Meditation is a simple practice that moves attention from thoughts into the reality of the present moment.
Every day, each of us has tens of thousands of thoughts. And we spend much of our time focusing on those thoughts. When we do that, we’re thinking about life instead of living life. We’re missing out on reality. We’re missing out on the people in our lives, and the world around us. And we’re missing what’s still and permanent to focus on what’s transient.
Doing that is like going to a movie and watching through closed fingers. Or shutting our eyes altogether until it’s over. To ‘meditate’ is simply to re-train your attention so it loses the habit of focusing on transient thoughts and feelings. As that habit fades, what’s left is reality.
There are two steps to meditation. The first is simply to notice where you are placing your attention. The second is to re-direct that attention away from thoughts, back into the moment.
You can get a sense of where you habitually place your attention by doing this simple exercise. Find somewhere comfortable and quiet, then sit down, relax, close your eyes, and for the next minute or two don’t do anything except notice what’s passing through your awareness. You’ll probably notice thoughts. You may also notice feelings, body sensations, sounds, emotions, visions or images, and other stimuli. And you may also notice space or stillness.
You may also notice how your attention will tend to follow a thought for a while before moving onto another thought. Or it might be drawn to feelings, sounds etc.
Once you’ve finished this exercise, take a moment to consider how your mental habits affected you. If you focused on thoughts, what were they telling you? Were they positive or negative? Were they telling you how to feel or act? Were they judging or commenting on your life? Did they influence your perception of yourself or the world around you? How did they affect your emotional and physical state? Did you feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry? Did you feel tense or relaxed?
Now consider the times when you weren’t focusing on thoughts – when you were just letting them float by. How did that affect your physical and emotional state? Were you calmer and more relaxed?
What would life me like if you didn’t habitually focus on the same old thoughts and feelings?
If you found that your habits of attention were affecting your experience of life, you might want to consider trying meditation.
Step two involves learning to re-direct and re-train your attention, so that you no longer habitually focus on thoughts and other stimuli. For this step you’ll usually need a vehicle – something new to focus your attention on, which brings it back to the present moment.
Some meditation techniques involve focusing on the breath. Others involve focusing on the heart, or the body. Some, like Ascension, will use words to re-direct attention away from thoughts. By following that practice, you’ll gradually dissolve the habit of focusing on thoughts, allowing you to experience the peace, calmness and freedom that come from living in the present moment.