In today’s goal-oriented society, excessive tension has become a “normal” state of being. Even as success gurus advocate ever higher performance standards, medical doctors and spiritual leaders warn us of the health damage from stress, and the loss of quality of life when we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to an increasingly stressful lifestyle. Our minds are constantly active, offering incessant commentary due to over stimulation from media, high levels of noise pollution in urban environments, and the constant activity of busy schedules. Light pollution from electric lighting and electronic media interfere with sleep, causes stress through chronic sleep deprivation. For so many of us living a modern stressful lifestyle -with our rational mind in overdrive – relaxing into a meditation can all too easily become yet another struggle, a difficult endeavor that seems all too easily to lead to just more frustration and stress. So just what is this state of meditation, which is so highly touted as being good for body, mind and spirit? And even more, how do we get there? It is important to know how to clear your mind for meditation.
Perhaps for many, part of the key will be to do a bit of research with an open the mind, to discover more about the wide variety of tools to enhance a meditation practice. So often the human mind will concoct a limited idea of what meditation is. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic website on stress management, there are many approaches. Each individual is different, and what may work well for one person is simply not going to be a good fit for another. I can’t tell you how often people will say that they love Tai Chi, but found Yoga to be less interesting. Or the opposite, preferring Yoga to Tai Chi. Others prefer a sitting meditation every morning, while the mind is calm. Even in choosing a sitting meditation practice, there are many different forms, just as there are so many different cultures.
Most of us already have experienced meditative states, perhaps without realizing it. We are told that the creative, dynamic state of being is our natural human heritage, and that we have far greater potential than what we consider to be normal. There are many methods for reaching a meditative state; artists know it, runners call it “zone”, singing, music, playing with the kids, gardening, and a walk in nature. Even when we wish to do a quiet sitting meditation, we may want to begin the meditation initially by choosing ways to get us into a comfortable and relaxed state, and make the meditation experience enjoyable, even effortless.
Many dynamic meditation practices seek to enhance self-reflection and spiritual awareness. When meditation is needed for stress management, or to find that place of quiet mind, clarity and creativity, striving and trying hard will very likely defeat the purpose. Think of how many times, when learning something new, we are told to “stop trying so hard and just do it”. Because effort and control generate tension, and tension is the opposite of the state we wish to reach during meditation, we need to get away from the attitude of embarking on a mental discipline or control.
For many, especially mothers with small children who are so busy with 24/7 responsibility for others, it is helpful to begin small; start with a few minutes. Try the simple breathing exercises found in the stress management section on the Mayo Clinic website, or on Dr. Anthony Weil’s website.
Keep it simple, and start small. Integrate the things that you already love, those are your strengths. Do some good research, and explore different meditation practices to find out what resonates with you. Because our logical mind tends to quickly categorize everything into logical boxes, we may think of meditation as being limited to the image of an ancient sage, impossibly enlightened beyond our wildest hopes, sitting on a mountaintop far from the fuss and fury of modern life. One of my teachers points out that this kind of a spiritual retreat is easy, but that retreat to a remote mountain certainly isn’t a choice that most of us would want to take. The whole idea is to find a way to create and maintain a holistic lifestyle that works for who we are and where we are now. Why would we want to leave our friends, family, beloved places we call home, our vocation, and very likely abandon our whole purpose in life and the gift we have to share with others?
There are many approaches to meditation, which include the classic sitting meditations, walks in nature, painting (especially “en plein air” – painting nature and landscapes outdoors at the site), playing music, and dance. You can find blogs online written by people who talk about their experiences with the meditation of running. One of my Tai Chi teachers told us that before he studied Tai Chi and Qi Gong, he had been a defensive back for a college football team. He would get into a zone where he could envision the movements of both teams, four plays ahead of time. Another friend, a holistic nutritionist, massage therapist and three-times participant in Hawaii’s Iron Man Triathlon, told me that once she breached the “runner’s wall”, she found herself in a “runner’s high”, where she experienced a state of clarity and calmness, and solutions to difficult problems would come freely.
Find out what brings you into what athletes call “the zone”. Remember that each individual is different. In many of the Native American traditions, the ceremony of the sweat lodge and vision quest is to seek spiritual connection and personal inner strength, sometimes translated as a personal medicine. Physician and author Deepak Chopra writes that when his children were four years old, he taught them to ask, “What is my talent”, and “how can I help.” Spiritual leaders of all faiths tell us that each has their own strengths, their own gifts.
Use “triggers” to establish the feeling of being in the place of that inner space – this can be dedicated clothing, a pillow, a particular spot, a dedicated time of day. Make an appointment with yourself, much like brushing the teeth or taking a shower. An artist friend of mine always prepared herself for painting by putting on her “painting shoes”. A yoga practitioner or runner may put on specific practice outfit, triggering the association with the practice.
Use meditation or healing music to carry the session. A friend of mine who is a personal trainer always trains to music. She changes her playlist to fresh music every few weeks. I have included several of my favorite sources at the end of the article.
Take a class to “kick-start” your practice, or go on a retreat. One of my friends began her lifelong practice of yoga with an early morning yoga program on TV, before the children woke up. Many years later, when she was in her late 70’s and doing ballroom dancing for fun, she was still doing yoga, and her doctor told her to keep doing what she had been doing, and told about her to his other patients as a model example.
Here are some of my favorite resources:
Yoga for Seniors, by John Schlorholtz, a principal yoga instructor at the Harvard University Center for Wellness:
Meditation music from Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Center for Neuroacoustic Research:
You can also listen to samples of his albums at his website on Amazon.com, where you can download individual mp3 selections or purchase CD’s