear can be bigger distractions than any computer or phone, but remember, anything that’s inside your head, you have full control of. Just allow the thoughts or feelings to arise and pass, like the ebb and flow of waves. Don’t attempt to grab it, wrestle with it, fight it, or push it away. Just as it manifests, it will pass on its own.
Meditation Isn’t a Race
One final note to help out your meditation progress, is to remember that it’s not a race. It takes months for some people to reach a “calm mind” state, and some even longer.
The important thing to note though, is it is YOUR personal path of evolution. You can’t compare your growth to anyone else because everyone is on different, widely varying levels and paths. Do what you can and learn from your experiences on your time table. You’re not trying to “out-meditate” anyone – in fact, that’s a surefire way to inflate the ego and make meditation all the more difficult.
So don’t get discouraged if you are having trouble getting the hang of deep meditation.
Follow these guidelines to the best of your ability and do set aside the proper time for your practice, as it will put your subconscious at ease and also allow you to approach meditation methodically and calmly. No “rushing” should be involved in the practice.
You will find that after some time, you will naturally fall into a “clear” state, because you will have trained your mind accordingly.