If You Can Shower, You Can Meditate
How do you meditate?
First, it’s worth mentioning that what I’m about to say may sound like semantics. Organizing your thoughts about what meditation is (and is not) will help once you get into the practice.
It’s important to understand that meditation isn’t something you do, it’s a state of mind that occurs when you provide the right conditions.
Meditation is not do-ing, it’s be-ing.
Meditation, as a starting point, is simply being aware of your own awareness.
What do I “do” – where do I start?
It is the “practice” that is the do-ing. It’s the daily/consistent ritual of sitting quietly on a pillow or chair with your eyes closed and anchoring your awareness to something other than thought itself (e.g. your breath, a mantra, etc.).
Like the video below states, start with sitting quietly for just five minutes (or even two minutes), listening to relaxing music. Get into the daily habit of spending a small amount of quiet time by yourself and letting go of your stress. Let’s be real here: most of us don’t even do this. If we do, we certainly don’t do it on a regular basis.
This in and of itself is beneficial.
Resistance to Meditation
I know the thought of meditating for many of you may have some resistance. On a bad day, I have a mild form of it myself. This is normal. We tell ourselves:
- “I don’t have the time today.”
- “I can’t stop my racing thoughts, this is too frustrating.”
- “Meditation is for granola-eating spiritual gurus.”
Let me address each of those items:
- If you have time to take your daily shower (15-20 min.), you have time to sit quietly for five minutes. Just think of your sitting practice as a part of your daily hygiene regimen. Besides, the small amount of time you invest into sitting practice will net you 10x more productivity in your daily life. In this way, you will come out ahead time-wise, I guarantee.
- At first, this is normal in the same way someone may get side-aches when they first start to run a mile or two. Over time, the mind and body adjusts and the “pain” goes away. Before you know it, you’re sprinting five miles.
- Ah, well, I’m a secular gym-rat who never eats granola. Meditation is a form of mindfulness and has been practiced since antiquity. It is central to almost every method of self-cultivation, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. Meditation is a tool that can be used by anyone. It’s that simple.
Benefits of Meditation
Chances are you’ve heard of the benefits of meditation, or else you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. Allow me to reinforce the importance of this ancient practice.
Meditation is truly the “miracle drug” of human history.
By that, I mean it’s an intervention that has miraculous effects. Nothing I can think of compares to the collective positive impact that meditation has on the human condition. It even reduces biological age.
When examining experienced meditators, neuroscientists are finding high levels of gamma brainwave activity, which is associated with having high levels of intelligence, self-control, compassion, and sustained happiness. There is also a link to having an increased memory and overall functioning of the brain.*
It has been said that when you sharpen an ax, it helps cut down the tree quicker. Meditation is like sharpening the mind, so you can make better decisions and be a more effective human.
There’s also an amplification/increase in immune system, physical strength, creativity, intuition, and maturation.
*Just imagine if the leaders of our country meditated together.
Are People Being Misled About Meditation?
All over the Internet, it’s being said that you can essentially meditate anywhere, while doing anything (e.g. “You can meditate while baking cookies.”).
This may sound a bit harsh, but statements like these are lazy and unintentionally misleading. Many of these people clearly know how to meditate, so I’m not trying to pick a fight here, but this point is worth bringing up and I’ll let you decide.
Going for a jog, washing dishes, and watching the swans on a lake can all be mindfulness practices. They can all bring about inner calm and share certain traits of meditation and offer related benefits, but to call those activities a meditation is inaccurate.
To reiterate, it is more accurate to call the activities mentioned above, “mindfulness practices,” than to call them a “meditation.”
Simply put, they don’t activate the brain or consciousness in the same way meditation does while performing the traditional sitting practice.
Brain mapping shows us how the brain lights up when we meditate versus other activities, and we can easily compare the differences. Anecdotally, ask anyone who has practiced meditation for some time, and they will tell you that it’s also qualitatively different – by a long shot.
