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How to Fuckin’ Meditate

Sell all your worldly belongings, climb a mountain and contort your lower limbs to become an instant meditation guru. Alternatively, read this blog.

I’m allergic to how-to articles. I once wrote a lengthy article for a publication who said, “We like it, but just break it down into easily digestible action-points”.

“Like a how-to article?” I asked. 

“Yes, exactly like that”. 

Sadly, I did as they requested. I chopped the piece to bits, removed any traces of heart and authenticity, and turned my story into a “to-do list for idiots”. I have felt dirty ever since.

But on this occasion, I feel inclined to break my self-imposed rule of never, ever again writing another “how to” article. The reason? Over the years I have grown to really appreciate meditation, and this time a “how to guide” was requested by a friend. He is interested in meditation, but told me he has no idea how to clear his mind.

I mean, join the club.

Unfortunately, the advice to “just clear your mind” – as many people have been told when learning to meditate – isn’t remotely helpful. Our minds aren’t designed to be empty; they’re designed to focus on something. Understandably, most of us who attempt to follow this method end up frustrated and angry.

The purpose of meditation, as I see it, is not to empty the mind. It’s to teach the mind to be able to choose its focus, so that we don’t get lost in the white noise of life; we can hold ourselves steady at the centre because we know who we truly are. 

As we practise our focus muscles, we momentarily shift ourselves away from mulling over our problems. Not in avoidance, but so that we can step back and see things clearly again. While I’m definitely a fan of being proactive rather than sitting around waiting for miracles to appear, I don’t think constant rumination is productive. 

For me, after meditating I feel more clarity and less controlled by my own emotions for the rest of the day; I can see they are quite separate to who I really am. Please note that I said less controlled. As a lifelong recovering stress-head, I do still lose myself to emotion on a fairly regular basis. But I’m more likely to notice when it’s happened, and get back to “me” much quicker than I used to.

OK, enough of the chat… here’s the “how-to” list, as requested:

1. Find a place to sit where you have some privacy. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your back straight. It’s best not to lay down because you will probably fall asleep. That said, you may even fall asleep if you’re sitting, and if you do, don’t worry about it… I still fall asleep sometimes. You know why? Because I needed more fuckin’ sleep. 

2. Put your phone on silent and set a timer. If you’re just starting, set it for 5 minutes. Better to start small and be OK with the process than to try for too long and hate it, because your brain will get in a habit of hating it. Once you start enjoying the process and feeling refreshed after a meditation sesh, then increase the time up to 15 or 20 minutes, whichever you prefer. 

3. Notice your body. Shift your focus to the present moment by using your body as an anchor; do a brief body scan from toes upward. Notice in particular how your body is relating to the environment around it; feel your butt in the chair, parts of your feet and legs on touching the floor. Also notice where you’re holding tension in the body, for example the shoulders and jaw, and soften them a little if you can. You might decide you need to move your head a little to stretch your neck, or tweak the way you’re sitting. 

4. Focus on your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in through the nose, down your throat, all the way to the diaphragm, pushing the bottom of the ribs ever so slightly outwards before pausing briefly, then travelling back up in reverse, out through the nose. 

5. Remember it’s about focus, not “clearing your mind”. If it helps you to keep your focus on your breath, in your mind you can say the words “in” with the in breath, and “out” with the out breath. You can even choose to visualise the breath a certain colour. If you suddenly find yourself having a conversation in your head, thinking about a difficult scenario at work, or that you forgot to call the plumber, be kind to yourself and gently revert your focus back to your breath. Every time you lose focus and direct it back to your breath, think of it as a win –  you have successfully flexed your focus muscle. The most important thing is to be kind to yourself, otherwise you’re not practising meditation, you’re practising self-judgement. 

That’s really it. Your mind wanders, and you refocus. You don’t beat yourself up for having to refocus, because you know that it’s an important part of the process. You may not end up crossed legged on a mountain, but over time and with consistent practise you may find that your mind wanders less often, and that the benefits of meditation spread throughout the day, in small but noticeable ways. 

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