Meditation is a word that can carry a lot of weight, a lot of presuppositions, and a lot of misunderstanding. What is meditation? Some people see it as a useful tool, and some see it as a dangerous practice that can open the practitioner up to spiritual attacks of one kind or another. Some see it as hokey nonsense, and others swear by the practice as one of the support systems they use to make it through the day. I believe it will be helpful to start with a definition.
Merriam Webster1 defines meditation in a few ways which I will cobble together to form the definition which I believe best suits the word. It is the practice of intentionally focusing the mind, engaging in contemplation or reflection, for the purpose of enlightenment, mental clarity, or deliberation. Meditation appears in the scriptures of different religions, in self-help sections of bookstores, and in scientific journals. It has been a benefit to people from all walks of life for the vast majority of human history. I like to think of it as strength training for the mind. The mind is a muscle that can be exercised, strengthened, and flexed.
You may be saying to yourself, “Great, meditation works for some people, but I just can’t. I’m not good at it.” Or “There’s no way I can focus for hours at a time, I’m not some Tibetan monk.” The thing is, the people who are “good” at meditating are the people who practice it. Some may have a natural inclination to it, like any skill; but like any skill, practice carries more weight than talent. It is surprisingly simple to start, especially now in the twenty-first century. There are countless websites, applications, and blogs to get you started with tips, tricks, and guided sessions.
For many, the biggest barrier to meditation is getting started. Where do I begin? What resources are available to me?
I recommend starting with an easy-to-use application. Calm and Waking Up are two very popular options, and have articles, guided meditations, and many other tools to get you started. There are subscription fees for these apps, but many have a free trial available. My personal favorite is a completely free option called Smiling Mind which can be downloaded from the App Store on Apple products, and I believe is also available on the Play Store. Each of these options highlight what is called “mindfulness meditation” which is designed to help you focus on your body, and the sensations you are experiencing in that moment. Many grounding techniques come from this practice of mindfulness meditation – breathing control exercises, sensory exercises, etc.
What I appreciate about mindfulness meditation is its use in increasing focus and mental clarity, reduction in anxiety symptoms, and falling asleep at night. I use it before I sit down to write a blog post or a paper, I use it when I feel overwhelmed, and I use it when I lay down in my bed at night, just to name a few times of the day. There is no limit to how you can use meditation. There is no wrong way to begin. You will stumble a bit, but with practice you can find peace, clarity, and stillness in a loud and crazy world.