What causes you stress? You might say your job, your bills, a possible mistake, or a past life event that you have to answer for. In the end, all of your stress comes from trying to anticipate the future, or regurgitating the past. The stress is all in your mind. Once you have explored the layers of your mind, you realize that innate peace and happiness can be found through the power of your mind as well.
Below, you will learn how your mind causes you stress and how meditation can help you gain control and to be immune to such stress.
When thoughts and emotions get the better of you, they cause stress.
In the course of an hour, you can end up feeling excited about a promotion, and then feeling dread that it might not be for you. You follow this up with thoughts of indignation in the line of, “I deserve that promotion. They SHOULD give it to me!” which in turn then shift to be thoughts of shame because you think you’re being arrogant.
It can feel like you have no control over the flow of thoughts and emotions, like your helpless against your own negative feelings, worries and regrets. This is because the root of these thoughts and emotions often come from a mainly subconscious belief system. This means that certain insecurities and negative views of yourself or the world are hitting you in a subliminal level.
For example, there are people who are never quite content with what they have and act as if life were a competition. They have to be the best at everything. They have to possess the newest gadgets, clothes or shoes, have the best hair, be updated on the newest trends, and this constant grasping and wanting causes them stress and strain. But, unbeknownst to them, this desire stems from beliefs and experiences that has made them believe that they are never quite good enough as they are. They feel the need to compensate for their believed shortcomings through their possessions and achievements.
These subconscious belief systems often cause you to react inappropriately. Instead of seeing the physical world and the events therein as they are, you see them through the subjective lens of your own belief system. It is your interpretation and anticipation of the experience that causes stress, not the experience itself.
This is not to say that there aren’t any truly stressful situations, such as extreme poverty, war, illness, or the loss of loved-ones. There are very valid reasons for someone to be stressed, but the way you cope and how you interpret the experience can make it inordinately worse or, if you can manage, better.
Mindsets That Cause Stress
- Defiance of the truth– this means the tendency people have to resist, deny or defy what actually is. This means being unable to accept change, failure, loss, or even of physical pain. In the end, all the things that people often resist are the same things that are inevitable. There is an old Asian fable about a proud, sturdy tree and a humble bamboo. The sturdy tree laughed at the bamboo because it would sway with the slightest wind while the tree stood tall and unbowed. Then a great storm came and laid havoc on the land. In the end, the sturdy tree was uprooted and mangled by the storm, but the bamboo was unscathed because it swayed with the wind. When you resist and defy change, you end up setting yourself up for a lot hurt and suffering.
- Always comparing– This means always putting yourself and others up to a standard and judging who is better. This can breed discontent and unhappiness if you find yourself always lacking or this can also give you a sense of entitlement and gives way to arrogance if you think yourself so superior. Both trains of thought can breed unhappiness and discontent.
- A sense of helplessness– Psychological studies have shown that a person’s perception of his or her own ability to cope with stress actually holds sway on whether they can cope with stress or not. When you believe that you can deal with it, then you are most likely triumphant, but when you feel helpless, then you end up wallowing in a stressful situation that can progressively seem worse.
As you can see, if you believe it, it is very often true because the mind is our perception filter to the world around us.
The Journey of Meditation
So many people are becoming more and more interested in learning about meditation. This should not be surprising, as meditation offers a plethora of benefits for regular practitioners, benefits that are a bit hard to come by in this fast-paced world.
Below will give you a simple introduction to meditation and let you get a glimpse of the journey you will be taking with meditation. Through these insights, you will be able to prepare yourself internally for this significant journey.
Starting a meditative practice is like taking a drive and heading to somewhere you’ve never been. It’s quite easy if you know how to drive, but you will need directions, and in the end, you’ll realize that it wasn’t just the destination, but the drive itself that made it worthwhile.
The fact is that meditation isn’t hard. Down to its bare essentials, all it takes is some quiet time to yourself, turning your attention inwards and focusing your attention. It’s that simple, but if you don’t have directions, then you’ll be driving aimlessly without a goal. This is why it is important to define your intentions.
Also, in order for you to truly appreciate the journey, you need to know what to expect, when to look ahead and when to stop and enjoy the sights. You need to have the right attitudes that will help you to get the best out of your meditative practice.
Making the Journey: Choosing Direction
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in different cultures with different beliefs. There are many different versions of meditations and each one has its own unique view of the process. These different sets of beliefs also have their own unique instructions, directions, and recommendations, and all carry their own merit. But there is no generic way that works for everyone.
