Mindfulness and Meditation

What am I actually trying to achieve when I meditate?

This question perplexed me for quite a while.  It’s almost like they don’t tell you everything up front because they want to surprise it on you when you get there…Kapow!  Enlightenment!  Now you get it, right?  Uh…no.  Please explain what I am going for here… Well, here is what I eventually learned over the course of several books, lots of practice and even more conversations, ponderings and analyzing.

So, at first, nothing.  At first, it is really ok to go into meditation expecting nothing.  This is what I did.  I had no idea what to expect, so I really didn’t get much out of it.  I started “practicing” by just breathing and focusing on my breath and focusing on my feet on the floor and…mind wandering…oh yeah, focusing on the way my butt feels in my seat, focusing on my…squirrel…on my breath.  This is pretty much how it went for several months of meditating.  I have to admit, it was pretty boring.   Rest assured, young padawan, you are laying the foundations for the next step.

It really wasn’t until I laid on one more level, “Noting,” that the magic really started to happen.  And, I have to say…it hit me like a ton of bricks, and it truly was magical!

We start “Noting” by paying attention to when our mind wanders.  We note that it has wandered, and we get back to meditating.  We don’t get angry with ourselves, or say we’re stupid for not staying focused.  Everyone’s mind wanders.  The entire point of meditation is to stop your mind from wandering and be present.  This is 2500 years of religion, science, yogi’s and spiritualists just to learn how to stop your mind for going off for a walk every 5 seconds.  Once you realize that this is no different than every other soul who ever walked the planet, you tend to start giving yourself a break on it here and there.

So, we meditate, and we “note,” and we breathe, and we wander, and we “note,” and we breathe….and this goes on and on, again, for a few months.  Better now…I can SEE how crazy my mind is, but that doesn’t help me do anything about it yet.

There are all sorts of techniques for “noting” and I would suggest you try them all.  However, the one that I found to be most powerful and almost instantly pulled me out of myself and in a sort of “hover above without judgement” perspective, was to narrate my life as if I was writing a biography.  In other words, “…when Elizabeth would drive in her car, this was when her mind started really going.  She could pass ten miles without even noticing a car around her.  She mostly focused on work, she had to get everything right.  This was her livelihood, her family’s livelihood.  She was responsible for them.  This is why she felt so much stress about it all the time…”

This is where my favorite guru Andy Piccombe, creator of Headspace, helped me understand the next step.  Once you start “noting” your mind wandering, then you start “noting” what it does to you.  Does it make you angry, does your heart start racing?  Does whatever you’re focused on need your attention.  What is the source of that feeling?  When you can notice your feelings and emotions without reacting to them, you can start to study and understand their source.  You step back and survey the landscape, then you step back again and survey that landscape, then again, and again and so forth, until you realize that the original source of discomfort or stress is really not the source of it at all.  And sometimes, you find that the source is so silly that it’s really not even worth focusing on.  Sometimes you find that it’s the same source over and over and it’s time you took some action on a negative influence in your life.

There is so much more to meditation, really more than I even know myself at this point, but this small exercise has had truly mind blowing effects on my mental state and well being.  And, the more I practice meditating, the better I get at it.  I can trigger the “noting” of my emotions by a few deep breaths, and stop dwelling on what’s IN my mind, and instead focus on what’s around me happening right NOW.

And right now is really the only place to be.