If you don't like reading, check out the video below for a great overview of how to create your own personalised meditation practice...
Alright I get it!
I know meditation is good for me. I’ve read the science. I’ve devoured the books. But I find it really hard to do on my own and can only do it when someone else is guiding me on an app!
Does this sound like you???
Learning how to meditate on your own is a gift. If you always need that personal trainer at the gym to tell you what to do, life is going to get real expensive, real fast. Similarly, if you always need someone else telling you how to meditate, then you never really train up your own internal muscles in the brain to wake you up and help you focus.
It's time to get those training wheels off for good!
Baking a good cake
I recall in grade eight I was supposed to be making small cupcakes in the Home Economics class. Being my first foray into the baking world, my mum helped me pack the ingredients. She said farwell, saying she was looking forward to some great treats when I returned home.
During the class, I dutifully followed all the steps and ended up with what I thought were quite spectacular little morsels. I proceeded to ice them and hurriedly raced home for everyone to compliment my culinary skills. I was playing tennis at my local club that afternoon. During breaks, I proudly offered my work of art to all the parents.
They ate my cakes, politely telling me how tasty they were. This was until I got home and offered one to my sister. She proceeded to almost cough it back up, asking me how I’d managed to drain the entire ocean into them.
Shocked, I asked her what she meant and then the frightening truth emerged. Apparently, my mum had packed a little container of salt for me, assuming that I would just use what I needed. Unknown to me, when the recipe said add salt, instead of a small pinch, I just tossed the whole lot in! For years, I’ve been ribbed about my salty cakes. You can always count on your family!
Getting the ingredients right
Ever since this time, I’ve pretty much never followed a set recipe when I cook and just toss in my own ingredients until I find the right flavours that suit my tastes. Meditation 2.0 invites you to do exactly the same thing with your mindfulness practice.
As Harvard professor Herbert Benson says, ‘to say that one style of meditation is fundamentally better than another is to miss the point. All of them have an underlying mechanism of activating the healing relaxation response. Some might do it quicker or more enjoyably than others but all of them get you there eventually.’
That being the case, is there really one style of meditation or one tradition that you need to follow?
It’s a matter of experimenting until you discover the right blend of tools and techniques that get you where you want to go in the most pleasurable and efficient way possible.
What can we learn from tradition?
Meditation has been part of human history in some form or another for as long as time. The ritual of closing your eyes and looking inside is present in the traditional cultures of Egypt, India, Tibet, Iran, North America, South America, Australia, Hawaii and so on.
If we pull these traditions apart and ask what are the common threads that all have in common it will make finding your perfect set of ingredients much easier.
It’s possible to group nearly all forms of meditation into 5 main categories:
3. Self Enquiry
5. Heart Centred
Popularised by Dr John Kabat Zinn in the 1980’s but in truth dating back to the original Buddhist teachings, this style of meditation has become the most popular today. Mindfulness combines two types of traditional meditation paths into one practice.
·Shamatha – is the process of giving your attention to one thing at a time. In this style of meditation you use an object such as the breath or a mantra to sharpen your attention. You become increasingly immersed in this focus until everything else falls away.
·Vipassana – once the mind becomes quiet, you then sharpen your minds ability to develop insight and wisdom. The process is in learning to observe the nature of things just as they are without judgement or analysis.
Mindfulness meditation combines these two aspects to train your mind to be both sharp and focused as well as non reactive. Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness wonderfully in saying that the aim of practice is to exercise a particular type of attention – on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement.
Whereas mindfulness is all about this present moment, intentional meditation is more focused on the future. Here you might use visualisation to imagine the type of future you want to create. Sports people will use intentional meditation to see themselves succeeding or meeting stressful situations in the right way. Affirmations are also part of this style which is aimed at channeling your unconscious mind toward desirable outcomes.
3. Self Enquiry
Also known as contemplation meditation, here you are not aiming at just relaxing your mind but actively using it to ask questions about the nature of your reality. The classic self enquiry asks, who am I?
Am I this body? Am I these thoughts? Am I these emotions?
A famous practice in India is called Neti Neti which essentially means not this, not that. You are examining reality and realising that everything is basically changing, impermanent, transient. As you increasingly notice this, you free your mind from identifying with what is essentially an illusion. In that, you find great natural peace from within because you stop chasing unattainable desires.
Classical meditation uses the mind to quieten the mind. However, what the Tantric yoga masters discovered is that you can use energy and breath to get there much quicker. Kundalini yoga is a branch of practice that focuses breath and movement together so as to rapidly settle the mind and create profound states of inner joy and clarity.
5. Heart Centred
One of the great blessings of Buddhism is the practice of generating positive emotions through meditation. This is very different from mindfulness in that you aren’t merely observing what arises, you are actively choosing to create certain emotional states such as loving kindness, compassion, happiness and gratitude. You might start by thinking of someone you love dearly and once you sense this emotion building inside, you can then mentally imagine offering this feeling of love back out to others. The healing effects and the brain changes that come about through this practice are incredibly rich.
The Calm Living meditation formula
All of these traditions have something valuable to offer. Rather than get into the game of comparing and arguing which is better, we recommend doing a little of each and making your meditation sessions highly integrated and most importantly, highly enjoyable.
Over the last 20 years of practice and teaching thousands of students, we’ve come up with an easy 4 step formula for building your meditation practice. We teach this in our online courses and longer immersion retreats. Here’s the 4 simple steps to get you started.
1. Settle the Storm – begin your meditations with some of the energetic meditation practices such as breathwork and rhythmic movement. You will quickly harness your energy, lower your brain waves and make meditation a lot more enjoyable.
2. Centre your Attention – after the busy-ness has settled, practice mindfulness to develop the skills of focus and non-reactivity.
3. Sink into Silence – self enquiry helps you see the deeper nature of your mind. Allow yourself periods of time during meditation where you drop all the techniques and just Be. Simply rest into the silence and stillness of your body and mind. Do nothing! Notice how your mind isn’t just its thoughts. There is an all pervading awareness that isn’t conditioned or affected by any thoughts or emotions. Rest deeply into this experience.
4. Select your State – finish meditation by cultivating an emotion such as loving kindness, compassion, happiness or gratitude. Open your heart and share this with others. Mentally imagine your day unfolding with this attitude flowing out into your friends, family, work colleagues and strangers. Visualise the kind of day you want to live, open your eyes and peacefully step forward into a new world.
Meditation has incredible benefits. Everyday you take a few minutes out of your life to centre yourself and remember what’s really important. You can then allow your deeper mind to make the changes underneath the surface that over time will gradually begin to colour all your worldly experiences.
If you’d like to find out more, check out the Calm Living meditation training course and buy yourself a copy of the Calm Living Meditation book to answer all your questions and get you started.