In fact, medical science has even distilled meditation from its spiritual aspect and has turned it into a kind of therapy for certain psychological illnesses. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive or which way you turn, it’s still the same journey and thousands of years of practice has come up with some very good techniques.
- Mindfulness or awareness of the present
- Focused attention 0n the breath or various sensations in the body
- Repeating meaningful phrases or words
- Focusing on emotions of loving-kindness and heart fullness
- Mindful contemplation of the natural world
- Praising the Divine
Spirituality and Meditation: The Ultimate Reward
Although meditation has physical and psychological aspects, it has deeply spiritual roots. Old school meditators would often get into meditation in order to experience the Divine, be able to reconnect with the true self, and reconnect with the Source of all wisdom, love, and life. This has many names to many different people, such as Holy Mystery, the One, or simply God, but in the end, it is about reconnection and awakening into something that has been hidden and clouded from perception.
Meditation gives practitioners the chance to free their minds from earthly woes and rise above it all into enlightenment. This is one of meditation’s most profound effects in a practitioner’s life. Through meditation, you can rise above human suffering and reach higher states of consciousness. Instead of wanting things, you start to accept things as they are and find true happiness within yourself. Your wisdom mind will no longer be clouded, and you can live with happiness and contentment no matter what.
Physical and Psychological Benefits of Meditation
Although meditation has some very lofty and even Divine aspects, you can still look forward to some very practical rewards. The truth is it doesn’t matter if you want to reach the pinnacle of your practice, or if you simply want to do it because you want to improve certain aspects of your life, it depends on you. After all, it’s not just about the destination itself, but the journey counts as well.
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase of relaxed mental activity
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Relaxation of muscles
- Increases capacity in pain management
- Reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes
- More self- control
- Development of empathy
- Enhanced ability to handle stress
- Greater sense of well-being
- Additional approach in treating addiction
- Enhanced ability for concentration and focus
Not all of these benefits, or stops, on your journey through meditation have to be just stops; they can also be your destination. These are well worth striving for anyway, what is important is that you become and remain inspired with the positive outcome, to continue your practice.
A Journey to Yourself
There are those who think that finding true happiness and inner peace is a journey away, because, as they did not find happiness and contentment where they are, they must find it somewhere else. Meditation teaches us differently. Through meditation, by focusing your attention inward, you become conscious of the fact that your true happiness is actually within you and not anywhere else.
In fact, meditation says you shouldn’t try, you just have to be. Remember that meditation is about getting back in touch with the true self, the Source of all things, and the Divine. The ancient belief is that there is something of the Divine in all of us, and that knowing and focusing on the being inside of you, instead of focusing on what you think, want, need or believe, is being one with the Divine.
All you have to do is stop doing EVERYTHING for those next ten or fifteen minutes as a start. Let go of all your worries, your thoughts, emotions, and troubles, and allow your mind to go blank so that there will be room in your consciousness for the wisdom mind to emerge. You don’t need to go anywhere or read anything in particular to arrive to your truth because it’s already inside of you. You just have to be quiet enough to be able to sense it.
Of course, this won’t be easy and you won’t be able to do it immediately. This is something that you eventually master as you continue your meditation practice.
Paying Attention: Focused Awareness
Most of the time, the brain just goes in a certain direction without you even realizing it. You start with a thought and before you know it, your brain has unearthed a painful memory or cooked up an unusual notion. Sometimes these thoughts just come and go without you even realizing it. People just don’t really pay attention to their own awareness or consciousness.
However, you awareness is a crucial part of your life and should be explored before meditation. You can do this by simply by taking some time and exploring your own awareness. Ask yourself what you are aware of and take notice of what the answers might be.
How are you aware and of what? Are you more aware of external or internal factors? Are you more aware of the physical world, or are you in your own head, dreaming up fantasies all the time? Does your awareness, your consciousness, or train of thought follow a straight line from subject to subject, or does it flow spontaneously, jumping from one thought to the next? Are you contemplative in your awareness, exploring each subject leisurely, or do you speed by every thought?
Once you become more familiar with how your awareness works, it will become easier for you to direct it when you start your meditative practice.
Meditation offers many different benefits and has many different ways of achieving these benefits. The journey of meditation has many turns and detours, and you can choose to take them or not, you can choose to pause, or even stop when you reach a mini-destination, or you can choose to get to the pinnacle of practice. The most important factor, however, is deciding to finally take the journey.
Basic Tools of Meditation
Although it is very true that meditation is a simple enough concept, which requires little expertise to start with, you will need to familiarize yourself with some basic tools. It’s not that it’s difficult to do, it’s just that these concepts are simply new to most people. You need to be open-minded and employ the techniques with sincerity and curiosity.
