All courses at the Melbourne Meditation Centre aim to teach you to meditate.
This means you learn how to:
- relax the body, and
- calm the mind
You’ll be able to do this:
- on your own, without a teacher or guide
- at anytime you need or want to
You will be developing a skill that enables you to:
- calm yourself rapidly
- let go of physical and mental stress
- relate to your thoughts and emotions in healthy and harmonious ways
- develop mental clarity and awareness
What is meditation?
Meditation comes in many different flavors. There are hundreds of different techniques, traditions and technologies available.
Despite this diversity, the ‘essential ingredients’ of meditation are more or less the same. Basically, meditation is any technique that enables you to relax the body and calm the mind.
Nearly everyone walks into their first meditation class thinking at least one, if not all, of the following:
- I’m too busy to meditate
- I don’t have the discipline to meditate
- I can’t sit still
- I can’t stop thinking
- I can’t focus and always get distracted
- Whenever I meditate I fall asleep
Such beliefs need not be a problem. They are just the artifacts of a stereotypical understanding of meditation: an understanding which suggests that for meditation to be effective you must do it every day, perhaps for at least 20 minutes, and that both body and mind should be perfectly calm and still when you do. These notions are unrealistic and unhelpful.
Meditation is, in fact, a very versatile and adaptable skill. It can be integrated into the busiest of days and practiced while engaged in almost any activity. This is because meditation has much more to do with how you use and manage your attention than it does with how long you do it for, what posture you adopt and even what happens during the practice.
You can meditate:
- in any posture, including sitting, lying, walking etc.
- at any time, including whilst exercising, at meals, when waiting, in bed, in the toilet or shower, during meetings etc.
It’s useful to distinguish between two broad categories or ‘ways’ of meditating:
On the spot
- 10 seconds — 10 minutes
- Utilise ‘waste’ or ‘down’ time
- Informal, spontaneous, opportunistic
- No force or discipline required
- Keeps you out of the stress zone
- 10 minutes or more
- deep relaxation and clarity
- Deep rest, healing
You can also practice being mindful, which in simple terms means that you pay deliberate attention to whatever you are doing (e.g. walking, talking, eating or exercising).
Principles of Meditation
In the context of meditation, body and mind are best thought of as interrelated, rather than separate, aspects of experience. How you feel physically, will affect your mental and emotional states.
While meditation is often thought of as a mental discipline, success is dependent upon the body being relaxed. Too much discomfort or pain will make it difficult — if not impossible — to calm the mind.
The mind is notoriously difficult to control. Thoughts have the capacity to trap our attention, particularly when we’re stressed. Instead of trying to control your thoughts, a simpler and more effective strategy is to do something that will relax your body.
If you relax the body, the mind will naturally begin to calm down.
Relaxing the Body
We all relax at times:
- When we fall asleep
- When we’re too exhausted to move
- When we’re forced to through illness
We adopt many strategies:
- Take a walk
- Go to movies/pub
- A glass of red wine
Meditation is not necessarily a ‘better’ strategy, but it can be just as much fun, provides more relief, works more effectively and is much cheaper! Meditation allows you to take conscious control of the relaxation process: it allows you to relax deliberately, quickly, wherever or whenever you want/need to.
At the high end of the stress scale, our ‘reptilian’ brain is activated. The fight / flight response kicks in, our thinking becomes distorted (and often unhelpful), our emotions are on high alert and we we burn energy fast.
At the low end of the stress scale the relaxation response (aka: rest and digest) is activated. Our thinking is slower and clearer, our emotions even-tempered and our metabolic rate lower. The body has an opportunity to rest and repairs itself, and the mind can review our thoughts, emotions and actions in a calm or even dreamy state.
You don’t have to go straight to sleep to experience peace or relief from stress or anxiety.
- Shifting a notch or two down the scale can be done easily and quickly
- Since stress is painful the body naturally wants out. All it needs is a little encouragement
Calming the Mind
Contrary to popular opinion, the most effective way to calm your mind is not by trying to block out or stop your thoughts. In fact, the effort to stop thinking will almost guarantee that you end up feeling agitated and discouraged.
It’s worth remembering that the function of the mind is to think, just as the eyes see and the ears hear. And just as it would be futile to try and stop yourself from seeing or hearing, it is equally futile to try and make yourself stop thinking.
Peace of mind doesn’t come by trying to extinguish all thought. It comes by establishing harmonious relationships with the various ‘voices’ in your head. If you give your thoughts permission to pass through your mind, you will usually find that they quickly become less bothersome; and may even leave you alone.
You can explore this topic further by reading the article 12 Good Reasons to Let Yourself Think in Meditation.