22 Jun Understanding Meditation for Beginners
Meditation has had me worried lately; it seems to be all the rage! I keep seeing new books at my local bookstore- endless how-to videos are in my face at the mere search of the word “stress” or “relax”, countless instructional and guided apps vie to show me “the way” and then, despite doing my best to avoid an aunty living on the floor below mine, fate keeps cornering me with her in the common lift. In the few uneasy minutes I usually have with her, I desperately try not to make eye contact. She never gets the hint and insists on conversing.
“My Dear, why are you looking so stressed? Is everything OK?”
I look up and give a wry smile.
“Yes, all good, Aunty!”
And then just randomly, she suggests, “What happened, you are always looking down nowadays. Anything the matter? No worries, for whatever it is, try meditation. It’s a cure for everything. Trust me!”
“Really?” I respond, trying very hard to maintain my ‘smiley eyes’ through my mask.
You see, every time someone adds a ‘Trust Me!’ at the end of a sentence- instinct tells me to do otherwise.
“Yes! Yes! I’ve been at it for the last few days! Tremendous difference- I think I even lost some weight!”
“What!” I responded flabbergasted! “You lost weight, Aunty, by meditating!!?”
“I think so, I’ve not checked. But you feel so light after doing it, and my husband mentioned that I’m positively glowing this morning. Do you think so too?” she laughed and continued. “Why don’t you come and join our group? We sit down with folded legs, breath in- like this- then breathe out – raise our hands, and release the stress through our fingertips.”
“But Aunty, that’s not exactly…” I blurted, in an attempt to keep composure. But she cut me off, “There are six of us who meet at Mrs. Kapoor’s – mostly in the evening. It’s life-changing, I tell you!”
At this juncture the lift reaches Level One- where I need to get off- and as I scoot, I shout out “Sure Aunty! Good Day!”
This was exactly like the essential oils and singing bowl therapy she raved about two weeks ago!
Very recently, I got chatting with an acquaintance of mine over a casual video call. The social butterfly that she is, she had found last year’s lockdown, utterly stressful and had gone down the binge eating and crankiness rabbit hole, which no amount of conversation from my end had helped heal.
She definitely sounded and looked much better this time, and I asked her what helped her finally? Her answer didn’t exactly surprise me. She came out as a closet meditator “attributing” her new-found serenity to a couple of months of dedicated hour-long morning meditation sessions with her coach. So, I asked her “How did you even meet your coach?”
“Oh, we met at a small networking event, a few days before the new year!”
“Aah, I see.” I let out, only because I didn’t quite know how to respond to what she had just said. And, while I was thoroughly and genuinely happy for my friend’s better state, I couldn’t help the thought “You too?!” manifest itself in my mind.
Towards the end of the conversation, she said, “Roh! You should try it too. If you like, I could connect you to my coach. He does his sessions via video calls, so it’s super convenient. Plus, he only goes by word of mouth and can give you a discount. If you come through me- you let me know, k?”
“Sure,” I replied, and let out a “whatever” eye roll after keeping the phone down.
I sat staring at the wall in front of me for a few minutes after the call, trying to understand what transpired, and why didn’t ‘I get it’ or find myself wanting to get into it? Family, friends, uncle- Aunties, celebrities everyone seemed to be doing it.
Except me! It’s not like I was averse to understanding and trying meditation. In fact, I was all ready to take the proverbial plunge, but something had been feeling off about the whole concept. It didn’t resonate with what I thought I understood. And the more I encountered the word, the more it sounded “buzzy” and hyped; very similar to the Yoga trend that was all “happening” till a few years ago -everyone did it, and if you didn’t, you were sorely missing out.
I am certainly under no delusion thinking what I believe is truer than others. After all, meditation has been around for thousands of years and a part of many societies in some form or the other. Each of us has our own way of interpreting things, but the more I thought about its current avatar, it occurred to me that Meditation, like Yoga, seemed to have recently emerged as a nifty capsulated form of a very profound concept, sold as a cure-all; like most of the store-bought multivitamins. But the issue with anything “capsulated” is its bioavailability i.e., a medication will take effect only if it is able to circulate within the body, reach its target area, be absorbed and then secreted. Which is why any drug administered intravenously is 100% bioavailable and has better efficacy vs any capsule. Besides, a capsule, though less intrusive, is usually less effective. It is also why our elders tell us to have Haldi(Turmeric) and Ghee (Clarified Butter) together, rather than taking a capsule, because curcumin is better absorbed when ingested with fat or oil. With regards to meditation, a similar analogy can be found. And, if you are a beginner like me, it helps to first understand what meditation is not and its real purpose., so that we know what it is capable of, and what you can achieve by implementing it.
