Meditation is easy

Dinner and drinks at a Japanese restaurant in Shoreditch this weekend, “Yeah, I started meditating at the start of the year. I love it.”

“You can meditate? Wow, that is amazing!”

It is amazing, and I would recommend it to everyone, but there isn’t anything special about me. I’m not perfect, and I don’t do it everyday. I should, I wish I did. Since taking it up as a new half-years resolution in January, I can concentrate better, I’m calmer, more perceptive, clearer on my goals and much happier in my life. It’s the best investment of time that I’ve made in a long time. (NB: it turns out half year resolutions are not the rare idea I thought they were… see 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 and 7b and many others.)

But there isn’t anything special about me, and it is fantastic to be able to say that there is no magic trick to meditation. It’s a skill, like any other, and all it takes is regular practice. On the downside – there is no magic trick and it takes regular practice. So how do I meditate? I sit somewhere comfortable, and make sure I’m comfortable and warm. I set a timer on my phone. I shut my eyes. I concentrate on my breathing. That’s it, that’s all there is to it.

Since breathing seems such a simple thing, this simple description also makes meditation sound much harder than it really is. Whereas there is actually quite a lot to notice when it comes to breathing, and I can attend to it now for as long as I want.

There’s the the natural flare and expansion of my nostrils, the feel of air flowing smoothly over my sinuses. The gentle tickle at the back of my throat. The way my chest swells and my diaphragm descends and my shoulders gently rise. The pleasant sensation of fullness as my inbreath naturally slows and stops. Then the outbreath, almost the inbreath in reverse, only my shoulders fall first before my diaphragm rises. And through it all, the background sounds of air quietly whistling in and out, but at a slightly lower pitch on the way out.

Of course thoughts from the rest of my life distract me, less and less the more I practice, but still some each time. And that’s OK. If I notice that my concentration has shifted I simply let go of the distracting thought and focus again on my breathing. Sometimes its hard to let go, and I want to think about my deadlines at work or new ideas for FiloThought as they bubble up. But actively deciding to put those thoughts aside and to concentrate on the present always feels like the right decision as soon as I have made it. The future can wait, while I meditate I want to be here and now.

And now it sounds easy, and it is, but only with practice. Getting that practice is very hard, because it will feel like you’re making no progress for a long time. Certainly, when I started meditating I had not appreciated how complex, intricate and detailed a single breath could be. So I focused on breathing to a rhythm to help me concentrate, breathing in to a count of 6, holding it for 6, then exhaling to a count of 6. Later, I extended the count to 7, 8, 9, 10. Ultimately, meditation is concentration, concentration is a skill, and meditation is a perfect way to practice it. Hopefully my experience and this tip can help you. Do you meditate? How do you meditate? What works for you?

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