This article is contributed by Tara Scarborough, yoga instructor, meditator and GAP client.
February is one of those “in between” months. Cold and dark and full of potential. Perhaps you are ready for spring to push through the ground or perhaps you are missing the lights and festivities of December. February, although the shortest month, can tend to drag on in our psyches for whatever reason. However, the spaces “in between” are those that yield the greatest potential. That quiet, dark space, dripping with potential is the perfect time to go inward and take some time for yourself through meditation.
People often think meditation is some abstract practice that they can never master. Meditation doesn’t have to be some “formal” event we do each day. I bet many of you “meditate” and don’t even know it. Meditation is simply quieting the mind by concentrating it on a single thing. Perhaps this is your breath, or a mantra. But, perhaps, it’s sitting with your morning coffee totally focusing on the wind blowing through the trees outside your window, or gardening with complete absorption or even just sitting down to think single mindedly about a problem. The Buddhists would call this mindfulness. Truly any act, done with complete mindfulness, is a type of meditation.
The problem with our modern day society is that we are forced to do just the opposite. We hurry through our days multitasking and moving quickly from one event to another. We sit in our cars being bombasted by whatever is on the news. We never go inward. We never get quiet. We never sit still. Truly, whatever is on your to do list and whatever your worries, commitments, and activities are, they will benefit from a few minutes just “sitting” and being.
For those who don’t have a clue how to even get started with a “sitting” (meditation) practice, here’s a few suggestions to get started.
First, identify a “sacred space” in your home. Make yourself a little altar with items that have meaning to you. I have pictures of my family, pine cones and other things from nature I have picked up. Pieces of driftwood from a favorite river trip. And candles. Make it a ritual to light the candle at the beginning of your practice and, if you like sage or incense, burn that as well.
Find a comfortable seat. If you are flexible and sitting on the floor is not a problem, I still suggest sitting on a bolster or cushion to help you plug your sitting bones down into something solid and sit up with the spine straight and with a natural curve to it. If you get tired sitting in the middle of the floor, you can sit with your back to a wall until your abdominal and back strength improves. Sitting on a hard chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor is another option.
As you sit, gently begin to focus on your breathing. This doesn’t have to be anything magical. To start, you can just deepen your breath, make it audible and hollow sounding and match the inhale and exhale to a comfortable count for you.
The tricky part, and the part that makes most people abandon the practice comes next. Working with the sometimes seemingly endless thoughts of the mind can seem challenging. It came as a bit of a revelation to a yoga student of mine, when he discovered that you are ALWAYS going to have thoughts. Meditation is not a magical stopping of the thoughts where you reach nirvana. Perhaps for the most advanced monks or yogis it is, but for us…not so much! The key is to recognize that you are thinking, to recognize the whole path your mind has taken you down and then come back to the simple inhale and exhale. The more consistent your practice, the easier it will be to redirect the mind and the less frequent the interruptions will become.
A regular meditation practice will enrich your every day life in a myriad of positive ways! You’ll find you can concentrate on tasks better and give them your full attention. You’ll be less reactive to events in your day and more able to face conflicts with equanimity. If you’re a kayaker, you’ll notice that you are more capable of leaving that swim behind, or judging your performance less. You’ll find greater enjoyment in everything and an enhanced ability to experience joy and gratitude. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it does need to be every day. Make the commitment and take the time for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!