Success in sitting meditation has nothing to do with your own subjective sense of accomplishment. It is like no other activity on earth. It is the opposite of doing something. Success does not mean having a magical experience. It does not mean becoming blissful or enlightened. Success in sitting meditation is the act of practicing. If you practice and feel like nothing happened, you have still succeeded. If you practice every day for a month and feel like nothing happened, you have still succeeded. Practice is success.
"Regular meditation improves mental and emotional fitness."
Meditation is not an inactive mental state. In fact, it requires sustained, focused attention. Research has shown that structures in the brain are actually transformed through meditation. Among other changes, people who meditate regularly have been found to have a thickening of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain governing attention, concentration, and executive functions (decision making). Regular meditation improves mental and emotional fitness.
There are many schools of meditation. For Aging Heroes, we recommend two meditation strategies, 1) sitting meditation and 2) mindfulness meditation. Below are instructions on how to add sitting meditation into your wellness lifestyle:
1. Clear your schedule for uninterrupted meditation.
2. Choose a space for your practice. Make it comfortable and private.
3. Music with long slow notes played at a low volume can help to calm the mind’s chatter. New Age Spa music is perfect for this.
4. Set an alarm for how ever long you plan to practice so that you don’t need to check the time. Start out with something easy (5 minutes), and work your way up to a daily, 20-minute session.
5. Find a comfortable position. Some people lie down to meditate. I prefer to sit. Lying down can make me sleepy and again, meditation is about focused attention.
6. Take three of four slow, deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. The autonomic nervous system activates the fight or flight stress response. Breathing is a part of the autonomic nervous system over which you have some control. Slow, controlled breathing can actually slow down your heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and reverse the stress response resulting in relaxation.
7. Create an image in your mind that represents the Aging Hero. The defining characteristics of heroes are honor and valor. Now, imagine yourself as the perfect embodiment of these qualities. Fill in the details. How does it feel inside to be the perfect Aging Hero? What expression do you have on your face? What does your posture look like? Burn that image into your mind and hold it there.
8. As you breathe deep and slow, try to keep your mind focused on the image you created.
a. Your mind may wander (a lot). Each time it does, gently bring your attention back to the image of you as the personification of the Aging Hero. If you have to bring your mind back 1000 times, you are still meditating successfully.
b. Allow distracting thoughts to flare and disappear like sparks.
c. Meditation is not about beating your mind into submission. It is about patiently refocusing your attention in a kind and gentle manner.
9. Stay put until your alarm sounds.
"Meditation is the process of putting you in the driver’s seat. Sitting meditation shines a bright light on your relationship with yourself."
The Buddhists compare the mind to a wild monkey that tears around uncontrolled. Note the many ways your monkey mind rebels against the practice of meditation. The more you practice the more you are able to control your mind. In an untrained mind, the monkey runs the show and you are lead around by the nose. Meditation is the process of putting you in the driver’s seat. Sitting meditation shines a bright light on your relationship with yourself.
Now that you have a little info on the practice of sitting meditation, let's talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is pretty much what it sounds like. It is the practice of being mindful in daily life. In mindfulness meditation, your life is the object of focus. Considering the amazing opportunity we have each been given to live exactly one human life, most of us allow much of the experience to pass without our notice. While brushing our teeth in the morning, we are preoccupied with planning our day. While driving to work, we are thinking about our "to do" list. While doing our work, we are thinking about going home. While home washing dishes, we are thinking about a chance to relax.
"Given that the present is where we will live our entire lives, doesn’t it make sense to drink in the experience for all it is worth?"
Our minds are forever dreaming about the future or ruminating over the past. The truth is, neither the future nor the past is real. All we ever have is the present. Given that the present is where we will live our entire lives, doesn’t it make sense to drink in the experience for all it is worth?
Mindfulness means gently bringing your mind back from inner processes to the only thing you will ever have, the here and now. Being mindful of the sights, smells, sounds, flavors, tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (movement) sensations of this present moment makes life richer and more textured because nothing is wasted. Being present is to be truly alive rather than simply thinking about life. Mindfulness and wellness are two sides of the same coin
"In life, there are peaks, valleys, and plateaus... If life were a pie, peaks and valleys would be slivers and the whole rest of the pie would be the plateaus!"
In life, there are peaks, valleys, and plateaus. The peaks are the things we look forward to. Graduation, getting married, going on vacation, and getting that promotion are "peak" experiences. Losing a loved one, getting sick, and having disappointments are "valley" experiences. Your everyday activities like getting dressed, checking the mail, cleaning your house, and taking a shower are "plateau" experiences. In varying degrees, all of our lives will have peaks. All will have valleys. And, all will have plateaus. If life were a pie, peaks and valleys would be slivers and the whole rest of the pie would be the plateaus! Now, consider the inordinate amount of time the average person spends thinking about the peaks and the valleys as compared to the time they spend paying attention to the plateaus. What a waste! It is like ignoring the process of consuming a delicious, four-course meal by being preoccupied with dessert.
Much of life is spent in the daily grind. We get up, get dressed, cook, clean, drive, do chores, and go to work day after day. We find many of these activities boring or unpleasant. I used to hate washing dishes until I learned about mindfulness. Instead of dreading and then grumbling through this daily chore, I deactivated the emotions connected with washing dishes by truly experiencing the process…
"Mindfulness changed my most dreaded daily activity from a drudgery to a deeply vivid experience."
I turn on the water and listen to the sound as it runs into the sink. It is pleasant. I put my hands under the pouring water and enjoy the cool wetness become warm. I add dish soap and the scent of lemon fills the air as a pile of bubbles grows. I pick up the sponge and attend to the texture against my hand and fingers. I wash the first plate and notice its smoothness. I watch as the dish changes from dirty to clean and feel a sense of satisfaction. I place the dish in the rack and appreciate how it fits perfectly.
Mindfulness changed my most dreaded daily activity from a drudgery to a deeply vivid experience. Every one of life’s daily activities can be made expansive through mindfulness. Every relationship can be made deeper through mindfulness. Some people are naturally more mindful than others, but all of us can improve. Just as in sitting meditation, mindfulness is the constant process of gently refocusing attention back to this present moment.
Mindfulness should be an ongoing practice. You should, of course, enjoy fantasy, planning, and creative thinking whenever you like. But, during your daily activities try practicing mindfulness at every opportunity:
1. Slow down and zero in on the pleasures that can be gleaned from ordinary life. Allow yourself to smile frequently.
2. Use child’s mind, a Buddhist concept for experiencing the world with fresh eyes as a child would. Think of the fascination a young child might find in something as simple as examining a flower.
3. Gently remind yourself to be here now at every opportunity. Use external signals as reminders to re-engage mindfulness when you are distracted from it.
4. You can use traffic lights, opening doors, doorbells or any other frequent occurrences as triggers to remind you to come back to the present.
5. Appreciate the subtle sensory experiences of living.
6. In your interactions with others, be present and truly listen to the other person.
7. Do not get frustrated with yourself. The object is to find joy in simple experiences.