Taking the meditation journey with the wrong intentions and attitudes can make the drive seem very long and tedious. In fact, you might not get anywhere at all. This is why it is important that you set the mood for your practice with the best intentions and attitudes.
The Significance of Awareness
We are present in a physical world that can overwhelm our senses, but a lot of people are not even aware of their physical environment most of the time. They can’t really describe the garden they pass by to work every morning. They don’t really remember what song was playing as they drove to work. This is because their awareness is not directed.
Most of the time, people pay no attention to their awareness, they aren’t even conscious of how it works, but the truth is that you can’t function without it. In fact, you can even use your awareness in a number of ways that can help you to enjoy your life, release stress, and combat anxiety.
Developing Directed Awareness
Awareness is like a muscle. If it isn’t consciously used, it becomes weak, to the point where you have no control over it. However, when exercised, it becomes strong and enables you to make use of your awareness in meditation, then later on, in life in general.
There are four practices in meditation that constitute awareness:
- Receptive awareness
The first thing that needs to be done is building up your powers of concentration. You need to be able to devote all of your attention completely into one goal. You need total concentration. Buddhists have a way of likening the mind to a monkey, hyperactive and always swinging about from one tree to the next. When you meditate however, you are calming this monkey down and making it sit still.
Concentration is about focusing on the object of awareness, whether it is your breath, a mantra, a visualized symbol, or the sensation of your body itself. Once your concentration goes beyond and enters absorption, you lose track of the concept of“self”, only the object remains.
Some people can liken this level of concentration with getting“in the zone” or the“flow” in the same way those athletes and artists do. There are surely some instances when you found yourself absorbed into an object or activity, when you had no concept of time, space and even of yourself. Sometimes, after getting into this level of concentration, you are even surprised at how much you’ve been able to accomplish.
Embracing Receptive Awareness
Where concentration is about focusing on a single object and developing directed and disciplined awareness, receptive awareness is all about loosening up and getting beyond the boundaries of the mind. These two may seem at odds with each other, but the fact is that you can’t access your awareness to open it up and make it receptive without being able to control your concentration.
Receptive awareness is about expanding your mind so that instead of the constant barrage of external distractions and thoughts, you become familiar with your mind as it is. Before you can hope to explore and comprehend the mind (or the money as Buddhists would say), you first need to quiet it down and make it peaceful. You can’t hope to understand your monkey if you can’t even catch it.
Receptive awareness is very important in meditation because it is what allows you to reconnect with the true self. You become aware of your thoughts and how they affect you. You become open and aware of your true feelings and thoughts without the hyperactive guise of external stimuli. It is through receptive awareness that you truly become at peace with yourself.
Greater Contemplation for Greater Freedom
Contemplation is the aspect of meditation that goes into understanding what you happen to discover through receptive awareness. It is the understanding and insight that you gain from meditation that truly gives you the chance to reach true freedom from suffering.
Once the nature of your mind becomes apparent to you, you will realize that you are responsible for your own suffering. It is your attachment to events, objects, and outcomes that hold you down, and once you realize how you cannot control or hold on to these things then you can become truly free. Once you see the patterns in your thinking that cause you stress and anxiety, you can choose to ditch them and, instead, turn to creative thinking to find real, positive, and active solutions.
It is through gaining control and understanding of your own mind that you comprehend the reasons for your suffering. Once you have these insights, you can start changing the thought processes that make you suffer. Contemplation can be used in meditation no matter what your final intentions are. Whether you want to unmask your true nature and be one with the Divine, or if you simply want to figure out what the next step in your career ought to be.
Cultivation of Healing and Positive State of Consciousness
Unlike contemplation, which aims to explore, comprehend, and delve into your nature, cultivation is about change. When you cultivate a certain state of consciousness, you are transforming your true self through the power and control you have gained through your mind. You can choose to develop healthy and positive mind-sets, develop an attitude of loving-kindness for everything around you.
When you are cultivating these new states of consciousness, you are changing how your mind thinks. Instead of trying to control things that cannot be controlled, therefore causing you pain and suffering, you can choose to accept and let go, giving yourself relief from stress as well as a relaxed state of mind.
Different Meditation Techniques
It is time to get down to business. In this part, you will be given a step-by-step guide to different kinds of meditation techniques. Most are pretty simple and easy to do, but the depth and length of your meditation can change as you move along.
Remember to stay open to your own intuition and when you think you need it, find more extensive instruction from a meditation teacher.
