I’m waiting in line at Costa. It’s been a rough morning. I didn’t have any milk for my breakfast cereal and I forgot to print that seminar preparation I needed for this morning. The bus was running late and now I’ll have to spend what little money I have left getting a muffin and coffee for breakfast. The person in front of me orders a muffin, and I see it. Oh, it’s delightful. It’ll improve my morning tenfold. As I get to the front of the queue and order, the woman looks at me with a sheepish expression. “I’m sorry, sir, we’re out of muffins now. We’ll get that coffee for you.” I smile and tell her that’s OK, then take my coffee and leave Costa with a smile on my face.
I meditated this morning. When I tell people that I practice mindfulness, the same images appear in their head, and I’m sure the same goes for you – Taoist monks in quiet zen gardens, astral projection, binaural beats and the like. They often ask me what practical applications it has, and I believe it has many in today’s day and age. In a world overrun with information, busyness and work, it’s very important that we take a step back, simply breathe, and spend some time in our own head. To say we have it with us wherever we go, very few of us are intimately familiar with our inner thoughts. The moment we slip into a daydream, we’re overcome by guilt because we’re supposed to be listening to this lecture, or our phones will buzz with a message that we just have to reply to.
However, it’s sorting our inner thoughts that allows us to face the problematic morning I described above without getting annoyed. Meditation allows you to take some time to engage with the thoughts you’ve had that day. It’s not about emptying your mind of everything; more like sorting through an inbox of things that you considered that day but didn’t fully finish thinking about. When I meditate, I remember that person on campus who had the same bag as me. I remember that offhand comment my friend made that I didn’t ask about at the time. I remember my stress over my essay and try to rationalise why I shouldn’t be worrying myself about it. Meditation, at its core, lets you analyse your feelings – attaching no thoughts, words or meanings to those feelings, but just wallowing in them for a moment, and then allowing them to float away.
Our inner voices can be grating. But they’re chattering constantly because we never engage with them. It’s like a child craving attention – patting your shoulder, day in, day out, voice slowly getting louder until you turn around and yell “WHAT?”. I think we all know you shouldn’t do that, but we do. Instead, try meditating and letting your inner voice run wild; pay attention to it for once, and see what interesting things it can tell you. Our thoughts are wild and random, but they can be eye-opening too, if you just listen for a bit. In the same way you might stay up all night talking to a friend and become very close with them, you can meditate and thus get to know yourself just as intimately.
The oft-toted problems people have with meditation is firstly, “Oh, but I don’t have time” and secondly, “I can’t shut out my thoughts”. As you can see above, it isn’t about silencing your voice, but letting it go wild for a bit. However, the first one is a pretty legitimate qualm – how do you slot meditation into such a busy life? When are the best times of day to do it, and how do you ensure that you have time every day? How long should you meditate for it to ‘count’? There’s no real answer to this. Meditation is something that can be done for hours, or just for five minutes. It is a skill that can be practised. In the same way you wouldn’t bench 500 when you’re starting out at the gym, you wouldn’t meditate for six hours like a proper monk. You start with what you can do. I’ve been meditating each morning for several years now, and I only do about ten or twenty minutes per day. I’ve found that’s a good amount of time to take in the mornings without impacting my university or work life, and it gives me enough time to rest and get my mind ready for the day ahead.
As for time of day, that, too, is your choice. I prefer the early morning, after I’ve just woken up, but meditating at lunchtime, or in the evenings, might be preferable for you. The most important thing about meditation is that it’s your choice. It’s all about getting to know yourself, so don’t feel restricted by guides or information you find online. Do it the way that is most helpful to you.
The more you practise meditation, the more you will attain mindfulness: the state where you are incredibly aware of your own existence. This is the state that lets you understand that life is fleeting, and that what you do today is all your choice. It’s how you can face a bad day with a smile, and how you can help others with their problems without feeling overwhelmed. It’s not necessarily a state of happiness, and I wouldn’t posit meditation as a solution to feeling down. However, mindfulness is a state of peace, and it better equips you to make yourself happy. Meditation is a very varied process for everyone, and what it does will change for each person. It can be used for many different things, and I can recommend it to anyone. So, if you have ten minutes spare sometime today, why not lie down, close your eyes, and get to know yourself for a bit? You might find the results surprising.