Meditation for me is something which is really important to my mental health. I love to say that I meditate for an hour every day without fail, but that just wouldn’t be honest! I do try for a minuimum of three times a week and something each day – whether that is my prayer bead work (post to follow soon), or a 20 minute meditation session.
I have already posted about my meditation stool and how that has improved things for me. In case it is not clear, I highly recommend a proper meditation stool or cushions, the right posture makes a world of difference for me.
Firstly, what is meditation? Well to me it is the act of quietning or focusing the mind. I am sure there are other definitions, but that for me is what it is.
Quietening the mind
This is the main practice for me, the act of trying to get the mind to settle, to get it to stop THINKING and CHATTERING and GOING A MILLION MILES AN HOUR. Now, in Buddhist circles this is called the ‘monkey mind’ and I really love that image. A monkey jumping up and down in my brain screeching and chattering away. Yep, that’s my brain! I find it really hard to relax and switch off, my brain just never shuts up!
To try to calm this I primarily use the Buddhist practice of the Mindfulness of Breathing. Here is a link to the London Buddhist Centre explaining that practice and a guided meditation. I did all of my meditation ‘training’ with these people and I like the centre a great deal. If you are in London I recommend you go along to an introductory session – they do not push Buddhism in any way and I have now been on several retreats with them too.
While you are meditating, unless you are in fact enlightened, I can guarentee your mind will pop up and start chattering away in some shape or form. A technique I have taken from Jon Kabat-Zinn is just to think ‘thinking, thinking’ or ‘planning, planning’ or ‘worrying, worrying’ or some other label for the thoughts. Don’t mentally shout GO AWAY I AM MEDITATING, this is not a mental fight with yourself. I say that because when I first started meditating I did – I approached the whole thing like it was a battle that I could WIN! I will beat my mind into submission and it will be quiet. I also berated myself as thoughts occured, or when I had totally drifted off into my thoughts and had lost count and was all over the place. I still do sometimes. But it is not helpful at all. By labelling the thoughts you allow them just to drift away. It sounds daft, but it really does work.
Speaking of Jon Kabat-Zinn, he was one of the founding parties of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, if you remember I completed this course, last year and I loved it. I am returning this year as a team member and I am really excited to be doing so. I highly recommend his book with The Mindful Way Through Depression, he also does one for stress and general ones on mindfulness. He has a lovely voice and I love the CD which accompanies the book. You might want to check out his materials if you like doing lots of research on a subject.
Of course, I am talking like I am now a world expert on meditation, but this is not where this post is coming from at all. I just wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on meditation – to reassure people that it is not complicated and is a simple practice, it also does not have to be associated with Buddhism, or any form of spirituality. I haven’t ‘mastered’ meditation at all. But it honestly is a key practice for me in managing my depression, along with eating well, exercising and sleep. They are the four foundations of my mental health and I try to keep aware of them all the time. This has turned into a much longer post than I anticipated, so I will do the section on focusing the mind on another day.