Awareness of Breath
Awareness of breath is one of the easiest and simplest meditation techniques that you can try out. This technique can help you center and direct your awareness as you start your foray into building a meditation practice. Also, a simple five minute practice of awareness of breath meditation once every morning and once before sleeping is already a good foundation.
Whatever kind of technique you do decide to set up as a core for your technique, it is best to strengthen your concentration and receptive awareness through this technique first.
This meditation technique can be done sitting up or lying down. Simply make sure that you are comfortable, and that your position or your clothes will not distract you from your meditation.
Step 1: Lie down or sit up comfortably. If this is your first time, it might be best if you closed your eyes to minimize outside stimuli. As you progress, you can choose to keep your eyes open.
Step 2: Try to relax any tense parts of your body. Slowly direct your attention to your breathing. Really feel what it’s like. Let all your senses be only aware of the air coming in and out of your nose and mouth. Listen to your breath, feel your chest rise and fall. Try to keep your attention on your breathing.
Whenever you find yourself thinking of something, or when you feel a certain emotion rise to the surface, don’t be alarmed. Don’t get disappointed or frustrated. Stay calm and relaxed, simply acknowledge the thought or emotion, and gently return your attention to your breath.
Step 3: Continue this for five minutes or more. When you are ready, open your eyes and acknowledge the day ahead of you (for morning sessions) or the day just behind you (for night sessions).
Relaxation meditation is another technique that is easy to incorporate into your practice at the earlier stages. You can do this 15-20 minute exercise once every couple of days or whenever you feel strained and stressed. You can also use this technique as a sort of preparatory activity for more advanced techniques, as this helps to make you relaxed as well as connected to your own mind.
Step 1: Make sure you are wearing lose and comfortable clothing and lie down. Let your hands rest at your sides and your legs hip-width apart. Try to stretch your back and lay flat, but remember to make sure you retain a comfortable position.
*Note: When the meditation technique specifically requires that you be on your back, try not to do it in bed or any soft and overly comfortable surface. You might end up falling asleep instead of meditating. Instead, try to lie down on hard surface like the floor. Just put down a blanket or a mat and place a pillow under your knees if needed.
Step 2: Close your eyes and turn your awareness towards your body as a whole. Notice the sensations, the warmth or coolness of the air, or the parts of your body in contact with the surface you are lying on.
Step 3: Slowly direct your awareness to your feet. Wiggle your big toe, then all of them. Stretch your feet then contract them, then let go of the tension. Try to visualize your feet going limp, then, feel it becoming softer and softer until they dissolve or disappear. This should last for at least two minutes.
Step 4: Move your awareness upwards and turn to your legs, hips and thighs. Visualize them getting heavy and hard, then release all the tension and visualize that your lower body is sinking into floor.
Step 5: Once you are ready, direct your attention toward your lower torso. Again, you can clench your lower abdominal muscles and then release all the tension by visualizing the muscles softening and your belly figuratively opening (you can visualize a flower blooming in this area).
Step 6: Next are your upper torso, chest, throat and neck. Again, you can clench then release. You can use visualization here as well.
Step 7: Turn your awareness towards your shoulders, your arms and hands. Clench and release and imagine them melting into the surface.
Step 8: Now move your awareness upward to your head and face, feel your face relax and all the tension leaving your head and face.
Step 9: Once you are done, having spent at least 2 minutes of relaxation on each part, return your awareness towards your body as a whole again. Try to feel if there are any areas that still hold tension. Visualize that area relaxing, softening, and melting if you find any tense spots.
Step 10: Continue to feel and experience your entire body as a pool of relaxation. Imagine your body has melted into one. Rest here for a while, maybe five to ten minutes, and then slowly wiggle your toes and fingers. Stretch out and open your eyes and slowly get up to a sitting position.
Note: Try to see if there are any changes in how you feel, mentally and physically. Are you relaxed? Does your body feel lighter?
The Body Scan Meditation
The body scan and the relaxation techniques are very similar, however, while the relaxation method aims to release any bottled up tension in the body, the body scan aims to reacquaint as well as reconnect you with your body.
There may be instances, as you delve deeper into your mind and body, it is during this exercise that you feel a resurgence of some rather intense or buried emotions. If you find that it’s a bit too much to cope with, then stop and ask for guidance from a therapist or meditation guide. Although it is totally normal to feel overwhelmed, keep in mind that the best way to heal is to allow yourself to feel and get over the pain.
Step 1: You can choose to sit up on a chair or a lie down on the floor for this exercise. As this technique takes at least half an hour to complete, make sure that you are in a very comfortable position and in a place where you feel safe and secure. Make sure you have much needed privacy. It would be a good idea to tell the people who live with you or in the same place about your meditation practice so that no one will bother you for the time you need.
