Wednesday, 28 January 2015

How I meditate. And why.

I have just finished a not-hugely-successful meditation session. My second 10-minute bout of the day. Chief among the stray thoughts that charged through my mind was "what the hell shall I write?" 

So I'm going to write about meditation. 

I've dabbled in meditation for years. Unfortunately my initial impulse towards meditation was not born of pure motives. As an adolescent I was a massive Beatles fan (I still am, an obsessive and a bore - or a bit of an expert if you're feeling charitable). While it wouldn't be right to blame dear old John, Paul, George and Ringo for my later enthusiasm for drugs, it was through their biographies that my latent desire for altered states - childishly indulged in spinning to dizziness and hyperventilation - found a particular form. 

Anyone who knows The Fabs' story will know that they moved from LSD to TM, or Transcendental Meditation. My young mind put the two together as some sort of equivalent. Of course, they couldn't be more different. But the urge to them was in some ways similar - I sought altered states, but as a means to peace. 

In the last couple of years I've made a couple of efforts to meditate properly and regularly. At the turn of this year I managed to begin a continued run of meditation. 

It's proving great. It's also incredibly hard. 

If you've got even a passing interest you'll have found some of the thousands of guides on YouTube. I've certainly looked at plenty of them. In the end though, and at this stage of my meditation journey (I normally hate that word but it feels appropriate here), I've gone back to the first book on the subject I ever read. 

How to Meditate by Lawrence Leshan may well be very out of date. I can't recall much of it now, though I do remember that it's quite academic, concerned with religious experience and spirituality. What I have recalled from it is the very simple "how to" of the title. 

And that's what I do. It's a simple breath-counting meditation. I sit upright in a chair (my knees aren't yet up to comfortable crossing). I have my hands in my lap, or sometimes I put one on my belly to feel my diaphragm rise and fall with my breath (something I saw recommended in a YouTube video by a very nice, Canadian Buddhist monk - could there be anyone nicer anywhere in the universe than a Canadian Buddhist monk?). Then I just breath, counting "one" on the in breath and saying "and" on the out breath. 

And I hope to think nothing else other than that.

And of course I don't. Today I remember thinking about what to write here; I thought about death having just seen a documentary of Churchill's funeral; I thought of my family dying (remember I'm a bit anxious); I thought of - and this is a common one - meditation and how, and how not to do it. And each time I find myself starting I say to myself "just breathe", and go back to focusing on my breath. 

I do that with a timer on for 10 minutes, with quite a gentle alarm. I close my eyes. Sometimes the lights are off, but I don't think that's important. 

I try to never meditate straight after exercising, when I may struggle to breathe regularly at the start of the session. If you have ticking clocks in the room, smash them. You want to be as comfortable and feel as safe as you possibly can. I always remind myself before I start that while this is something that is regulated by the breath, it is not a breathing exercise - the aim is not to expand the diaphragm six inches and fill my lungs to maximum capacity. 

And I'm getting better and it's making me much better. I'll do it twice again tomorrow and soon I hope to make my 10 minutes into 15 or maybe 20. 

If you spent it thank you for your time. Please leave a comment after the tone.