At the end of the day, I can end up just totally wacky, because I’ve made mountains out of molehills. With meditation, I can keep them as molehills—Ringo Starr
These days meditation is a regular part of my life, but it wasn’t always so. I remember the time, more than a decade ago now, when attempting to meditate my mind would go spinning off in so many directions that I thought I would never ‘get’ it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try: when my life was upside down, I would give it another go and then when again I couldn’t do it, I’d give up in frustration. Then one magical moment, at a somewhat unusual workshop held by NLP trainer, David Shephard, I had my first moment of true inner peace. For just a few minutes there was an inner silence and an expansiveness that felt incredibly beautiful. I’d love to say that from then on it was a piece of cake and I had finally mastered it—but it didn’t work out like that. However that special moment helped me see what all the fuss was about and it motivated me to keep trying. Today like Ringo, I believe meditating stops me from making mountains out of molehills. It keeps me calm, centred and grounded. It improves my intuitive abilities, giving me more clarity and guidance that I simply wouldn’t see or ‘know’ without it.
You may be wondering if it was hard for me initially, won’t it be difficult for you too? Not necessarily. True it takes time to establish a meditation practice, but I wish to show you different techniques and methods so you can begin to benefit almost immediately. My first attempts at meditating were hampered by my lack of understanding and some misguided information about what mediation really is.
What actually is meditation?
Mediation is a way of focusing your mind (in a whole host of different ways) to achieve an altered state of consciousness. Usually this is done whilst sitting very still, but a meditative state can be reached whilst doing yoga, running, swimming (in open water) and through certain forms of dancing. Don’t be afraid of the term, altered state—sleep is one such state. During our normal waking hours our brainwave activity is rapid with thoughts flying in every direction. By focusing your mind on, for example your breathing, your body begins to relax and then your thoughts begin to slow down too. It really is a mind-body connection. Meditation can take you to a place where it is silent and truly peaceful within, but this state of bliss may or may not happen in the beginning or even every time you meditate. However, meditation does take you to a quieter place within yourself, whereby thoughts may still float across your mind, but in this more peaceful state, they don’t pester you and you can let them flow through you without getting involved in them.
Meditation is frequently bound up with the idea that it’s religious, connected to prayer or it’s a mystical practice and sadly this puts a lot of people off the idea of even trying it. Mediation can be part of a religious or spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be. You get to choose what you wish to gain from the experience: it’s simply not possible for it to take you places you don’t wish to go to. You can simply use it as a technique that deeply relaxes you so you sleep better, or that calms you down from the anxieties of the day. Or you can use it to receive creative insights and solutions about what is happening in your life. Meditating can do this and more. Over time, regular practice changes the way you think and the way you live life: but one step at time. Lets begin at the beginning.
How do you meditate?
There are many different ways to meditate. I think my initial attempts to meditate were thwarted because I had this idea that I would sit looking into a candle flame and my mind would be empty. Instead, in those early days, I would try looking at the flame and find my mind was so loud with hundreds of jumbled thoughts about my life, my daughters, clients, employees and totally random ideas. And that seemed so far removed from what I thought it should be, I assumed I was doing it all wrong. The truth is mediation is experienced in many different ways and there isn’t just a ‘right’ way. Any form of meditation that slows down your brain activity whilst you are still awake will reduce your stress levels, help you feel more relaxed and this alone helps improve your health.
For most people meditation begins by finding a quiet place to do this practice. It can be in your home or outside in a place of beauty. To help the energy flow through your body and for you to breathe deeply, your back needs to be straight. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, in lotus position if you are flexible to do that, or simply sit in a chair with a straight back, or sit on the floor with your back against the wall and your legs straight out. When I meditate at home, I like the ceremony of lighting candles and wrapping myself in a shawl before I begin. You might like to try this too – do what feels right for you.
Guided visualisations and music
One of the simplest ways to begin to meditate is to listen to a guided visualization or listen to music/nature sounds that have been chosen to help you relax deeply. As you listen to the words or music, allow pictures to form in your mind if you are following a visualization or let yourself drop down into the music or the sounds of nature so you become at one with them. Your aim is simply to deeply relax, nothing more—but nothing less too. There are many smartphone apps that provide this. Headspace and Insight are two that I recommend. For guided meditations, choose a voice you like; some voices draw you in whilst others are irritating and the latter will not help you at all!
When guests come to stay with me on a personal retreat at The Jasmine House, we meditate together and for people new to this practice, I create a story for them to follow in their minds eye. The story takes them for a walk on a beach, or follows a trail across meadows or sometimes it’s even a trip to a parallel universe! There is no reason why, after some experience of listening to others, you can’t create your own visual stories too.
MUSIC AND SOUNDS OF NATURE DESIGNED TO INDUCE A MEDITATIVE STATE
There are scientifically designed audio programmes where you listen to music and sounds of nature via headphones which drop you into a deep level of consciousness. By listening to these multi-layered sounds with binaural beats (sounds played at different frequencies into your left and right ears) it synchronises your brainwaves. Holosync provide binaural beats meditation audio tracks.