It might also be a good idea to put a light blanket over yourself as your body temperature can drop during this exercise.
Step 2: As soon as you’re settled, direct your focus to your body as a whole. Be aware of how your body feels and keep your attention focused on your body. Feel the areas of your body that are in contact with the floor, or are touching each other. Feel the air against your skin.
Step 3: Give a few minutes over to awareness of your body. Once you’re settled, direct your attention to your breath. Focus on the flow of air as it enters you mouth or nose and feel your chest expand. As you breathe in, allow yourself to sink deeper into the floor or chair.
Step 4: When you feel ready and relaxed, softly direct your focus towards your left leg and down towards your big toe. Feel the sensations on your big toe with a curious and open mind. Be receptive of the experience and treat it as something completely new.
Try to note all the things that you feel. Don’t worry if you feel no sensations at all. Simply familiarize yourself with this lack of sensation.
Step 5: Slowly expand your awareness towards all the toes of your left foot, then towards the ball of the foot, then the heel, until your awareness has expanded into the whole foot. Don’t forget your measured breathing.
Step 6: As you focus in this part of your body, visualize your breath bringing nourishment to your foot as you breathe in. alternately, visualize your breath leave this area as you breathe out. Continue this visualization and breathing exercise for a few minutes.
Step 7: When you feel you are ready, slowly direct your awareness upward towards lower (left) leg. Focus your awareness on this area then do the visualization and breathing again. Do this for a few minutes before “letting go” of the left leg. Try to note any differences you may fell between your left and right leg.
Step 8: When you’re ready, direct your awareness upwards some more towards your hips, butt, and pelvic region. Repeat the steps you took with your leg and foot, focusing and breathing into the areas.
Step 9: Once you’re ready you can move on. Instead of going upwards though, this time you should direct your attention down your right leg and focus on your foot. Repeat the steps you took with your left foot, and, until you reach your right pelvis, hips and butt.
Step 10: When you think it is appropriate, let go of this area. The trend of focus goes upwards again. Next would be your lower abdomen and back. This time imagine your internal organs and visualize your breath nourishing these organs as you breathe in and out. From here, you can move on to your chest and upper back. Do the same breathing and visualization exercise.
When you’re done with your torso, lead your attention down your left arm to your hand and focus on your left fingers. From here, focus on the whole hand, do the visualization and breathing exercise, then move on to the lower arm, then the upper arms. When you’re done with the left, go down the right arm again. The next step is the neck, face and the head. As you breathe into these areas, try to give particular attention to the forehead and the top of the skull.
Step 11: After you’ve scanned your entire body, it is time to return your attention to the body as a whole. Expand your awareness into your entire body and visualize your breath filling up your body in waves as you breathe in and out. If you can, feel the sensation of the breath and the warmth of the nourishment entering your body. Be at peace with every part of your body. Continue for a few minutes.
Step 12: The next step can be a little hard, but as you continue your practice, it will become easier. Now, after directing your awareness to your body, it is time to let go of this awareness. Allow your mind to go blank and let your mind and body melt into one. A feeling of peace and oneness should engulf you. Stay in this state for a minute or two.
When you are ready, gently call your focus back to the surface. Open your eyes and slowly move the different parts of your body. Take notes on how you feel and what changes you encounter.
Mindful Walking Meditation
Unlike the earlier techniques, mindfulness is more a state of mind than a step by step practice. Mindfulness can be done anywhere and while doing anything, or while doing nothing. You can eat, talk, and do chores mindfully simply by allowing yourself to become absorbed by the activity rather than letting your thoughts get ahead of you. How many times have you spoken to someone and then completely forgotten his or her words a few minutes later?
With mindfulness, you are teaching yourself to pay attention to the present rather than living in the past or anticipating the future. This means you will be able to appreciate everything as it happens, as well as find pleasure and wonder in everyday things.
Step 1: The first thing you need to do is empty your mind of judgment, standards, and prejudice. You have to get into this technique with an open heart and mind.
Step 2: Set your intentions. Remind yourself that you want to take this walk, relax, and enjoy the scenery. Fill your heart with positivity, compassion, and wonder before you set off.
Step 3: Take a walk. Be alert and present. Notice subtle things and appreciate everything. Appreciate and notice the air you breathe, the rough gravel, cement, sand, etc. that you’re walking on. Notice the sights, the people, the sounds, even the smells. Enjoy and wring out every ounce of pleasure you can get from this simple walk.
As you become more advanced, you can even turn mindfulness into a way of life.