The idea to meditate was somehow always around, but never practically used. Even though once tried walking meditation, few times received guidance while doing training courses, it was never a setting that encouraged to continue – it was too mystical, unclear, done with many people around, somehow not reflecting my needs. Curiosity was anyway there and perhaps raising due to talks on TED.com, various books and friends talking about the benefits of meditating, but I could not find a way to enter.
Until one day received a gift – a book Headspace by Andy Puddicombe. Instead of being very mystical, full of strange Hindu words, special artifacts, it was down to earth approach how to meditate. Author tried various meditation methods himself, traveled around the world living as a monk in variety of monasteries to attain the knowledge. Since I had no desire of becoming a monk to unveil the ways to meditate (and reap the benefits), it was great to read a book (from the person who did all the explorations) and just adopt the digested and tried practice. Moreover, and most important to me, he suggested a technique that was very acceptable and possible to implement in my daily life.
The essence of suggested meditation is to spend 10 minutes per day sitting in the same chair (in my case mattress) at the same time (in my case just after waking up and peeing) doing several steps in order to give yourself a moment of doing nothing, thinking nothing, just being present (mindfulness) with physical senses, surrounding, and in this way creating a space (called headspace) and concentration for the time after the meditation.
It sound contradictory initially but makes sense afterwards to have a time throughout the day, when mind and feelings are not occupied with any actions, thoughts or emotions. As once I was told in a training about self developing – only if all the things are removed from your presence, you are able to maximise creativity. Otherwise things, props, prior thoughts occupies the mind and limits to attain maximum creativity.
In my case, I wanted meditation to provide me calmness, ability to prioritize better on activities throughout the day, be less distracted by unimportant stuff, and in the end reach maximum efficiency and creativity realizing goals.
Just before diving into the steps of meditation, lets split the term meditation with mindfulness. The terms are closely interlinked and have several meanings. In the book author describes that while mindfulness means being present, living now and here, meditation is a technique to practice the mindfulness. Even though I would like to incorporate in the term mindfulness the awareness of the past and future, while living (doing, acting) now and here, it makes a lot of sense to train to be more present, because we forget that. I would also like to see meditation as a technique to get more mindfulness throughout the day – incorporate past (but only constructively), being able to focus on the presence (main thing!) and at the same time consider future implications.
There are 10 steps in the meditation:
Phase I: Check-in (around 5 min)
(1) find a time in the day time, when you can do the meditation at the same time. Find the same sport and the same chair, where you could always do meditation. Find the timer to measure 10 minutes time. Switch off all communications, tell people not to disturb this moment. Sit down straight, place hands on the knees and press the 10 minutes timer.
(2) Sit down straight, place hands on the knees. With open eyes slowly and deep breath in 5 times through the nose and breathe out through the nose. Then close the eyes.
(3) Return the breath to the normal and only through the nose (and from this on breath always through the nose). Feel the touch with the chair, feet touching the ground, back touching the arm – how does it feel to sit on the chair?
(4) Listen to the sounds around – what are these sounds and how often do they repeat? Try to understand what kind of smells are around and are they changing? Feel the taste in the mouth.
(5) Scan your body from the head to the toes, feeling how every single body parts feels on the way. Slowly scan two times.
(6) Shortly summarize what is the overall feeling right now? What is the overall mood? What is your one priority today?
Phase II: The process (around 4 min)
(7) Feel the breath – is the breath shallow, deep, slow, fast, rare, light – what kind? Observe the breath.
(8) Start counting the breath – 1 breath in, 2 breath out, 3 breath in, 4 breath out .. up to 10. Then restart the counting again. Repeat the count till 10 overall 5 to 10 times. If suddenly the count is lost or goes over 10, then just return to 1 and continue to count till 10.
Phase III: Check-out (around 1 min)
(9) Allow your thoughts and senses to do whatever they want. Observe them.
(10) Return to the chair – feel the connection with the chair and feet feel connection with the ground. Then slowly open your eyes, meditation is accomplished.
I really started to understand the meditation with two analogies told by the author of the book. One of the analogies is thoughts are clouds. There are darker and brighter clouds. Some of them stops the light and cause the rain, some of them remind something or inspire. What is important, above the clouds there is always a blue sky without clouds. It is easy to understand when you are on the plane above the clouds and indeed never see the clouds above. As interesting or gloomy clouds or thoughts are, they pass, and above all, there is anyway blue clear sky.
Another analogy is thoughts are cars on the highway, while you are observer on the side of the highway. There are many amazing cars that you like and there are many cars that look awful – maybe because of the color, shape or age. Simply because you like the car or you do not, you would not run into the highway to show your admiration or disgust. Stay and observe for a while what kind of traffic-environment is around you, what kind of cars-thoughts pass, but don’t engage with them, just observe.
Now it is important to discuss what meditation can do, according to some researches:
(1) Allow to control better emotions and behaviour. It is found that after five days of meditating participants increased the blood flow to the area of brain that is responsible with emotions and behaviour. After eleven hours of meditation, actual physical changes in this part of the brain has occurred.
(2) Mindful training can help anyone who seek peak performance in extremely stressful situations, according to University of Pennsylvania.
(3) Decrease the time needed to get to sleep from average 40 minutes to 20 minutes, according to Stanford Medical Centre.
(4) Four days of mindfulness training enabled to do better cognitive tests with deadline.
(5) Meditation helped older participants to increase brain accuracy and speed of response, according to Emory University.
(6) After eight weeks of mindfulness practice, participants experienced a significant change in the activity in the activity from right to left part of the brain, which corresponded with increased feelings of happiness and well-being (my other essay on happiness), according to University of Wisconsin.