A Very Basic Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
Stop. Take a deep breath. I know you already hate this post. You’re hate-reading it because you think meditating is impossible but you keep hearing that you’re supposed to do it so here you are. But guess what? Did you take a deep breath a second ago? Can you take one now? Omg you just meditated.
Meditating is extremely difficult and extremely simple at the same time. To me, all that meditation means is doing nothing. Or as close to nothing as possible for as long as you can. That’s it. Everything else that happens while you’re meditating is PART of meditating. There is no doing it wrong, there is no end goal. It is uncomfortable, as if every second is one mental bicep curl and you’re exhausted 15 reps in. You will get stronger, but most of the time it will feel like work because just like any practice or discipline, it is work.
What this work looks like in practice can include: Finding quiet. Sitting down. Closing your eyes. Taking deep breaths over and over. Saying a mantra over and over. Being mindful of your presence in your surroundings. Feeling sensations in the body. Listening to guidance. Movement and posing and stretching.
All of that is right, and it’s what we commonly hear as being meditation. What I have found in my own practice is that you can meditate with your eyes open, while doing things, while there is noise and distraction, for very short spurts at a time, in an extremely chaotic way, and it’ll still work.
I believe connecting with your breath in the shower for thirty seconds can leave you as calm and collected and happy as deep two-hour sessions. And I believe that if all of us could do any version of this, our entire lives would be better.
Here are some facts about meditating to get you going:
For me, there was a period of time where I wanted to meditate but just couldn’t get myself to do it even though for years I had made myself do yoga while hating it the whole time. What finally got me meditating was that I reached a point where I didn't just want to meditate, I needed to. I felt like I was quite literally losing my mind and was horrified of what that meant. I studied Transcendental Meditation and Reiki and now I meditate every single day--sometimes for minutes and sometimes for hours. And I have found that all that matters is that you do it. That’s it.
Here are the steps to make it easiest to start:
- Get comfortable. It’s okay if that means locked in your bathroom on the toilet, or in the car in the grocery store parking lot, or laying in bed because it’s midnight and you just remembered. All of those count.
- If you can, close your eyes. If not, don’t. Again, it’s fine if you fall asleep. If you cry, cry. Laugh. Flip out.
- Just stay, however long you can. Try one minute.
- Repeat whenever you're able to.
- To watch your progress, which can be helpful motivation, set a stopwatch or a timer.
It is painful and difficult and yes it may make you anxious at first. It’s very common to get frustrated because you feel like you cannot quiet your mind or your body. It can feel physically impossible to sit still. Sometimes, even if lying down, you’ll feel physical pain from holding still. It’s bananas. (Sad spoiler alert: these “symptoms” never go away. Well maybe for monks they do, but for me they appear whenever they feel like it, regularly.)
Breathing will help the physical symptoms. Mantras help the mental ones. But the point is, for every minute you are doing it, it’s working. Take deep, slow breaths and focus on nothing else for one minute, that’s probably more than you’ve breathed in a while. Spend 20 minutes straight mentally screaming at your second grade bully for something you really could have sworn you were over, you’re healing. Let your children, pets, partners, roommates, or family interrupt you over and over, you’re learning patience. Use it to fall asleep and nothing else, you’ll get better sleep. It’s all working.
And in my experience, the best part of “it’s working” besides that amazing list above is that very, very slowly, you learn to watch your mind. Observe it. Actually listen to it and learn to notice its patterns. You hear how silly it can be. Give it time to freak out and then give it time to calm down. And when you do that over and over and over, even in little bits, you learn to accept the waves of your thoughts and emotions as just that—waves that come and go and vary in intensity. You start to see those waves everywhere, and then you learn to accept those too.
So seriously. If you’re like me and are even a little bit worried about holding it together while everything feels like it’s unraveling—I promise this will help tremendously. Set a stopwatch. See how it goes. We’re lucky if we even have a minute to set aside for this, and how heartbreaking that this is the world we live in. Remind yourself that resting your mind is a luxury that you should take for yourself, even one minute at a time.
Read more about meditation: