I have been interested in meditation for a long time. I don’t even remember when I first heard about meditating, but for a long time it seemed like this mysterious thing that unlocked solutions, uncovered wisdom, and had the ability to help practitioners reach their very highest potential. I was drawn to stories of mystical experiences people had through meditation. Even when mystical types of things happened to people outside of meditation, it often happened that they were regular meditators. I’ve always loved reading thought-provoking books from people like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Parhmahansa Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda, Thich Nhat Hahn, Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield. All of these authors exude a wisdom and power that is uplifting and inspirational, and they are all serious meditators.
Books such as theirs have inspired me over the years to try meditation, in order to try to tap into what they channel in their writing. All of the books I was reading which were piquing my interest in meditation spoke about meditation itself in a roundabout way (meaning, they were not intended to be “how to meditate” books); alluding to it but not giving a lot away in the “how.” What I could glean about it was that the point was to clear the mind, ignore thoughts, be in the present moment. It seemed easy and natural, so I would sit and try it. Ultimately, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting to the place where my mind was clear. Did it matter if I was in the lotus position? After yoga, my teachers would always have us lay down for the ending relaxation/meditation. Is lying down the way to go? Do I need to pay attention to the breath? Should I be trying to do anything in the odd moments where I was able to settle my mind down?
This ambiguity from lack of clear direction ultimately always resulted in me letting go of my meditation practice. It wasn’t until I finally had proper instruction from a proper course (courses, I should say - I have taken many to keep developing) that I was able to really sink my teeth into meditation properly and start to develop a practice I could stick with and which inspired me to keep going deeper.
It was important to me to learn the techniques, so that I felt I had direction when I sat to meditate. I knew what tools I could use to get to a state of reaching my highest self (or, at least, give myself the space to try to reach that state), and I knew how to use and intermix those tools. But there was something even more important than learning the techniques: using the techniques!
We can read all day long, day after day, books from wise souls who share the insights they’ve gained through meditation. We can read study after study about the benefits of regular meditation. We can attend class upon class to give us various meditation techniques. None of these things are going to take us within and give us the power to transform ourselves unless we actually make the time to sit down and settle into that stillness. We have to set aside those outward activities and go inward and upward, connect within ourselves, absorb our little self into our greater Self, and silently listen.
So, how do we get better at meditating? We keep doing it.
It’s good to have a dedicated place where you always meditate, and where you only meditate. In India, it is common to have a room dedicated just to meditation. Houses in the west often aren’t afforded their own meditation room, particularly in the city. I’m still living in Italy for the next few days, and we don’t have a lot of spare room in our apartment. I use part of my bedroom as my “meditation area,” but it’s not practical for me to keep that space for only meditation. Yogis recommend that if you have to use part of a room that is also used for something else, that you use a screen or something similar to “wall off” the room a bit.
There are different reasons for having a dedicated meditation space. First, it helps in forming the habit of meditation. When I pass through my room and see my meditation cushion on the floor, it automatically triggers in my mind thoughts of meditating. If I know my daily meditation is yet to come, it gets it into my consciousness so I know where best to insert it into my day. Meditating in the same space also helps build up meditation vibrations in that area. As those higher-frequency, peaceful vibrations build over time, you benefit from them each time you sit for meditation. They help you go deeper more easily.
Try to avoid engaging in other activities in your meditation space. You want to create a relaxing atmosphere, conducive to meditating, which may make you tempted to use the space for reading or writing. If you absolutely feel compelled to read or write in that space, assure you are reading/writing uplifting things that connect you to your highest potential. However, when we are engaging outwardly in any way, we are not in that high vibration that comes with deep meditation, and that can impact the environment we are trying to achieve/maintain with our meditation space.
Now, all that being said, the important thing is that you meditate! Period. So, if your space is too small to carve out a dedicated space, meditate where you can, when you can. Maybe you’re a student living in a dorm room. I hardly had room to turn around in my dorm room, so it would have been absurd to expect me to find a dedicated space where I never studied, ate, rested, etc. Don’t let anything get between you and reaching your higher self. The absolute most important thing is to make space in your life and in your heart for meditation, and just do your best with the physicality aspect.
I’m American, and my culture tends to be pretty immediate. We don’t only want results, we want them fast. That can be a difficult attitude with which to approach meditation. Meditation can take a bit of time to get comfortable with, and the results can at first be a little subtle.
Research shows that changes to the brain from meditation can be seen on an MRI or PET scan within 8 weeks. That’s on subjects who are only meditating 10-20 minutes per day! It is also normal for a new meditator to experience a sense of peace, stillness, calmness, or another positive quality, during their first meditations and carry that feeling on beyond the meditation. It’s wonderful to experience these feelings and be able to understand they were harvested with something that can be practiced and honed to deepen the feelings and even go beyond them. And if these results are what the new meditator has in mind, they will be happy being able to achieve them.
However, some people have expectations about meditation that can be difficult to achieve early on. Some people are looking for phenomena, such as seeing forms, hearing voices, being taken to another realm. These things certainly can happen to meditators, but they are not necessarily easy to attain. They tend to happen to those who are either already psychically inclined or to those who have spent a long time meditating deeply. People who meditate are more likely that the average person to experience these types of phenomena (although of course they do sometimes happen to non-meditators in everyday, "waking" life), but if a person is going to try out meditation in order to have these types of experiences happen to them, they might be disappointed with their results.
If the expectation is to experience various phenomena, it may make the new meditator feel like “nothing is happening.” It’s important to take stock of what changes are happening that may be out of their realm of focus. Probably, they can notice they are calmer, not as reactive, more centered. They may be sleeping better or having fewer headaches. They probably feel less stress and can ride the waves of life more smoothly. These things are the low hanging fruit of meditation. They may seem mundane compared to psychic experiences, but overall they contribute to a much higher quality of life from a moment-to-moment, day-to-day perspective. And all of these benefits only cost the time it takes to practice, and the commitment to keep the practice going. Imagine if they sold this stuff in a pill - you wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves!
Deeper experiences from meditation can be reachable, but traditionally they are the fruit of a lot of dedicated meditative time. There is more value in realizing that the results of meditation are cumulative, gaining over time, and that little-by-little changes are happening. Just like it gets easier to shoot a free throw the more we practice it, it gets easier to keep our focus the more we practice focusing. No basketball player became a professional without hours of practice; nor should a meditator expect to be able to focus without interrupting thoughts the first time they sit on the cushion.
Keep the long game in mind. Know that with each moment we are spending raising our vibration through meditation, we are building a foundation for ourselves of inner peace and resilience, which will serve us in small, practical ways each day, and in grander ways during trying times.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
All Cold Fasting Flu Healing Health Higher Living Meditation Meditation Challenges Meditation Dry Spell Meditation Growth Neti Pot Paramhansa Yogananda Personal Growth Spiritual Growth Spiritual Podcasts Yogic Breathing