Note: This is an edited version of a blog with the same title, originally published on March 6, 2019 by Ted Hall, L.Ac., founder of Kototama Acupuncture in Boulder, CO. The original post can be read here.
How can we make the practice of meditation part of our daily lives? Perhaps we don't need to worry so much about trying to understand it, but instead we should focus our energy on removing the supposed barriers that are in our way.
While it is likely you've at least heard the word meditation before, it is just as likely that it is a foreign practice to you. Depending on your level of experience with meditation, you may even choose to call it by a different name -- breathing exercise, quiet time for recharging, etc. Regardless of what you call it or how you practice it, a very important aspect to meditation is mindfulness -- awareness of whatever is happening in the present moment without judging, clinging, or averting. Stripping away any religious or ideological connotations that may seem to be implied by the practice of meditation, let's take a look at what it is all about from a foundational and practical point of view.
In simple terms, meditation is the access point to the peace that we all need and crave. It is a way of understanding and seeing through the patterns of thought and behavior that do not serve us so well. Along with eating, sleeping, and exercising, it is one of the most nourishing things that we can do for ourselves. Yet, for many of us meditation gets put on the back burner most days.
There aren't any reasons not to meditate. Okay, well, there are plenty that we have came up with, but they all suck. You've probably heard the saying, "You should meditate for 20 minutes per day, unless you don't have time, and in that case you should meditate for an hour." Not having time is exactly why we should sit down and practice everyday, rather than an excuse to skip it and do something else. We are all quite busy, and as our world rapidly changes we fight to keep up. Given the technology of today, we are often fully engaged and connected with the worldwide news, family drama, work responsibilities, and more 24/7. Real downtime, even when you're on vacation, is a rarity. I recently read that Americans left 768 million days of paid time off lying on the table unused last year. What?!
Besides time, there are plenty of other sad excuses to be heard -- I have to get the kids off to school, my allergies have been bothering me, it makes me too sleepy, there's no scientific proof that it "works," etc. One excuse that is actually a bit closer to the heart of things sounds something like this, "I've tried it, but I am just not good at it;" or, 'It doesn't work for me." I will let you in on a secret: there hasn't been anyone in the history of mankind that is "good" at meditating. Even those who devote their lives to such practices -- monks in monasteries, for example -- still struggle with the same things that all humans struggle with.
Meditation is not about being successful. It's not even about feeling calm, peaceful, and happy while you're in the middle of it. What matters the most is making the effort to do it; making the effort to sit down and be with anything and everything that is going on in your mind. You'll find that there's a lot in there, and it hates to be ignored. But, the good news is most of it is just background noise. Most of us do not want to hang out in the dark recesses of our minds. It can be unpleasant, but it can also be eye-opening. Nothing actually happens during meditation, and that may be the center of our objections to the practice. We're so used to stimulus, entertainment, and trying to get something out of life, that we nearly panic just from the thought of sitting down and taking a break for a few minutes each day.
We are almost never not doing something, and you'll find the same to be true when you meditate. Perhaps for a breath or two you will be mindfully following along with it, but you can be sure that your small self, ego, or whatever you like to call it will get busy reasserting itself as soon as possible, inserting mindless mental chatter and taking you down all sorts of paths in just a matter of seconds. This is just what the mind does. It is the nature of the mind to find patterns, make associations, and generalize about things. It's part of what has kept our species alive thus far actually, and it will do you no good to resist or fight with this energy. But, it's important to sit quietly as often as you can, observing what is really there -- emptiness. That's right, just as quickly as one thought comes up and stirs the mind, it just as quickly falls away and gives rise to another, and then another, and so on. Just observe this process. Don't fight with it. And, if you do pick up a thought and play with it for a while, gently put it down and return to the observing.
There's no short-term emotional gratification to be had with meditation, and this is why people think they are not good at it, it doesn't work for them, etc. It takes a lot of fortitude to willingly, and regularly, sit down and watch all of the mental traffic fly by, especially when some of what passes is dark or unpleasant. It is quite reasonable to be afraid of what we don't understand, but it is often the case that the only thing you were ever afraid of was the fear itself. (Thanks F.D.R.).
Choosing to meditate, just like choosing to receive acupuncture on a regular basis, means that you are willing to make space for your Self and for your health. You'll realize that all of those thoughts turning around in your head are just that -- thoughts, and nothing more. Meditation allows us to make friends with ourself, and is a practice in being aware of who you are. Meditation is not as difficult as your thoughts and excuses would have you believe. You don't need to know any special secrets, believe in any particular philosophy, or anything of the sort in order to practice. You just need to do it. There are many different methods, some of which may resonate with you more than others. Again, the most foundational of all meditation practices is to sit down, connect with your breathing, and observe and let go of any thoughts that may arise. Repeat this as often as possible.
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This page is intended to serve as a source for links to blogs and articles about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine that both new and returning patients may find informative and/or entertaining. It is also where I will share information about the history, principles, and benefits of this awesome medicine.