BREATHING AND FOLLOWING YOUR BREATH
The first two methods above are what I describe as externally orientated. Meditating by breathing by contrast is an inner journey. This is the method I use the most. I begin by sitting, either outside (I have many places around the island where I go to do this) or up in my Sky room. For the first few minutes I simply sit still. My mind is still chattering away and I let it. Sitting very still my mind begins to notice the stillness in my body. Then I begin with 10 deep breaths—using my ribs and diaphragm to inhale lungs full of fresh air and rid my body of stale air languishing in my lungs. I then allow my breathing to return to normal, and begin to feel and ‘watch’ my breath. I notice there is no real beginning or end. I feel my chest moving rhythmically and my breathing slows right down. Breathing in and breathing out. I begin to notice space between my thoughts, but they are still there, although more in the background. I focus my mind even more on breathing in and breathing out. Nothing, in this moment is more important than breathing in and breathing out. Now when thoughts come, I’m no longer drawn into them, but I can relax and notice I can always come back to that thought at a later time. After a while there is peace, nothing really matters. I see that I am breathing in love and breathing out love to everyone and everything. And there is a deep peace within as I do this and sometimes at this point, there is a magical nothingness of inner silence and calm, and sometimes it’s just beautifully quiet yet not fully silent. My meditation practice can be for as little as 10 minutes to as much as an hour.
There are specific breathing exercises that can be done when meditating, counting, prolonging and imagining breath filling your body with light. There are many books, podcasts and recordings found on apps that can guide you through this if this interests you.
MEDITATION IN MOTION
Whilst I was struggling to sit and meditate in the early days, I didn’t realize that I was doing a form of meditation already! Back then I used to run a lot. Even though I was fit, the first half a mile used to leave me slightly breathless, but then something switched within me and my breathing would return to normal and I was in a rhythm and I could run effortlessly for miles like this. During this time my mind would be able to sort and sift things through – but as if from a far, as if someone else was actually doing the sorting for me. Later on I found that once in the ‘zone’ I could go further if I focused on the nature scenes around me and seeing how exquisite it all is and how everything is connected when we open our eyes and see it as it really is.
Swimming in the sea can take me to the same place. An even more enchanting way to meditate in motion is doing 5 Rhythms Dancing as created by Gabrielle Roth. This form of dancing is really moving your body in fluid ways as opposed to formal steps or a specific routine. At a 5 Rhythms class, music of every genre—pop, classical, jazz, tribal and even rock are played according to the specific beats of the music. During the 90 minutes, a musical journey begins with a slow beat, then the music gets increasingly more up tempo until it is wild and chaotic. Then it ends with quiet, flowing music. There are 5 Rhythm classes up and down the country, Google will help you locate your nearest class.
MEDITATION IN SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS PRACTICE
Meditation plays an important role in Buddhism, and for the Quakers. Contemplation and meditation also sit alongside prayer in many other spiritual and religious practices too. Is this form of meditating any different from meditating for say, relaxation? Yes and no. I think meditation grows within you, getting stronger the more you do it. When you experience a deep sense of peace within you, then worries slip away and you step into the expansive energy of love, not love in the romantic sense but love of life, for being and empathy both for yourself and others. And this form of love is what all of the religions have at their core. Their wisdom is essentially the same: asking for people to love one another to care for all. Deep meditation helps you see that, feel that, but only when you are ready for it.
I have attended a Buddhist silent retreat, and sometimes I join a spiritual mediation circle as well as occasionally attending Quaker meetings. Meditation in these different groups is done differently, but when meditation is done in a group, the energy changes and it’s palpable. I think it’s often easier to get into meditation if you do it in this way, so if you’re curious find out where your nearest circle/group meet, try it out to see if you like it.
The first time I attended a Quaker meeting I was given a leaflet about silence (the first hour of a Quaker’s meeting is sitting in meditative silence) written by John Edward Southall (1855–1928). No matter what your religious thoughts, this may help you see what it is to meditate and how you reach the depth of your soul:
A score of years ago a friend placed in my hand a little book which became one of the turning points in my life. It was called ‘True Peace’. It was a medieval message, and it had but one thought, and it was this — that God was waiting in the depths of my being to talk to me if only I would get still enough to hear his voice.I thought this would be a very easy matter, so I began to get still. But I had no sooner commenced than a perfect pandemonium of voices reached my ears, a thousand clamouring notes from without and within. Some of them were my own voice, some of them were my questions, some of them my prayers. Others were suggestions of the tempter, and the voices of the world’s turmoil. Never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought: and in every direction I was pushed and pulled, and greeted with noisy acclamations of unspeakable unrest.
It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them, but God said, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Then came conflicts of thought for the morrow, and it’s duties and care: but God said, ‘Be still’. And as I listened and slowly learned to obey and shut my ears to every sound, I found after a while, that when the other voices ceased, or I ceased to hear them, there was a still, small voice in the depths of my being that began to speak to me with inexpressible tenderness, power and comfort.
OTHER FORMS OF MEDITATING
Above lists some of the ways I have experienced meditating, but there are many more ways: Transcendental Meditation (TM) is done by chanting certain mantras over and over again. Buddhist meditation can also include chanting that vibrates sounds through your body. For example chanting “Om” where you make the sound of: ooommmmm with the ‘m’ vibrating until the end of your breath, and then repeating it over and over. Meditation can involve focusing on the chakras (energy wheels within the body). I find visualizing the sending of energy cords down into the Earth a powerful way to ground myself and sometimes I do this before beginning a mediation session.
I hope this will have whetted your appetite to try meditation. Remember, there isn’t a wrong way to do it: even quietly sitting for a few minutes each day doing nothing other than sitting without a phone, computer, laptop, mobile, TV, or radio on, is a great first step.