The Basics Of Meditation:
Counting Your Breaths - Unlike Counting Sheep.
They say, "Just close your eyes and count your breaths." How simple can that be? They also tell you "Do not think about anything else though. Just concentrate on your breathing." Well, anyone who has attempted this "simple" meditation knows that it just is not that easy.
There can be many obstacles to this seemingly effortless task. Our minds have a tendency to wander naturally. If we try to completely focus on anything for more than a few seconds, random thoughts often take over. And breathing is boring; let's face it, necessary, however boring. How can you concentrate and focus on something so mundane when there are so many more interesting things racing around in your head?
A typical meditation session might go something like this: I close my eyes, sit comfortably, and begin counting. Inhale one and exhale, inhale two and exhale, inhale... "Wait, am I doing this right? I guess so, I am already on... oh shit, three." Inhale four... "Now, am I supposed to start over at one or just keep going?" Inhale one, inhale two, inhale three, inhale four. "Wow, now I am really getting the hang of this. Dammit, "Inhale one, inhale two... "Did I remember to pay the phone bill? I'm sure that I did. I am really good at staying on top of my bills, unlike Anne, she is always... Son of a bitch, I did it again." Inhale one, inhale two...
The great news is it does become easier and better with practice. The not so great news is it can still at times be a struggle, even for experienced meditators, especially during busy or turbulent periods in one's life. Fortunately, there is more great news; there are some specific things you can do to help you focus and reduce the frustration in your meditation practice.
In this article, I would like to offer three tips to assist you with your Meditation Practice.
1) Observe, Do Not Control
First, do not force or try to control your breathing. This is a mistake that a lot of beginners in meditation make. Many inexperienced meditators consciously or unconsciously alter their breathing in an effort to focus on it. What results is an exaggerated and often irregular breathing pattern. This will actually inhibit your meditation rather than help it.
What you want to do is just "observe" your breathing. You do not have to exert any additional effort at all. If you just wait and observe, you will breathe in a regular pattern. Then, you can count. Of course, we all know this, however many still find themselves forcing their breath. If you catch yourself trying to control your breathing, just gently remind yourself that it is not necessary to do that and then wait for your next breath to come naturally.
2) Become Compassionate
The next tip to use is, Compassion. In this case, I mean for You in your meditation practice. As we have been discussing, it is not an easy thing to do to concentrate on one's breath. It is very important not to scold yourself or be harsh when your mind wanders or you observe yourself controlling your breathing. If you think about it, the time you would spend reprimanding yourself for breaking your focus is just more time away from your meditation. It is best to gently and kindly bring yourself back to your practice as soon as you notice that you are losing focus. Do not become hard on yourself and start thinking, "I cannot do this. This is never going to work for me." These negative thoughts do nothing to help your practice and waste valuable time. Be compassionate. Just let it go and return to your meditation.
Another way to look at these times of focus loss is to realize that they are an important part of your progression. Meditation is a skill. Like most skills, it requires time and practice. A baseball player does not step into the batter's box for the first time and start hitting homeruns. He makes mistakes and corrections, and improves over a period of time. He can then gauge his forward progress by the reduction of his errors. Even after he is an experienced hitter, he will still strike out more often than he would like to, however his hits should increase as well.
In your meditation practice, your mind will wander more in the beginning. Do not give up. It will only get better. Just like the baseball player, you will notice fewer mistakes over time and you will learn to recover from them more quickly. Sure, you will still have challenges, obstacles and even slumps from time to time. However, you will also have more successes as well.
3) Just Enjoy Yourself
The third and final tip I would love to offer you, is to find enjoyment in your meditation practice. Even though it may seem tough at times, daily meditation can greatly enhance your life. Do not, once again, DO NOT judge yourself and expect to progress or improve to a particular level or within a particular timeframe. Unlike baseball, mediation is a life-long experience. Remember, this is your time. Let it be your oasis and not a chore. No matter what else is going on in your life, your meditation time can be your escape. As a Zen master once said, "It's just you and your breath and then it's just your breath." Breathe in, breathe out, and forget about the world around you. When you are busy or preoccupied with some problem, even if you can only find ten or fifteen minutes to be alone with your breath, take the time and enjoy it.
I hope these tips will assist you with enhancing your meditation experience. They have certainly proven to be invaluable tools in my own practice over the years. Of course I still struggle from time to time with the very same issues we have discussed here. However, through observing rather than controlling, being compassionate to myself when I falter, and enjoying my special time alone; I have made my life more fulfilling and happier in every way.
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