Many people try to make meditation a part of their daily routine, but they find it more challenging than they expected. Oftentimes, the more stressed one becomes from the endless mental “chatter”; the less likely they are to achieve a state of inner silence. It’s a vicious circle. As frustrating as this can be, there are many ways to fix it through a combination of physical and mental props.
As someone who has been practicing meditation regularly for the past 20+ years, I am often asked for advice from people who are just starting out. “I can’t meditate,” they will say, “and “my mind just won’t shut off, it’s too hard!”
It may be tempting to just quit at this point, and figure that perhaps meditation just isn’t possible for you, but this is precisely the time to press on. The inner peace provided by meditation is far too valuable for it to be tossed aside this easily, but how does get to the point of perfect inner silence?
If this is your dilemma, you may have become a victim of the most common misperception about meditation. It’s not supposed to be “perfect inner silence.” This might run contrary to popular opinion on the topic of meditation, but I firmly believe that this can be a trap for newcomers to meditation. They tend to believe they‘re just “not doing it right” if they cannot achieve a state of mental bliss, or nirvana. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is meditation supposed to be like?
The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Meditation is a unique experience for each individual. Even the most experienced meditation experts will tell you; it’s not uncommon for the mind to wander off in an unwanted direction during meditation. If you’re holding on to a false conception of what meditation is supposed to feel like, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Don’t judge yourself so harshly if your journey is slightly different than what is defined in all the meditation books you’ve read. Everyone can meditate, and everyone can develop the mental discipline needed to achieve a total state of serenity. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way. Remember the old cliché: meditation is a journey; not a destination.
With time and consistent practice, you will find that brief moments of silence between your thoughts expand into longer and longer segments, and then one day, you’ll find yourself lost in bouts of long, deep stretches of inner silence. That’s right, meditation does get easier.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness that is often described as “a state of being present in the moment with a nonjudgmental acceptance of the way things are.” Originally taken from Buddhist teachings on meditation, mindfulness has been adapted for use in mood regulation and other treatments for depression.
By remaining mindfully aware and observing the current moment, it is possible to be keenly aware of your thoughts, feelings and your surroundings while remaining separate from your reaction to them. Think of it as a form of “alert meditation,” that can be practiced at any time. The key to being truly mindful involves switching off of “autopilot,” taking a step back and observing one’s own mental activity without allowing all the feelings and impulses to influence you. Mindfulness will free you from harmful judgments that you could later regret.
Zafu meditation cushions, music and other “props”
If you have spent any time in “meditation circles” or reading blogs about improving your experience, you may be aware of some of the popular props that are available. These include Zafu meditation mats or floor cushions, meditation music, timers and incense. While not all of these are necessary to achieving prolonged periods of deep meditation, the one that almost everyone needs is a meditation pillow. Sure, you can use a floor cushion that you already own, but unless it is designed for meditation it probably won’t work. A traditional Zafu is a rectangular pillow that is versatile enough to be used for yoga, meditation, sitting or reclining. The most important quality of a good meditation cushion is how supportive and how durable it is.
Look for a Zafu meditation pillow that is made with organic buckwheat hulls and be sure it has a carrying handle for easy transport to and from a yoga or meditation class. Many of the better Zafus are made from a durable cotton blend fabric with batik print inlays and a removable cover for cleaning.