Meditation 101. Meditation and ‘morning practice’ basics, for the unconvinced.
Meditation is something I have always been aware of, but have often struggled with.
When I was a teenager I once stumbled into a guided visualisation session, at some hippy festival somewhere, and loved it. Loved how relaxed, and calm it made me feel. Loved flexing my imagination muscles and exploring an internal fantasy land. Loved how rejuvenated and connected it made me feel.
But I didn’t think of this as meditation; this was fun! And meditation was a serious, grown up, boring business.
For a very long time I thought that meditation was another area of life that was supposed to be good for me, but came with so much structure and rules that it wasn’t remotely enjoyable, and I was pretty sure that I was doing it wrong.
Most of the time, if I attempted to meditate I would in fact just repeat the ‘mantra‘ “fuck, this is boring” over and over again in my head (like I also do if I decide I want to be someone who enjoys running. ”Fuck, this is boring”….)
However, like most of these sorts of things, as an autodidact, over-thinker, overachiever and type A yogi, I was hungry for more information and wanted to master this thing that eluded me. If it worked so well for others, there must be something in it.
I studied Vipassana, read books on how to meditate, went to meditation classes, and meditation retreats; and yet my monkey brain insisted on chatting at me, and my inner adolescent shouted rudely “FUCK this, this is not fun, it’s a waste of my life, STOP it now” continually, at the top of her voice.
Then, one day in 2006 at a retreat in Thailand, I was reading Eat Pray Love and Elizabeth Gilbert’s break through became mine: I suddenly got that it wasn’t about shutting the door on my monkey mind, but instead letting the monkey(s) in and listening to all of the dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined as they swung from limb to limb and raced across the blue imagined sky I held onto furiously in my mind’s eye. I understood now that beyond the chatter, which in time became white noise there was a calm and truth. There was a place where I was able to converse with my own inner guidance system and listen to what was important to me. It was on that island, lying in that hammock that I really got why people might want to meditate. BUT, I still didn’t like the rules around how it must be done, and I was still sure I was doing it wrong.
As time went by, I would dip my proverbial toe in, following Buddhist teachings, using pranayama techniques and hoping that sitting still and meditating would one day become less than hugely fucking frustrating.
Even when in 2009 I did my Hatha yoga teacher training, I still found sitting still uncomfortable and hideous. But, as I continued to pursue some sort of daily yoga practice I noticed a shift in that I really began to enjoy savasana in a way I never dreamed would be possible.
When I worked in the TV industry I was the kind of person who walked out of a class at the resting in corpse pose bit. As my practice deepened, savasana and deep relaxation became my favourite bit – a time when I could truly let go and restore. In time I realised that I really enjoyed lying on the floor and letting go of it all. I became a huge fan of yoga nidra and would end each day by inducing a beautiful lucid yet relaxed state before dropping off into a restful and unbroken sleep (something which had also eluded me in my TV days.)
Jumping forward to today – there’s been a lot more study of the ‘rules’ of meditation. I’ve researched the mind body connection and looked at the effects that meditation and mindfulness has on mental health. I’ve explored moving meditation, lying down meditation, sitting on a cushion meditation, mandala drawing, journaling, silence, soundscapes and everything in between and I want to share with you some of my favourite ways to use meditation practices and why you might want to.
To me, the breath work, the structure, the ‘rules’ of traditional meditation are just there to slow you down, to calm the autonomic nervous system and allow your soul to whisper to you. I know now that there is nothing to get wrong. The structures are not rules set in stone, but guides for us to try and in time we’ll all find our own ways of meditating that feel right to us.
I encourage you to try the ones that sound like they might be fun and explore with curiosity the ones that initially might not.
What are the benefits of meditation?
A deep connection to my intuition, a profound sense of connection, a innate feeling of belonging and internal space which allows me to be more present and enjoy my life in a deeper, fuller, realer way.
So… You want in?
Let me first start by breaking down what I’m now calling meditation, I have divided the practice itself into two parts:
1. Relaxing enough to quieten, and evoke a state of listening
2. The enquiry.
This (the inquiry) in itself is then two fold:
1. A questioning, exploratory curiosity. What is here? What is happening? What am I thinking? What can I feel? What am I aware of?
2. An allowing, an acceptance – without resignation… a surrender if you will. Can I be with this? Can I let this be? How can I be kind to myself? Have I got compassion here?
And that is it. It’s that simple.
For me though, this regular enquiry needs to be supported by a range of techniques and practices in order to keep my focus and attention. You can sit on a cushion and quiet your mind and breathe, using your breath as a mantra – but if that is not working for you, then here is round up of different ways you might want to explore.
