The following description is from my own experience of meditation.
I have inserted stars (*) to give additional information at the end of the page. Feel free to read them at the end.
For morning or daytime meditation I usually sit on a pillow, cross legged with a straight back. For bedtime meditation I lie flat on my back. When it comes to posture, my meditation teacher always told me to remember two things; have a straight but relaxed back, and to be comfortable
I meditate on the natural breath, whereby I close my eyes and pay attention to the normal flow of my breath. Specifically, I place my attention on the area just below my nostrils*, where I can feel the brush of air from inhales and exhales. Ideally, I want to remain focussed on the breath for the entire session, however distractions come in many forms.
They may come as external sounds, internal feelings, and most commonly, thoughts from the mind. During the meditation, I regard anything other than me focussing on the breath, as a distraction**.
Bringing it back
Now the important part, as soon as I notice (become aware) I have been distracted from the breath, I should bring my attention back to the breath (below the nostrils). This is the exact same process for every distraction that comes up during the meditation***. I acknowledge the thought, feeling or sound, and gently bring my attention back to the breath. Each time I bring myself back, I strengthen my meditation practice.
With consistent practice, the following happens:
- I begin to notice the moment I have been pulled by a distraction, much quicker than before. Thereby my ability to choose what I place my attention on is enhanced.
- The more breaths I am able to focus on, the more calm my breathing and heart rate become, while the distractions seem to be quieter and easier to let go.
- I am more aware of internal thoughts and feelings when they arise whilst in and outside of the meditation practice. SInce meditating I have noticed an improvement in my emotional intelligence.
- I am able to let go of frustration and irritation much easier than before. Stress and anxiety still come albeit much less, and my ability to manage myself and not get overwhelmed has improved considerably.
- My general quality of life has improved. The relationships I have with people are loving and trusting I experience things in the present moment as though for the first time. Gratitude comes more naturally and feels great!
My experience of meditation has changed over time and still varies from session to session. In the beginning (5 years ago) I was more self-conscious and concerned with if I was doing it right, if it was actually working and whether it was the same for others. Since then, I’ve learned from other meditators, lectures and classes**** but most importantly, I’ve learned to trust my own experience. From giving it a proper go and initially applying just 10 minutes a day when I woke up in the morning, I could already see and feel the impact my practice was having on my day to day. I was astounded at the clarity, open perspective, improved emotional intelligence, quality of sleep and reduction in stress and anxiety - to name just a few.
Today, some sessions are peaceful with minimal mental distractions, and others are still noisy with thoughts and feelings everywhere. I’ve come to realise I’m still going to have sessions which are difficult, but that’s ok and shouldn’t be taken as a negative. Sometimes those disruptive sessions can be the most fruitful, perhaps enhancing resilience and discipline. Notably, my meditation practice has made me aware of when undesirable thoughts about myself or others impact my choices and behaviours. Having the awareness too recognise if a thought is coming from a place of judgement, insecurity or non-acceptance and consciously choosing to observe the thoughts rather than be swept away by them.
A meditation session is a place I can be honest with myself about how I’m feeling, thinking and where I’m currently at. When I do the ‘work’ in the session, life outside the session falls into place with a sense of flow and ease. The opposite seems true when I have not been meditating; I may start looking externally for scraps of joy, until being reminded to go inwards. I’m still working on it all, forever a student, as they say. I hope to remain open minded to allow new ideas and change into my life, just as I did with meditation.
* Focussing on just one area narrows down my focus and strengthens my ability to concentrate.
** This is not to say distractions are bad, distractions are an integral part of meditation. They are the yang to the yin. If they did not exist then awareness of them would not exist. If there were no distractions in the world i.e. anything that pulls our attention without our choice, it would not be necessary to meditate.
*** Some distractions will be ‘louder’ than others for instance, a pain in the body might be more difficult to let go of than the tweet of a bird. For any distraction, I observe it, acknowledge I am aware of it, and gently bring my attention back to the breath- this is the essence of meditation.