Recently a friend pointed out that when I started meditating 30 years ago it was a weird thing to do. Now everyone is talking about it.
I keep talking about it as one of the three things that everyone should do more of along with sleep and exercise.
So why should you do it?
This is the simple answer. Our experience of life is filtered by our opinions and judgements and prejudices. Our minds are constantly interpreting reality, adding meaning to things and responding emotionally to events. There is nothing to do to stop that.
When you meditate you try to focus on the present moment without interpretation. This is nearly impossible. One of my favorite Buddhist writers, Brad Warner, compared it to surfing. Maintaining relaxed focus on the present without thinking about the past or future or whatever is like staying balanced on a surfboard on unpredictable waves. You’re only going to be able to do it for short periods of time.
The value of meditation comes from realizing how active your mind is and slowly gaining a bit of distance from that churn. Once you see that flood of random thoughts and feeling and interpretations you can get a small measure of facility with it. You probably won’t be able to control it but you may get to a point where it doesn’t control you as much.
Meditation is also good for you in subtler ways. It repairs some of the damage done by the stress of modern life and when you get into the present moment, even for a few seconds, it feels really good.
So how do you do it? Get into a comfortable position that you can maintain for a while. The lotus position is ideal but if you can’t cross your legs comfortably (I can’t) sitting is fine. Don’t lie down because you don’t want to fall asleep and you want to be alert. Then pick something simple to focus on. It can be a repeated phrase or you can count your breaths (count to ten and then start again). You can also look at something like a picture or a candle.
Just decide what you’re going to do, set a timer for 5 to 30 minutes and do it.
Realize that you are going to fail most of the time.
Many people have told me that they can’t meditate because their minds are too active. These people have gotten bad info. Everyone has an active mind. From the outside, it looks like a meditating monk is totally focused. Inside they are thinking about going to the grocery store or some attractive boy or girl or what they should have said that one time or how they lost track of what they were supposed to be focusing on and how they are bad at meditating.
Here’s the secret: Meditation is the act of failing to meditate and trying again.
You can’t be bad at it if you’re trying to do it. By definition you can’t fail at it!