Monday, 7 October 2013

The conscious guide to meditation.


‘A Daily practice of Meditation can Transform a Life’

There is a pandemic of thinking in Western Society.   If there is one complaint that I hear more than any other when clients approach me for coaching or to learn meditation, it is that they are physically unable to find any respite from mental activity or thought.  Even when sleeping, the brain is in overdrive and the client is, unsurprisingly, in overwhelm.

Meditation is commonly prescribed as an antidote to the stress caused by this inability to stop thinking and to become quiet within our own being.  However, whilst many clients try to meditate, they quickly give up because of a simple mistake – they think something incredible is going to ‘happen’ almost immediately.  They also expect to reach stage 2 (the expansive discovery state) without going through stage 1 (the boring mind-bilge wait-out)…and as they weren’t expecting stage 1 to be so hard and so dull, they often give up within a week or less.  By managing expectations and preparing for the difficulties, meditation can become part of your daily routine with minimal fuss.

Stop Doing : Be

The first thing to get past is any expectation that something is going to ‘happen’ because you are ‘doing’ something different.  The thing to bear in mind is that the ‘happening’ that you are after is exactly that which you couldn’t stop if you wanted to.  The ‘happening’ you are looking for is simply the natural state of you.  At its heart, meditation is not about ‘doing’ anything, it is about noticing something that is already ‘happening’, whether you intend it or not.

Now, if meditation is just sitting still and noticing something that is already happening, why is it that we find it so challenging?  What is the tricky bit?

Well, apart from our hesitation in making a commitment to set aside time in our hectic lives, the tricky bit is letting all the stuff which isn’t quite so natural simmer down for long enough that we actually get a good whiff of what has been happening all along…ie the self.   YOU.  You have been happening all along – and by that I mean humming along in quite an incredible way.

This pure place of ‘being’ which we will speak more of later, is the foundation of all meditation.

Learning to Meditate the Conscious Way

I like to teach meditation in 2 stages.

Stage 1 – Welcoming Silence.
Stage 2 – Discovery.

Stage 1 is the most difficult and the least interesting, it is where most meditators dabble and then give up.  It is a practice of simply allowing the mind to become silent through witnessing.  The second stage is only available once stage 1 has been achieved.  Stage 2 is the gift.  It is far more exciting and expansive.  The possibilities for discovery in stage 2 are limitless but include self-exploration, contemplation and opening to wisdom.

Stage 1: How To Meditate – Welcoming Stillness

Stop whatever it is that you are doing.  Turn anything that pings or buzzes off.  Gift yourself 5 or 10 minutes of unadulterated technological disconnection.  Find a comfy place to sit.  It doesn’t matter if it is on the floor, on a cushion or on a chair.

Ok, so there’s you.  You are now seated and comfortable.  Your spine should be erect and tall, your body centred and relaxed, without being on the edge of a snooze.

Body Awareness

Close your eyes and just notice yourself.  Using your focus, feel through the body.  Take your focus into an arm and simply listen and discover.  How does it feel?  Is it comfortable?  What are the characteristics of that arm being alive? Feel for temperature, movement, sensations of being.  Move through other parts of the body at random.  Check in.  Listen.  Feel.  ‘Be’ in your body.

Are certain parts of your body calling for your attention?  An itch, a scratch?  A shift of body weight?  Pay attention and attend to the body’s needs until the body is quietly resting at peace.

Breath Awareness

Now bring the attention to the breath.  Count 10 breaths in and 10 breaths out then let the counting stop but the breathing continue.   With your focus follow the breath into the body and follow it out again.  Notice that there is an exchange going on inside of you.  Witness the life that flows in and out and all around you.

Notice that your breath is both voluntary and involuntary.  You can slow the breath, pause the breath but you cannot stop it.  Your breath (your life) is a beautiful and effortless collaboration with the Universe.

Emotional Awareness

Now listen to your emotions.  What do you feel right now?  Attend to each emotion with welcoming compassion.  Don’t bring any meaning to the emotions, simply acknowledge them and witness them neutrally.  Allow each emotion a place within your being to rest and expand. Whether you would characterise your emotions as positive or negative, just for now, allow each to feel equally at home within your body.

Thought Awareness

Whilst this is all happening you should be experiencing the mind chattering away.  The chatter will be about all sorts of useless information.  The mind will be shouting for your attention justifying its importance with time-keeping reminders and bilge.  Just watch or listen to the chatter.

Remember this: YOU are the awareness of this chatter.  The chatter is NOT you.  So observe it.  Remark to yourself, ‘This chatter is quite a peculiar happening.  It is coasting along without me.  I will sit calmly here and watch it, and see where it goes.’

The one thing not to do here is to give any energy to any particular thought that travels through.  Simply let them come and go.  Know that if there was a useful reminder about something important that it will still be available to you in 5 minutes time when you come out of your practice.


With repetition of this exercise and time, the chatter will give way to growing periods of silence or stillness as the mind releases its grip on the internal window and gains confidence to be without content for longer periods.  This silence is intensely nourishing for the soul.  Meditating for 10 minutes where 9 minutes are spent watching the chatter and 1 minute is spent witnessing the silence is a great achievement.

Even if you don’t find silence on your first attempts (and you probably will not) acknowledge your commitment and your intention.  Keep the attitude clean and positive.  Every time you are sitting down to practice, you are closer to finding the silence.  Every step is crucial for the journey.

Once you can reach the point of silence or emptiness and maintain it for a few minutes, you are ready to move on to stage 2.   You have become the neutral witness of your thoughts.  You have learned through experience that you and your thoughts are separate.  You now know yourself to be the awareness in which thought arises.

This is a huge lesson.  It changes everything.

Neil leads a beginner meditation class on Monday evenings at The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, WC2A 1PL. 6.30-7.30pm.  All are welcome.  £10.

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