Start by Creating Sacred Space
Setting sacred space and opening a ritual allows us to ready ourselves for devotional presence. By ritualising the act of quietening the mind and allowing space for curiosity and allowance we are inviting in the Divine – the divine within, and the divine with-out.
How you choose to bless and honour the time you are dedicating with focus and intention to awareness of yourself and others is entirely up to you.
You might want to set the scene by making an altar and blessing the space and opening the ceremony. Afterwards you might like to close the ceremony.
Personally I’m keen for you to come up with something that works for you. You might want to meditate sitting near an altar, that might be all the ritual and sacred space you need, and you might want to create elaborate and devout devotional ceremonial practice, the choice is entirely yours – my invitation is to do it all with mindfulness and presence.
An altar is a sacred space, created to connect with the Divine Spirit within us, with the Divine Spirit and the Gods in the Universe. It is a special place created specifically to withdraw from the busy-ness of life for connection, rejuvenation, and energy.
It can be a small space, it can be an entire room, or it can be outdoors. An altar helps you to personally connect the Holy within you and with the external Divine Spirits which you consider to be Holy. An altar can change with the seasons or it can change to reflect the changes in you as you experience personal growth. For me it is where magic in my home lives. It is the fire in my heart and the portal for connection between the physical and non physical.
For a long time I thought that a shrine and an altar were the same, but whilst a shrine is usually a fixed thing, in a permanent place, fixed to one deity, an altar is something you set up whenever you need to use it and honours the divine in you, in the universe and in the present moment.
Altars are part of ancient traditions and have been used as places of worship for thousands of years. Every civilization around the world has worshipped at altars as an integral part of their spiritual or religious practice. Asian, European, Latin American, African, and various North American cultures have integrated altars into their practices of worship. Many great religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the ancient religions, have used altars for many purposes in worshipping the Universal Deity.
This is my invitation to you to create a space that connects you with your understanding of The Divine by way of objects and sensory items.
You may put into your altar anything you wish. Mine has items I have found in nature, crystals, my wisdom cards, really good question cards, other peoples oracle and tarot cards, handwritten notes, candles, and anything I find to be beautiful.
A smudge stick is a bundle of dried herbs, usually bound with string into a small bundle. The herbs are later burned as part of a ritual or ceremony. Plants that are often used include sage and cedar.
(Each of the boxes found at www.outoftheboxbox.com includes a smudge stick and items for your altar.)
Using scent and scented smoke in religious rites is an element common to many religions and cultures worldwide, but the details and spiritual meanings are usually unique to the specific cultures and ceremonies in question. My invitation is for you to make it mean whatever you want to mean, and enjoy the sensate – the energy shift, the smell, the ritual of something that has been used throughout the ages the world over.
The practice of smudging dates back to prehistoric times, and is still very much in use today worldwide for cleansing everything from dwellings to human spirits. Historically, smudging was believed to put forth the spirits of various ‘allies’ to provide ease and balance to an individual or group and to clear spiritual and emotional negativity that has built up in a body or a space..
I find it fascinating that recent research has revealed that burning certain plant matter actually clears harmful bacteria.
There are of course many skeptics who belittle the practice as unscientific and akin to magic – I say MAGIC? Hell yeah – bring it!
Once you are set up, what do you do?
It can be as simple as using a mantra and setting a timer.
I’m a big fan of Gay Hendricks USM or Ultimate Success Mantra –
“I expand in abundance, success and love every day as I inspire others to do the same.”
I often sit with my mala beads and repeat and reflect and repeat and reflect. You can use this, or any mantra of your own.
If you’d like something a little more structured but still customisable, one of the simplest and most effective ‘systems’ for a mindful, meditative morning practice is The SAVERS acronym, which reminds us of six habits or rituals and allows us to combine them.
The routine comes from Hal Elrod, author of “The Miracle Morning,” and an interview with James Altucher.
Silence – meditation, prayer, pranayama, reflection.
Affirmations – you can use my cards, write your own, find encouraging words to support your goals, or set you up for positive thinking throughout the day.
Visualization – whether this is a guided visualisation or a moment visualising the day ahead – evidence shows that allowing our brain to imagine ourselves doing or being in future situations is akin to actually doing it, and lights up the same neurons – This allows us to achieve things more easily – as if we had been physically practicing! The more sensory information the better – what does it feel, look, smell, sound, taste like?
Exercise – This doesn’t need to be a 5k or powerlifting (but it can) The ideal is 5 mins of bodyweight exercises which get your blood flowing and brings oxygen to the brain.
Reading – Learning is power. Maybe use this time for 10 pages of a new book, or maybe listen to a podcast, the choice is yours but the message is the same – increase your capacity with new thoughts and ideas.
