By Victoria Branson, L.Ac.
Here at Maple Seed Wellness the number one activity I recommend to my patients to further their healing and empower themselves in their own wellbeing is meditation. This is not only because it has been used safely for thousands of years to produce awareness, health, and vitality, but also because, with consistent practice, it has the delightful side-effect of promoting the experiences of peace, joy, and love on a profound level.
Meditation is the beguilingly simple practice of being present in this moment. It is simultaneously both the easiest and most challenging endeavor, easy because it only requires a moment to do and no equipment or expense, and difficult because it challenges you to change the way you have perceived the world for most of your life: As a society, we thrive on time. Meet a person on any given day, and that person is almost guaranteed to be thinking about the future or the past. Thinking is an act of separation by its very nature, and often it is accompanied by the emotions that indicate a disconnect from the present moment: worry, anxiety, fearfulness, irritability, impatience, discontent, frustration, or sadness. When it feels as though our thoughts are thinking us, and our present moment is filled with to-do lists, worries about the future, and concerns about the past, we are not truly alive in this moment. We are disconnected from our bodies and from our deeper selves. It is a huge leap to realize that you even want to meditate. It usually takes a firm desire for inner peace and a deeper understanding of yourself and of life.
People typically notice one thing right away when they start a meditation practice: there is a voice in their head and it won’t shut up. This is completely normal, or at least common; you can call this voice the narrator, the ego, the monkey mind (which is really rather insulting to monkeys), or the judge. It’s a part of our minds on the lower level, a technique adopted by the mind for self-preservation at a very young age to provide protection through distancing yourself from the world. Instead of actually experiencing the aliveness of the world, you separate yourself from it by labeling and judging it. For example, instead of being present, open, and connected when you see a tree, most people, if they notice it at all, think of the name of the tree, describe mentally how it looks, compare it to other trees they have seen or memories involving that type of tree in childhood, etc. This is an abstraction, not the true profound depth, beauty, and spirit of the tree. In this way, the world we experience becomes a kind of shadow world, a world devoid of the vitality and joy that it naturally contains. Once you become aware of the voice in your head, that is the start of huge change in your life. Awareness is what overcomes this tendency to abstraction and separation, and brings vibrant life back again as when you were a child and knew instinctively the fun and pure potential of existence.
To start meditating, pick an amount of time for yourself that doesn’t seem daunting. What is important is not how long you practice but regular practice. Thus, five minutes a day is better than one hour once a week. Then, choose a position that is comfortable, but not too much. You want to be relaxed but preferably not fall asleep, or at least not too fast. For people with insomnia issues, meditating while laying down can be very healing. Then, pick an anchor for yourself. The most common one used is breath. You can also choose an image, a candle flame, a mantra or prayer, or a single word. Whatever you choose will be your port in the storm of your thoughts. Then you sit, or lay down, and allow yourself to be present in this moment. See what happens. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and notice how you feel in the times, which will become more frequent, when thoughts cease to be. Feel the aliveness of your body from the inside, it’s strength and beauty and vitality. Feel how your heart beats, your blood flows, your lungs breath, your organs function, food digests, and you are nourished, all without any effort on your part. Feel on an experiential level the miracle of existence.
When you begin, it’s perfectly normal to feel like you’re mainly getting distracted by your thoughts. Our capacity to be aware in this moment is like a muscle that has atrophied. It simply takes consistent practice to build it back up. Whenever you notice that you have started thinking again, simply bring your awareness back to your breath or whatever your anchor is. One of the pitfalls that people new to meditation often fall into is frustration. Why can’t I be blissful and free of thoughts right now? It’s important to treat yourself as you begin your journey towards your deeper self with as much kindness and patience as though you were teaching a child or a dog. Every time you notice that you have left your anchor and been swept away in thoughts, reward yourself. Yes, reward yourself because you just became present. By doing this you use positive reinforcement to build upon your small success. Allow your inner smile to develop as you catch yourself again and again. In this way you develop not only presence but compassion.
Over time, as you begin to feel the peace, love, and joy that are your birthright through your regular meditation practice, you may start to want to bring your meditation practice out into the world. This is the next phase in your development as an aware being. The outside world provides limitless opportunities to challenge your ability to stay present in the moment which will only serve to deepen your connection to life itself. You can offer blessings to the water as you wash the dishes. You can feel connected to all of life as you drive down the road. You can breathe deeply and feel the unity behind the separation as you work at your job and spend time with your family. Allow every moment you experience to be a gift that deepens your consciousness. Be a student of existence, and know that in every moment you have the choice to awaken and experience the peace, vitality, and beauty that you have been given.
To learn more about meditation:
The books of Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now, A New Earth, Stillness Speaks
The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer
The podcast “Headspace”
Victoria is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and Oriental medicine practitioner in Beaverton, Oregon. She specializes in pain relief, digestive disorders, women's health, insomnia, and stress relief. Victoria loves to empower patients to heal themselves using meditation, tai ji, qi gong, nutrition, visualization, and affirmations. When not learning more about medicine and healing, you can find Victoria on adventures with her husband and dog, playing in nature, cooking, gardening, meditating, and getting suckered into giving her dog more food.