THE NO B.S. GUIDE TO MEDITATION
You need nothing. You literally need nothing. There are tons of suggestions (and mighty good guides) that will say a bolster to sit on is great, lighting a candle sets the tone or that soft wordless music will help. These are all good things. But in truth, to meditate, you need nothing. And that's probably a fabulous way to start.
I want to be honest, meditation is both easy and hard to do, but I promise, it's worth it.
There are so many benefits to even a five-minute meditation. Just one session will calm the mind and sharpen focus, but with repeated exposure, your brain and body will actually change — cortisol (stress hormone) levels fall, new neural pathways are formed, and your sympathetic nervous system will cool down so that your parasympathetic nervous system can do its work.
So let's give it a try.
CLEAR YOUR SPACE
Clear out your space. Take out what distracts you. If it's a phone or a pet or a messy bed, take care of it. In the same line of thought, it's alright if there's background noise. In life, there's always background noise.
SIT + BREATHE
Sit comfortably, in whatever way makes sense for you. Maybe it's cross-legged on the floor, but it could also be sitting up tall in a chair. Allow the spine to maintain its natural curve, with your chin tucked slightly and your eyes closed or gazing easily on the floor.
Inhale and exhale to the count of 5 (or maybe 3 or 4 depending on what works for your body). Set a rhythm and stick with it. The first few breaths always seem so easy.
COME BACK TO IT
And then, the "monkey mind" begins to churn — the one with lists, goals and ideas about being anywhere but right here. It happens to everyone at some point. You can use the breath count to bring you back in, but I also love this visualization technique.
With your mind's eye, imagine the back of your hand. You can see it in front of you, as the palm of your hand shines forward, as if sending your thoughts out into the world like a beam of light. Stay with this visualization for a few breaths.
Imagine the hand turning inward, with the palm now facing you. The thoughts you were sending out into the world are now turning inward.
For me, focusing my mind on a singular image or nature scene also works. It's less about distracting yourself, and more about using those visualizations to bring loud brain chatter to a murmur.
I DIDN'T SAY IT WAS EASY
Meditation is a tool for mindfulness, for noticing, for calming the mind and for soothing the body. The pathway there is not always direct. Things bubble up and past experiences feel more vivid in this silence. Maybe sitting alone while trying to empty your mind just doesn't feel like a safe space to you.
However, the process of repeated breathing exercises does change the way the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems respond to external stress and stimuli. With practice, it will be more accessible.
IT WILL LIKELY FEEL AS IF IT DIDN'T WORK
The shifts aren't all immediate. When I leave meditation and go out into the world, I am able to process what's happening more clearly. I am more aware of my feelings. I can more easily observe my surroundings. I am calmer and more productive in my work. I am more creative. And the changes with the nervous system? They happen with time and consistent practice.
If a river is a metaphor for the always-changing world, meditation allows us to be a stone in the water, steadily placed and softened with time.