Scribing. – Journaling or writing a stream of consciousness is a great way to process and reflect. It’ll help you be more self aware and articulate. I often post thought provokers on my Instagram – and my ‘really good question cards’ and ‘wisdom cards’ make great journal prompts. You can also colour in, or draw Mandala’s – Jen Smith has a great free gift to get you started.
My invitation to you is to do each one for one minute – that’s a six minute commitment. Can you commit to that?
Recently a 1:1 client said to me “you really like acronyms don’t you?’ and she was right – I find short easy to remember prompts incredibly useful. In an age of information overload having a simple technique to quiet the mind is a gift.
One of my favourites comes from Tara Brach, who’s style of teaching I love – I find her meditation guidance really easy access and it resonates with all that I know in my body to be true. She uses an acronym for working with emotional stuff that I am going to share with you, as it may just be your way in. When I say ‘IN’ I mean to the place within you, that she calls home. Whatever you call it, you will know you are there when there is space and calm and clarity and your soul whispers to you.
And why would you want that? Why is meditation so powerful?
Because ….. the real reason we mediate, in my opinion is to connect and feel a sense of belonging, true belonging, from the inside out. Meditation is a system with which we can ‘check in’ and create space. Tara Brach refers to it as creating a clearing.
I do it because the gifts of more space, open heartedness, clarity, intuitive downloads, increased gratitude and love, make being alive so incredibly worthwhile, and as someone who has previously wondered about why I would want to be alive – meditation allows me to come home and be reminded.
- R-Recognise – notice what is arising (fear, hurt, etc.)
- A-Allow – agree to “be with it,” to “let it be.”
- I-Investigate – in a non-analytic way, get to know how the body, heart and mind experiences these energies. You might inquire by asking yourself one or more of the following questions: “What is happening?” “Where am I feeling this in my body?” “What wants attention?” “What wants acceptance?” The “I” is also Intimacy: experiencing difficult sensations and emotions with a direct, gentle, kind attention; and offering compassion to the place of vulnerability.
- N-Non-identification, or not having your sense of Being defined by, possessed by or linked to any emotion. In other words, not taking it personally! The “N” is also Natural Presence, a homecoming to the loving awareness that is our essence.
You can find out more about Tara Brach and her books and work here.
There are many people – including myself at times who find sitting still keeps them in their head. Moving meditations allow us to move (quite literally) into our bodies. Exploring our sensate and awakening our Shakti, our Kundalini and our innate body wisdom.
There are many ways in; Tai Chi, Qigong, 5 Rhythms, Movement Medicine, Qoya.
Affirmations and Mirror Work
When I turned thirty I began doing mirror work.
What’s mirror work?
I talk about this more in my book Misfit to Maven, from ARGH to AHHH. but essentially it’s talking to yourself in the mirror. Finding things to say that are kind. I started by working with affirmations.
I still find affirmations a really helpful way to reframe my thoughts. The way we talk to ourselves is incredibly powerful. Self-talk has a really significant impact on our confidence and self-esteem. It also has a huge impact on our happiness and success.
(Which is why I made my wisdom cards as a way for you to easily start this practice; take one card at random each day and read what it says while making eye contact with yourself in the mirror.)
When I first heard of self-talk the stories of Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham talking to themselves out loud, came to mind and for a long time it seemed a little too far-fetched thing to do for me, BUT, each moment of each day, whether consciously or not, we all have an inner dialogue running. The thoughts that run through our minds and the things that we say are what form our beliefs, which we know impact our behaviour and in turn our results.
So I began to think about what I was thinking:
What are you telling yourself over and over?
Do you talk to yourself like you would someone you love?
I certainly didn’t.
Mirror talk is a way of consciously and on purpose talking to your self.
I invite you to have a go: tell yourself something you would tell someone you love, and use your name.
Lastly, I am a huge fan of free form, and prompted journal writing, this falls under the S of The Miracle Morning’s SCRIBING, but as a practice all of its own, I’m a huge fan!
Morning pages or something more structured like The 5 Minute Journal are hugely simple but powerful morning practices for developing AWARENESS which is the first step and the core of my 8 A principles.
As such, I gift all my 1:1 clients with something to help them on their journey to being the best version of themselves and very often I gift them with this simple yet wildly effective way in to consistent positivity. This focused practice invites you to be positive no matter how tough life gets.
Meditation or a consistent ‘present’ practice develops resourcefulness, happiness and resilience like nothing else I know.
The key with all of this is consistency in the form of repetition. Whatever you choose to do, come at it with curiosity and I’d love to hear your findings over in the Misfit to Maven Mastermind Facebook group.