by Julie Hunt: When it comes to meditation, you’re curious about it. Most likely, you’re convinced of the scientific benefits…
You’d like to make meditation part of your life. You may have even tried a few times but the moment you close your eyes, thoughts, stories, and mental noise flood your mind. What seems like a simple process of finding inner peace feels more like wrangling cats.
You’re not alone. Meditation can be difficult at first, but once you understand there are only two things that you can do “wrong” in meditation, you’ll never doubt yourself again. (Here, “wrong” simply means prevent you from receiving the full benefits of meditation.) They are:
- Choose to follow thoughts down a path.
- Stop the meditation early.
The key to meditation is to notice thoughts and make a conscious choice not to follow them.
1. Do Not Follow Thoughts Down a Path
Think about listening to a song. You hear a fire engine siren while you are singing along. For a split second you think, I wonder what happened? Your intention is to sing a song, but you follow the train of thought anyway. I wonder what happened? I hope no one is hurt. I should go outside and check. It’s probably fine. I need to make a dentist appointment. When does the office open? Thoughts continue. The next thing you know you’re making a grocery list or wondering if you need to research a new insurance plan.
The mind naturally jumps from one thing to another. In this example, your attention wandered away from the song. You realized it, then decided to continue to explore that line of thinking—even though you knew you were in the middle of singing a song. When your mind left to follow the stream of thoughts, you paused the song.
This may also happen during meditation. If you consciously follow your thoughts down a path during meditation, you (temporarily) pause the benefits. As soon as you pick back up where you left off, you receive benefits.
2. Do Not Get Up Before the Full Time of the Meditation Is Complete
Using the same example, if you get up to call the dentist the song stops. Or, in the case of meditation, the meditation stops. You didn’t complete your desired intention. You miss out on the benefits of the activity.
Let’s say you are singing the song. You hear the siren. You think, I wonder what happened? This time, however, the thoughts just continue to flow and you don’t realize it. Maybe multiple minutes pass. Then the thought, When does the office open? comes to mind. As soon as you notice this thought, you gently pick back up the song up where you left off and continue singing silently in your mind.
These two examples are different because of the noticing. In the second example, you receive 100 percent of the meditative benefits because as soon as you noticed the thought, you gently returned to the song (or source of the meditation).
If you turn your attention back to the source of meditation the moment you notice you have drifted away, you are meditating to maximize the benefits.
Easy Mantra Meditation
Mantra is one of the simplest meditation techniques to learn and practice—and one of the most powerful. The definition of mantra is a vehicle to take you from activity to silence. A mantra is a thought, but it is a thought without story. It is used in silent repetition to keep the mind focused. It is especially useful for new meditators who struggle to tame whirling thoughts and ideas.
Mantra meditation allows you to access quieter levels of silence beyond thought. It takes you on an inward journey unlike thought, which takes you on an outward journey.
Try a simple two-minute mantra meditation using the universal mantra so hum, which loosely means “I am.”
- Close your eyes.
- Silently think the mantra so hum.
- Inhale as you think so. Exhale as you think hum.
- When thoughts take your awareness away from the mantra, gently bring your awareness back to the mantra so hum.
- Continue silent repetition of the mantra for the duration of the meditation.
- When you are finished, release the repetition of the mantra. Softly open your eyes.
Did thoughts arise? Likely. Did you notice the thoughts and gently come back to the mantra? Perhaps. Yet, you may still be wondering, did I do it right?
Here’s a real-time exercise that will inform if you are meditating correctly.
Exercise: Sing a Tune
Start by sitting comfortably. Close your eyes. Sing any short and simple song, such as “Happy Birthday”. Sing the song silently in your mind from start to finish. Then, open your eyes.
Did you get through the entire song without another thought, mental distraction, or interruption? Probably not.
If you didn’t experience any distractions, repeat the song in your mind five or 10 more times. Eventually, a thought, sound in the environment, or sensation will take your mind away from the song. It may have even felt like you were having thoughts at the same time you were singing.
When you noticed that you had a thought or became distracted, what did you do? Most likely, when you realized you were thinking about something else, you simply picked back up the song where you left off. Is that about right?
The idea is the same for mantra meditation. When you think a thought, notice it and return to the meditation. That’s all you have to do. Your thoughts are normal. Try not to force or stop them, simply notice them. With regular daily practice, the benefits of meditation will enrich all aspects of your life.