Imagine that it’s 6 a.m.
You’re in a group meditation class; your eyes are shut, and you struggle to clear your mind. As you try to focus on nothing, you find your mind focusing on everything — grocery lists from weeks past, the hole in that one pair of pants you loved, and how long has it been since you talked to your parents? Is that a fly, or your own mind filling space? What time is it? Has silence always been this LOUD? Why can’t people breathe more subtly?
Finally, you bring your mind back in line and try to focus on silence and inner peace, and you’re almost there, you can almost taste it, and suddenly, someone snores.
If you’re anything like me you’re torn between giggling and groaning. While it’s always just a little funny when people fall asleep in public (and I say this as someone who once fell asleep in front of Buckingham Palace), it’s also frustrating to be interrupted when you’re so close to really clearing your mind. Suddenly you’re reminiscing about the time you fell asleep in a crowded study hall (no one told you Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood had melatonin in it), and your mind is anything but silent.
Meditation is one of those practices that’s much easier to talk about than do, but here are some tips from yours truly.
1. Set up a routine around meditation. Sit in a similar place every day, with similar clothes and make sure it’s as quiet as you can make it. While it may take a couple of weeks to establish the habit, it’s easier to calm the mind internally when there are fewer distractions and deviations outside. Obviously, the goal over time is to be able to meditate anywhere — but when you’re starting, this routine will certainly help.
2. Don’t get upset with yourself when your mind wanders. I know our natural inclination is to berate ourselves for wrong doing, but the tension will only bring you further from the goal. Instead, relax yourself fully and forgive yourself — you’re human, and you’ll try again in a minute. You’ll be surprised how much more peaceful you feel!
3. And while you’re at it, start forgiving the others disturbing you. Instead of scowling mentally to yourself and forging on, take a moment and just say “I forgive you” in your own mind. Over time, you’ll begin forgiving these disruptions automatically, and won’t have to disturb yourself at all to do so.
4. If your mind persists in wandering, let it be. Instead of trying to maintain mental silence, investigate the thoughts you do have. Try to slow down the pace of your thoughts — or, better yet, choose a topic to focus on. Practice some self love and focus on what you value in yourself, or count the things in your life you’re thankful for.
5. If silence is too abstract, choose a mantra and repeat it. You can chant “Om” repeatedly, or even write yourself a short statement that brings you peace or empowers you. You’ll find that as time passes, you’ll need the mantra less and less.
6. If your mind is still restless, consider getting up and moving around a bit. The reason for yoga asanas is to stimulate, then relax your body so that you can move beyond the body level. Move around a bit and observe your breathing patterns, and how they change as you move. Then sit back down and try to bring that awareness to your breath and the surrounding stillness.
And if, after all these efforts, your mind is stubbornly disobeying you, consider trying a different type of meditation. Every person’s mind is different; some people find it easier to meditate when they focus on a single image, others prefer to chant a mantra, there’s transcendental meditation, a myriad of guided meditations, and that’s just the beginning of the list! I myself have had strong experiences with meditation that involved sound resonances in some way, such as Native American flute and Tibetan Singing Bowls. If at first you don’t succeed, change your angle; more than likely, there is something out there for you.
It is completely possible for every person to meditate — but meditation for person A and person B might look different, and it’s important to find what works for you!
What type of meditation works for you? And what hasn’t worked? There’s power and freedom in realizing the things not serving us! —Anagha