Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your attention on a particular object — generally something simple, like a word or phrase, a candle flame or geometrical figure, or the coming and going of your breath. In everyday life, your mind is constantly processing a barrage of sensations, visual impressions, emotions, and thoughts. When you meditate, you narrow your focus, limit the stimuli bombarding your nervous system — and calm your mind in the process.
To get a quick taste of meditation, follow these instructions:
1. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably with your back relatively straight. If you tend to disappear into your favorite chair, find something a bit more supportive.
2. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and relax your body as much as you can.
3. Choose a word or phrase that has special personal or spiritual meaning for you. Here are some examples: “There’s only love,” “Don’t worry, be happy,” “Trust in God.”
4. Begin to breathe through your nose (if you can), and as you breathe, repeat the word or phrase quietly to yourself. You can whisper the word or phrase, sub-vocalize it (that is, move your tongue as though saying it, but not aloud), or just repeat it in your mind. If you get distracted, come back to the repetition of the word or phrase. As an alternative, you can follow your breath as it comes and goes through your nostrils, returning to your breathing when you get distracted.
5. Keep the meditation going for five minutes or more; then slowly get up and go about your day.
How did you feel? Did it seem weird to say the same thing or follow your breath over and over? Did you find it difficult to stay focused? Did you keep changing the phrase? If so, don’t worry. With regular practice, you’ll gradually get the knack.
Of course, you could easily spend many fruitful and enjoyable years mastering the subtleties and complexities of meditation. But the good news is, the basic practice is actually quite simple, and you don’t have to be an expert to do it — or to enjoy its extraordinary benefits.