“Could I ever learn to meditate if I haven’t by now?”
I overheard a friend, recently, ask the question above.
At the age of 76, this woman has accomplished more than many could achieve in several incarnations. Through it all, she remains a very conscious, conscientious mind; an individual who considers her place in the world and how her role can impact and affect those around her. She also has an uncanny knack for articulating stunningly profound questions, like this one.
As a practicing Hindu and a classically trained yogi (20+ years), I frequently get asked, “How do I…?” questions when it comes to meditation and introspection.
Hinduism, among other things, focuses on one’s self-awareness and interconnectedness; it helps develop stillness of the mind. And it uses meditation as a tool to facilitate that stillness.
So often, when someone says the word, ‘meditate,’ people automatically conjure images of shaven-headed monks in saffron robes, chanting Om Shanti in resounding unison.
The chant, Om Shanti, roughly translates into peace for all humankind, peace for all living and non-living beings, peace for the universe.
But what you may not realize is that meditation can take just about any form of activity – or inactivity – that helps calm the mind. Take walking meditation, for example. Zen Buddhist monks often practice walking meditation as a part of their daily practice. The slow, purposeful walking combines with a concentration on each muscle used to take a single step and the breath required to complete that simple movement.
It all comes down to your breath; breath is life
When you begin to look at meditation that way, you might find you already have something that fits the bill. Do you cross-stitch? Knit? That focused attention stills the mind. Do you run? The discipline of running possesses many of meditative characteristics shared with walking meditation. What about acting? An actress or actor preparing for their role will often go through a meditative process to create their character. Even washing dishes can help to focus the mind and calm the spirit. In fact, it’s often our simplest actions – those little everyday occurrences – that we can use to help calm our senses and still our mind.
The next time you’re in a lineup or find yourself stuck in a waiting room, try this on for size:
Start with your toes. Slowly, intentionally, tense, and release your toe and foot muscles one by one. (You might be surprised to find this more of a challenge than originally expected.) Do this gently, remember, this isn’t a workout. You want to use the slightest amount of tension, just enough to help become aware of each muscle group in your foot. And remember to breathe. Slow, steady inhalations and exhalations will help you concentrate.
Begin with the toes on your right foot, wiggle them a little; rotate your ankle. Next, tighten your calf. Then flex your thigh muscles. So far, so good? Great. Now give your right bum cheek a little squeeze and continue on working your way up through tummy, right shoulder, arm, and fingers on your right hand. Slowly stretch your neck to the right and begin the descent on the flip side. Stretch your neck to the left and work your way slowly down to the toes on your left foot. When you’ve gone full circle, take one final deep, cleansing breath.
Congratulations – you’ve just completed your first meditation practice – no chanting, incense, or mala beads required.
Try carrying the new calm feeling you’ve cultivated with you throughout the remainder of your day or evening.
Meditation is, in its purest form, is listening to your body, mind, and spirit. Some people say it’s listening to God.
Whatever you call it, meditation is the time you take with yourself to improve your self-awareness; about where you are right now on this magnificent journey.
When you start meditating, you may be surprised by what you hear; by what wise advice you have for yourself.
And what about the woman who wondered, “Could I ever learn to meditate, if I haven’t now?”
To her, I say, “You already are.”