There is an old Zen quotation that states one should meditate for an hour every day, unless you are too busy. In that case meditate for two hours. This shows how foundational daily meditation is on the Zen path to inner peace.
It’s one of the few actions that almost every religion, philosophy and school of psychology share. Call it meditation, prayer, gratitude or journaling. They all come back to a basic practice of stepping out of the day to day monotony (or insanity), and into a space of focus and positive reflection.
The 5 W’s of meditation
Everyone can benefit from carving out some time to meditate, but overachievers should be even more mindful of finding the time. As overachievers, our minds are wired to aim for the stars and we have high expectations for ourselves. This can yield great results, but unfortunately it can also have a negative effect on our mental health. High expectations for ourselves and a drive towards being productive means we always want to achieve more, yet our achievements never seem to be enough because we’re dreaming of loftier goals.
Meditation is a broad term that covers everything from sitting cross-legged in a dark room staring at a candle, to more physical activities like yoga or Tai Chi. It also covers less structured mindfulness activities like forest walks or lying on the beach and doing nothing but letting your mind soak up the moment. The underlying principle of almost every type of meditation is that it is being wholly in the present moment. There is a great Zen story that explains this topic so well:
A visitor to a temple once asked a Zen Master, “How do you practice Zen?”
The Master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.”
The visitor responded, “Isn’t that what everyone does anyway?”
The master replied, “No. Most people entertain a thousand desires when they eat and scheme over a thousand plans when they sleep.”
Every. Single. Day. It’s best to put meditation in the same category as brushing teeth or drinking water. Thinking that we can meditate for the week or even to do extra meditation because we will be busy the next day is like thinking that we can take a really deep breath and then not breathe for the next twenty minutes, or banking up sleep in advance of a really busy month.
Meditation is not a box to tick on our daily to do list, it’s a practice to bring us into the present. It reminds us on a daily basis that the present is all that actually exists. Nothing happens in the past, nothing happens in the future. The only time anything can actually occur is in the present.
It’s no secret that meditation has many psychological and physical health benefits. We are all constantly bombarded with concerning messages that tell us our way of life is being threatened and the end is nigh. There is no way to absorb this constant influence without disrupting our inner peace. We really need a step back and a refresh of reality to combat stress and put these messages in perspective. One thing I try to keep in mind when I start to feel that things are getting worse is that these messages have been propagated for as long as people can recall, yet we are still here.
Meditation also helps build the skill of compassion for others and recognition that we need to be compassionate to ourselves first. There will always be another call we could make, another paragraph we could write, or another hour we could spend at work. For a more detailed explanation of how meditation builds compassion, here’s a great article from Greater Good Magazine.
There is a French saying that goes “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner” (to understand everything is to forgive everything). I have always loved this concept and viewed it as a worthy goal. Through meditation we build an understanding of ourselves and our flaws. As we recognize that we all make mistakes and we all are doing the best we can given the information on hand, we let go of the frustration and anger from perceived wrongs that have been done against us.
It can really happen anywhere. The more practiced we are, the easier it is. Serenity makes the process easier but as we gain more awareness of our conscious and unconscious minds, we will find it easier to relax into a state of meditation in more situations.
To start, a quiet area in your home is a good place to get your meditation muscles working. Even if that means getting up before everyone else to make the time to meditate.
Once you start building the ability to bring yourself into the present it gets easier to find opportunities to slip into a meditative state.
An example of a daily practice that everyone could (and probably should) do is a little box breathing and a positive affirmation every time we shut off our car or step off public transit. By taking 30 seconds to focus on our breathing and tell ourselves that we are going to bring the calm, positive and compassionate version of ourselves to whatever we are about to do can make such a difference. Especially if we are bringing this practice with us everywhere we go.
This is the hard part. Much like a new eating regime or starting to work out every day, meditation can seem quite daunting. It’s not necessary to jump right into an hour long, lotus position meditation.
A great “challenge” to build our ability to stay centered is to start by waking up one minute (yes, one minute) earlier and do a one minute meditation. The next day, set the alarm another minute earlier and do a two minute meditation. With each successive day, wake up one minute earlier than the last and do one more minute of meditation. One minute less sleep will not be noticed but building up to 30 minutes of meditation every morning? That can be a game changer! No more getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Thirty minutes of mindful meditation, especially with a focus on gratitude, will make the rest of the day so much better.
We’ve all heard of “love goggles”, when we’re in a brand new relationship and our partner can do no wrong. They’re still their normal selves, but we create a picture in our minds of what is happening. We’re compassionate, accepting, and we always give them the benefit of the doubt. Meditation can help empower our consciousness to be more attuned to this mindset. Imagine if we applied the love goggle level of compassion and acceptance to everyone and everything we interact with.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”- Viktor Frankl
As the world gets busier and distractions become the go-to for any downtime, it is more important than ever to make the time for meditation. Whatever that may look like for each of us is not as important as making it a daily priority. So next time you have a few minutes to kill, put down your phone and do something to bring yourself into the moment. Go stand outside and appreciate the feel of the sun on your face or find a quiet corner where you can focus on your breathing. When we just stop to realize how much calmer we are at that moment, we stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Really good and helpful information. A great idea for everyone to adopt. Love it!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts!