Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I've read almost everything you've written. I think maybe everything. I am trying to start to meditate like Step 11 says. I read a lot of your writing you talk about breathing and meditating. Or breathing. Do you do that and do you do it a certain way when you meditate?
I think there's a really good "hot air" joke at my expense lurking somewhere around the edges of this, but for the moment it lies tantalizingly out of reach.
It's a great question.
First, I don't think there's a "wrong" way to meditate. There are as many kinds of meditations as there are people who want to meditate. Walking meditations, sitting meditations, chanting meditations... and then there are people (and I am one of them) who can see some activities as a form of meditation. The mindful practice of washing the dishes, for example (though I confess that's not one I've done lately), or gardening, or sitting and listening to something (even in an AA meeting) with your whole self... I would urge you to consider that the point is not to do it right, the point is to do it.
And meditation seems, to me, to be about stilling the chaos in our minds by doing one of two things: Thinking of NO thing or thinking of only ONE thing. Whichever you try, one of the best things I've ever heard about meditation was in an AA meeting, and it was the idea that, since our meditation is in large part about seeking a conscious contact with Something Greater than ourselves, we should never be discouraged by those (many) moments in our meditation practice when our mind slips back into the chatter we seek to quiet. We should instead try to remember that the realization of the return of the chatter, and the simple attempt to recapture a more quiet focus, IS the meditation, since it is the essence of the seeking that conscious contact.
Simply put, it's not just when you are able to quiet your mind which is the meditation; the attempt to do so is the essence of the seeking, and thus the most fruitful moments of a meditation practice.
Oh JG, I really wanted to give you a simple answer and refrain from too much pontificating (since if you've read a lot of my writing you've had to wade through a belly full of THAT I wager) and yet I still slid into some meta there. Sorry.
Simple and practical advice (experience) about meditation and breathing:
- Sit comfortably, sit still, then count down 100 breaths, trying to think only about the numbers as you count them, and being aware of the depth and pace of your breathing as you go. For most of us it will take a long time to even make it to 90 before the chatter starts to intrude. (And, embarrassingly, I often sometimes lose count when I do that! Sad but true.)
- Or do visualizations -- those work really well for me as it gives my imagination a focus and that somehow helps me find some quiet. Visualize breathing in Light and breathing out Dark. Or, if you don't like the idea of visualizing darkness inside you when you meditate, visualize a sort of glowing white energy breathing in and then a not-glowing white energy breathing out.
- Come up with a mantra and as you breathe say it in rhythm to your breaths. Then you get both mediation AND affirmation in one practice! It's like the double word score of spiritual Scrabble!
- Press your index fingers to your thumbs as you inhale, hold the breath for a three count, and then release the breath, opening your fingers as you do -- feel all the stored energy (and tension) you collected flow out with the exhalation.
There are tons of guides and suggestions out there -- why not take a poll among people in Meetings you find interesting -- or break the ice with someone you find intimidating by asking about their mediation practice. Or, maybe best of all, ask that person who seems to be at the meeting a lot but is often removed from the group in one way or another what their thoughts are -- then you can maybe both learn something helpful but also (and more importantly perhaps) help someone feel "a part of."
I myself have had long stretches -- years worth -- of a very disciplined and kind of "formal" meditation practice, and also had long stretches -- years worth -- of a much more casual, on-the-fly series of exercises to try and find peace amidst mental turmoil (I use those a LOT at work right now).
And while I feel that, outside of trying to follow a particular religion's specific discipline I want to reiterate that I don't think you can really do meditation "wrong," I also want to point out that in this, as in all things, you'll get a result in proportion to your effort.
In other words, to use an analogy, we can say that, yes, taking a stroll around the block is a form of exercise. It's good for you and it stirs the blood and will increase your respiration a little, but that level of exercise won't get you to the Olympics. To have a powerful physical transformation one needs the regular practice of a rigorous physical exercise routine. I suspect that (for me) the "washing-the-dishes-mindfully-meditation" is the spiritual equivalent of walking around the block. Sure, it's a meditation of sorts, but the result will not be the same as a disciplined -- even challenging -- regular (daily) meditation practice.
Hope some of that was helpful and not just a lot of ... nope. Still can't find a fresh take on the hot air line.