Here are some of my initial learnings:
For starters, let me first get this very tricky statement out of the way:
Meditation is utterly useless- if you are trying to achieve a goal.
There, I said it. Whew! But before you raise your eyebrows- let me explain myself.
The intention of meditation has never really been to gain something i.e., happiness or stress reduction or release negativity or become calmer or get a glow on your face or lose weight. These are all possible byproducts. Reducing meditation to an outcome-oriented capsule is reducing it to something very mundane -Like studying to just pass an exam. You can get all of the above results by getting a good night’s sleep. Matthew Walker has an international bestseller on sleep that can help in this regard. When you begin to do something for an intended outcome- you lose the whole point of the practice. If the intended outcomes don’t come after practice, you will find yourself being disappointed and frustrated, bored even, and eventually, give up. Sounds familiar, no?
Meditation is not about replacing a bad feeling with a good feeling- you are trying to notice the feeling.
At its core, meditation is, at first, about being aware of our monkey mind- the constant inner monologue that keeps trying to analyse your life, the people in your life, your circumstances and so on. This is the noise responsible for keeping you in so many mental states and prevents you from knowing who you truly are. It is like the background noise that distracts you from tuning into the symphony that is actually going on. But the point is not to stop it and supplanting it with some other noise- that’s just adding more noise. The point is to observe the noise, keep observing it and then, observe it still more- eventually tiring it into quietude.
Quick Hack: Try this to experience a quick sense of noiselessness. Stop incessantly looking at your smartphone and suddenly look up at the sky. Notice the initial microseconds of calm you experience before the mind kicks in to describe the sky? Those microseconds are what you are trying to harness. Except when you finally get to the point of quietening the noise- the calm will last much longer.
In silence, we begin to see clearly.
The process of quietening the mind sounds super daunting to many of us. It is almost impossible! You can spend years observing and not get anywhere, but remember point number one – you are not meditating to get anywhere or achieve a goal. You are probably going nowhere! You won’t be able to levitate, fly over the Himalayas or land up on Mars or be able to read your best friend’s mind! If it takes longer than what you thought, then observe that thought! That thought will quieten down too. You see where I am going with this 🙂
Once you arrive at the point of silence, the real magic begins. It is the first true gift of meditation. The gift of clarity. The mind silenced of all the noise starts to gauge reality as it is i.e., a reality devoid of judgement and distraction. This is when you enter, what is known as a state of flow also popularly known as “getting in the zone.” This is also how many great artists, scientists and philosophers have made breakthroughs. And why does this happen? Well, the way it works is that when you truly focus, all your “mental energy” ideally gets channelled into the object of your focus- leaving very little energy for the monkey to keep chattering.
Quick Hack: The funny bit is that we all perhaps have already experienced this, but for the sake of an experimental simulation, think of an activity you enjoy. Then do it, and observe yourself- Cooking? Running? Solving Math problems? Deep cleaning your home? Whatever it is that can get you to float your boat. Now, observe how you get immersed in it without distractions. Or better still, notice the outcome post your activity. If you ended up cooking, you probably whipped up some delicious flavours or conjured a unique recipe or you went straight for that math problem; recognise how easy it was to grasp it when you really paid attention. The many “aha” moments you experience- they may not be profound- give you insight. But do also notice how the whole pack of cards come crashing down if someone were to disturb you in your flow. That’s akin to the “noise” you are usually dealing with in your head.
But again, remember that meditation is not about the byproduct i.e. – the delicious cake you baked or the brilliant business idea you had while running. It’s about achieving that priceless crystal clarity of mind to SEE things without needing to classify them as good, bad, his, mine etc. It is about emerging compassionate towards your fellow man. After all, we are all in the same boat- different seats, but same the boat- headed to the same ultimate destination.
It also helps to remind ourselves that Buddha didn’t exactly use meditation to become super creative or get a competitive edge – he used it for enlightenment- a word which at it root means- into the light 🙂
And finally, Transformation is not equal to Progress.
Even if your worldview changes or you grow a beard, or suddenly your room is dark and full of scented candles, know that you may have transformed outwardly; but not made absolutely any progress. Progress is usually subtle, gradual and sometimes sudden. It does not entail any change of dress; it entails changing the nature of the game – you are no longer mired in the ordinary existence of craving, delusion or ignorance. You are in a state of circular inner evolution- you understand and improve, and then some more.
For me, these were the big reveals. And honestly, knowing these key aspects of meditation has now made me yearn to walk the path. I suspect the best path- the most effective ‘bioavailable’ path – is the path originally laid out by the seers and masters. And that path worked for Buddha, it might just be what every one of us can attempt in some measure. Everything else is just conjecture.