So when someone reads an article that discusses scientifically validated benefits of meditation, it’s important to notice the subjects tested weren’t jogging down the road in a mindful state. They were engaged in traditional sitting practice.
This has a way of throwing people off if they read another “meditation” article five minutes/days later telling them they can meditate while baking cookies because the tendency is to infer that by baking cookies (mindfully), they can redeem the same benefits as sitting practice. This would be false.
One of the most celebrated authors on the subject of meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) does in fact say we can make washing dishes into a meditation. Because I admire Hanh and know books and teachings well, I understand what he means in this instance.
If you are familiar with his work and read the whole book, you’ll know that Hanh is essentially talking about being mindful throughout the day.
That said, I worry that those who read stuff like this without understanding the context may use it as an excuse to avoid the effort of developing a sitting meditation practice – the kind of meditation that requires a fair amount of time and energy to develop, and the kind that provides maximum benefit. The kind of meditation that has been represented in a mountain of scientific studies.
The kind of meditation that has been practiced by ALL the historical figures worth noting on the subject.
To summarize, baking cookies and washing dishes can be mindfulness practices when we engage them as such. They can also be complementary to a sitting meditation practice, but they are not a sitting meditation practice and do not provide the same benefits.
To the defense of those teaching meditation as a practice of anything related to mindfulness: perhaps their intention is to get people to do something, anything, that invites mindfulness into their lives. This too is important, and my intention is not to offend anyone here but only to shine some light on the subject in order to help those trying to find their way on this path.
How to Meditate for Beginners:
4 Simple Steps
Step 1: Sit upright on a pillow or chair. Comfort and having a straight spine are the two most important elements for your meditation posture. Personally, I choose to sit on meditation cushion with my legs crossed and my back against the wall for support. The reason we meditate sitting upright is because there’s a tendency to fall asleep, since the body thinks we’re saying it’s bedtime. Of course, if you have back problems or an injury that makes sitting upright uncomfortable, you should lay on your back.
Step 2: Place your hands in a relaxed position. I know many pictures of people meditating depict the thumb and first finger touching, with the backs of their hands on the thighs. This is fine but not necessary. You can simple place your hands on your knees or in your lap.
Step 3: Notice how it feels to breathe. Take three long, slow, deep breaths, filling your lower lungs first, then your chest. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice the cool air coming in through the nostrils as you breathe in and the warm air coming out of the lungs as you breathe out. Anchor your awareness into the breath.
Step 4: Be aware of your own awareness. Simply observe any thoughts, feelings, or sensations in the body. Try not to analyze any of your thoughts. Simply be open, alert, and mindful. Allow your “observing mind” to emerge.
Tips for Meditation
Start small and be patient. Begin with two- to five-minute sessions at first, and then add an extra minute whenever you feel ready. There’s no need to rush, this isn’t a competition. So take it easy and be patient with yourself (and the process). Like most things, the more you practice, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes.
Don’t seek a specific experience. There is nothing to “get right” or “accomplish.” There’s no black belt in meditation. Besides, expectations can lead to frustration, which intrinsically serves as a natural barrier to meditation. Whatever happens during your session – mind-wandering, racing thoughts, deep relaxation, or even sleep – it’s exactly what is supposed to happen. Part of the practice is to honor any experience that presents itself.
Develop a routine. Especially at first, it helps to attach the meditation practice to something else you do every day (like brushing your teeth, showering, etc.). It’s easier to remember, and it piggybacks off the momentum of that other thing you just did. It also helps to meditate in the same location each time, preferably an area dedicated to your practice only.
And when you fall off the path (your routine), try not to get frustrated with yourself because this happens to the best of us. It’s a quick fix; gently steer yourself back on the path.
Avoid heavy meals prior. Try not to eat large meals at least 60-90 minutes before you sit down to meditate. The digestion process in this instance requires a great deal of energy and can make you sleepy.