You would expect a tradition which understands people and the human mind to be very accommodating when it comes to differences. And it is. However, I, and all of the other teachers at the Lifeflow Centre are constantly meeting people who have struggled for years with meditation, finding it difficult or even impossible to meditate. Often they assumed, or were told, that it was difficult.
The reason is quite simple. They have been struggling with a meditation which doesn’t suit them. They might have read about it in a book, or been to a meditation class and told that there is only one exercise they should do in a certain way with no deviations. However there are actually hundreds of different exercises with many variations to suit different types of people and the different ways they experience the world.
People are invariably surprised to discover how easy meditation actually is when learned properly, and have often been able to relate it to past experiences in their own lives. Of course, just sitting down to meditate doesn’t mean you will automatically reach a good state. Meditation is a tool to achieve this and, like any tool, its use needs to be learned properly.
Meditation is a natural state
We could all meditate naturally and easily as children – we just didn’t know what we were doing. It is actually the natural state of our bodies and minds. But once we learn to think, the cost is that we lose this ability – in fact, it is often actively discouraged. I was always being told off for daydreaming and was told that if my head wasn’t screwed on I would lose it!
If you watch, you’ll find it very interesting to discover that you cannot think and be in touch with your senses at the same time. It’s just the cost of learning the extremely powerful ability to think. And this is not a new problem. Meditation has been around for 3000 years because it’s the tool which enables us to rediscover the natural ability we had as children without losing the power and skill of thinking.
This is why, when learned properly, people often say that they used to feel like this when they were children. I clearly remember a woman who said how the meditation made her feel exactly as she used to feel when she sat on the roof of a shed on the farm where she lived as a child. She absolutely loved doing it because she felt close to the sky and could see all around her. She would stay there for ages feeling peaceful, still, in touch with everything around her and completely content. And she had completely forgotten about it until she learned to meditate.
So meditation brings you out of the world of your thoughts to the rich world of your senses. You become very relaxed and your mind becomes calm and clear. Your senses open up and sights, sounds, colours, smells, tastes and the feelings on your skin become a kaleidoscope of sensations which embrace and hold you.
As you learn to rest in this state you discover your natural state of awareness and can use this to maintain your physical, emotional and mental health or to see clearly or to develop your inner life, your intuition or a spiritual discipline.
As meditation is an innate ability it is very important that you find your natural way to do it. And this is why there are so many different kinds of meditation. At our courses, and retreats we always let people know that there is only one rule – if you find a meditation works for you quickly and easily, keep it, and if it doesn’t, forget it.
The different kinds of meditation
The range of meditations includes breathing meditations, which people who like being still find very comfortable, and visualisations, which really suit people who like to be active. You can also scan the sensations in your body. This is like a visualisation, and while scanning your body you can become very aware of and get to know all about the energy centres in your body. There are movement meditations too, where you focus on the sensations in your body while moving.
Also meditating on sound is a popular form of meditation. People do it all the time unconsciously while listening to music. Sound meditations are mantra and so music is a form of mantra which literally means “a tool for the mind”. And you can also use ideas to meditate on – affirmations are an example of this kind of meditation. All of these can bring your mind quickly and easily to a relaxed and calm state.
Mindfulness is a way of using meditation to keep you in touch with the present moment and free yourself from the habits which can make our lives difficult. One of the mindfulness techniques we teach, which is a speciality of Lifeflow, is the Three C Technique.
We also teach a whole range of Spot Meditations – meditations which can be done quickly anywhere and at any time. They only take 20 to 30 seconds and are invaluable for calming and balancing yourself during the day – at work, at home and also in all the moments where there is usually “wasted” time; while waiting for appointments, in the car and so on.
How long should a meditation session be?
I always like to quote a 16th century Tibetan abbot who said that short, frequent sessions are the best. So many people are told that they should meditate for at least 20 minutes, twice a day, or for half an hour, or an hour.
Again, there is no rule about this – what suits you is best. And it is far better to do some quick Spot meditations regularly than for long formal sessions to become so difficult that you give up. So whether you like to do breathing meditation, or visualise, whether you like quick meditations or long ones is not an issue. What is, is that you learn the basics well, find it comfortable, find it easy to do, and enjoy it.