I think the number one reason why people do not meditate are because they struggle to find the time. And usually when people tell me that they can’t find the time, I reply with the quote from Saint Francis de Sales (a bit sarcastically, I should mention): “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”
But the truth is that most people do struggle to find the time. But on this problem, I have good news. The good news is that five to ten minutes a day is all you need to get started. And even if that seems out of reach, then one minute will also count. The main thing is just to start.
Here’s how to just do it:
- Find a reasonably quiet place (and if it’s a little noisy, just wear headphones)
- Set the alarm on your phone for one minute (or five minutes)
- Sit comfortably with your back reasonably straight (so as to prevent an unintended nap – although, to be honest, worse things could happen)
- Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out. Pick a spot where’s it’s most prominent: your nose, your chest, your belly, wherever you feel comfortable.
- Whenever you get distracted – which I guarantee you will, a lot of times – just gently start over. (without being angry with yourself)
Ok, we need to admit that for most of us it is not only about finding the time but also to find the right balance between our ambitions and worldly goals and our spirituality.
Well, when I first encountered meditation, I was intrigued by the notion of achieving greater calm, but I worried that if I got too calm, I’d lose my edge and end up wearing my wife’s yoga pants to work. (Just a joke, my wife’s yoga pants will never fit me!)
No, it turns out, meditation does not require you to abandon all ambition. In fact, I still believe that you need to give your best at all times. If you’re going to achieve anything great, it will, in my opinion, inevitably involve some planning, hard work and wringing of hands.
However, what meditation has taught me is that we tend to make our suffering worse than it needs to be. Mindfulness – the self-awareness generated through meditation – has helped me draw the line between useless rumination and constructive thinking.
This made a huge difference for me – increasing my resilience and creativity at work, while improving my relationships at home. (Although I am far from perfect. My wife still believes I need improvement on more than one area of my life, for example, she just again started me on a diet.)
Meditation helped me to free myself from my past and took away my fear for the future. In a sense, it helped me to find stillness in the moment.
The stoic philosopher, Empedocles ones used a metaphor of the rock and the sea: “To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”
I do occasionally experience such a moment of profound stillness in meditation. But, in my experience, it’s a mistake to strive to achieve a certain experience.
Often the striving prevents you from getting wherever you’re hoping to go. The goal in meditation is not to reach some special state; it’s to see whatever is happening in your mind clearly.
James Baraz captured the essence of meditation with his description of mindfulness: “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Why is this important? Because when you see your thoughts and feelings clearly, they have less power to hurt you or freak you out.
Another way to look at this is to view the process of thinking itself. So, when we become aware of the way our mind works, as we do when we meditate, we come to see that the constant flow of thoughts has much more to do with the past or the future than the present.
Subsequently, in any moment we may be only partly aware of what is happening in the present. This is not just true while we meditating. Unawareness dominates the minds of most modern people and consequently, it touches everything they do.
Meditation therefore is not only a great daily practice to become more aware but also a way to access your true power of calm. Thus, it means you can reclaim your life rather than just living for your holidays or the other so called special times when everything will be perfect, relaxed and manageable. Of course, nothing is ever perfect.
No, meditation is simply a way of making calmness, inner balance, and clear awareness a part of your everyday life. Exactly what the French philosopher Pascal pointed to, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
His point I think is that without a quiet mind inner calm is unattainable and thus also no outer peace. Because we know that inner calm translates into outer calm and peace. Thomas A Kempis said: “First keep the peace within yourself, and then you can also bring peace to others.”
It’s without doubt true that our thinking largely determines the quality of our lives. I’m not saying that outward circumstances aren’t important, you and I can be very grateful that we aren’t living in Syria or Iraq at this moment—but once a person has his basic needs met, how he uses his attention will mean the difference between happiness and misery.
Focus is one aspect of this: One discovers that being concentrated—on anything—is essentially satisfying. But there is more to meditation that just being focused. If one becomes deeply involved in meditation, it becomes a means of discovering something fundamental, in this case about the nature of our minds.
Perhaps the most important thing one can discover through the practice of meditation is that the “self” or ego is an illusion. And this is where meditative insight actually makes contact with science: because we know that the self is not what it seems to be.
There is no place in the brain for a soul or an ego to be hiding. And it is possible to examine this illusory self closely enough to have the feeling that we call “I” disappear. And as previously stated, the self is an illusion—and realizing this is the basis of the power of calm.
So, if your mind is all you truly have. Doesn’t it make sense to train it? Today, with new insights from the field of neuroscience, especially with the discovery of brain plasticity, we know that the human brain is highly accept to change and training, even at advanced ages. My conviction is that there is a lot each of us can do to achieve greater happiness in our lives and, more important, to draw attention to the tremendous inner resources that are at the disposal of each of us.
Let me stop here for now. I’ll leave you with some wise words from the Bhagavad Gita: “For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.”