Meditation: A Natural Practice go back to Thoughts page
“What’s natural about meditation? I tried it before, and stilling my mind was one of the most unnatural things I ever experienced,” said one of my meditation students on the first day of class.
“Me too. Sitting cross-legged and chanting foreign words didn’t feel natural to me!” chimed in another, to a sea of heads nodding in agreement.
“Neither did having a book open in my lap while trying to follow instructions that told me to keep my eyes closed.” This comment had everyone in the room laughing, including me.
I can relate to these experiences; I’ve had similar ones myself. Yet I stood by my words then, as I do now: meditation is a natural practice. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, to meditate is “to dwell on anything in thought; to contemplate deeply and continuously; to ponder; to ruminate; to reflect.” These activities are natural to us; we do them every day. The truth is that everyone already knows how to meditate. If we set up favorable conditions, meditation happens spontaneously.
We often experience meditative states in everyday circumstances when we attentively perform simple, repetitive tasks. For example, athletes experience “runners’ high.” People sometimes get “lost in their thoughts” while driving, and suddenly realize that they don’t remember having driven the last few miles. Some people “zone out” when they engage in activities like gardening, knitting, or washing the dishes. Meditation is such a natural state for us that we often do it without thinking about it.
Yet when people refer to meditation today, they typically mean a formal meditation practice. To me, a meditation practice is like an exercise program. And while a formal program of exercise may not seem completely natural, exercise is: we move, we bend, we lift, we stretch. Sometimes we set a specific goal—losing weight, gaining strength, increasing flexibility—and create a program to help us reach that goal. It’s the same with meditation: we think, we contemplate, we ponder, we reflect. And sometimes we have a goal—reducing stress, increasing concentration, understanding our relationship with the universe—and create a practice to help us.
The real benefits of meditation come from doing it regularly, such as fifteen minutes every day. So it’s helpful to establish a practice that suits your goals, your personality, and your lifestyle. Simple is often best. I know of a very simple meditation that utilizes awareness of the breath as a focal point.
In this meditation, called mindfulness, you tune in to the sensations of your breathing. You begin in a relaxed state, and simply notice how your body breathes for you. Breath comes in, breath goes out, and the cycle continues. Without changing your breath in any way, you tend to the feeling of the breath coming in and going out. There are several places where you can focus: in the nostrils, in the back of the throat, or in the belly. Breath comes and breath goes, breath comes and breath goes. The point of this meditation is to remain aware of your breath throughout the process. Every time your mind wanders—and it will wander—you gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
This meditation is about as natural as it gets. You can do it anywhere, anytime, because you always have your breath with you and you already know how to do it. Yet over time, a simple meditation practice like this can produce profound effects that will benefit you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Other meditations can too. Just remember to establish a practice that suits you—then your meditation will feel more like the natural process it is.
Copyright © 2007 by Joanne Franchina