When I started my meditation practice, I struggled and had little sense of direction. I often wondered if I was doing it correctly, especially since signs of progress are intangible, at best. If you are also finding yourself in this position of uncertainty, it is important to realize that meditation is both a practice and a state of being. It is itself a process. Here I'll explain why we meditate (despite the struggle to settle into a practice) and tips on how to improve your practice.
Why We Meditate
Yoga Sutra 3.2 describes meditation (dhyana) as the state of awareness continuously flowing inward rather than outward, resulting in an expansion of consciousness beyond what we normally perceive. The practice of meditation, on the other hand, is the discipline we employ to sit in stillness with single-pointed attention consistently enough to achieve the aforementioned state of expansion.
“When things in the world are troubling, our need is not to join in the chaos, but to cleave to the peace within. Then and only then will we create a world that reflects the heart instead of shattering it,” writes Marianne Williamson, author of "The Gift of Change."
This quote is a great example of why we meditate. Meditation practice enables us to be more even-minded and compassionate, less reactive and restless. It fosters a peacefulness within that makes us stronger during the trials of life. It helps us to overcome tension, fear, doubt and worry in order to live better lives. (Learn more about The Nature of Fear.) The numerous benefits of meditation have been well documented and transcend interest groups, genders and socioeconomic statuses. From improved brain performance to pain management, reduced blood pressure to combating aging, everyone from the busiest CEO to kids in school feel better and more focused with meditation. And it doesn’t matter what type of meditation they practice. Mindfulness, Loving Kindness, Transcendental or Concentrative meditation all reduce stress and bring us closer to the center of our being.
Tips on Improving Your Meditation Practice
Focus on One Thought
Yoga meditation, which is a concentrative form of practice, requires focused attention on one thought of the Divine, however one conceives of that. Techniques such as breath awareness, mantra repetition (japa)
and visualization can assist in keeping this single-pointed
concentration. Eventually, the one thought that is being concentrated
upon falls away and individual consciousness merges with universal
Stick With It
Regardless of what type of meditation you choose and what meditation technique you use, it is important to stick with it for a significant period of time in order to feel results. In any period of sitting, it is natural for the mind to wander from its chosen point of focus. Just gently guide it back time and again. You will know that you are meditating correctly when you feel less aware of your body, fewer impulses that draw your attention outward into the sensory realm, and more quiet within. Don’t get discouraged…this takes time... and just practice! Make meditation a habit rather than a choice. A short sitting every day over time adds up to profound results. Ten minutes per day is a great starting point. (Just doing it is the Number One 'Rule' of Meditation.)
Don't Get So Attached to Results
Meditation requires regularity, consistency, patience, persistence, intensity, earnestness, devotion and sincere effort without attachment to results. Because we live in a culture that wants immediate gratification, we are used to seeking results for our every action. But meditation is a long-term investment. Don’t impose conditions on your practice. Hold no expectation of accomplishment other than sitting for the time you decided to sit and trust that eventually results will come. You are developing the soul qualities listed above a little more every time you practice and they will benefit your outer life as well as your inner meditative experience. (Learn more in Trusting the Practice of Meditation.)
Signs You're on the Right Track
Finally, consider that devotion to the Divine is an invaluable key to deepening your meditations. Even if you have no concept of that right now, allow yourself to be open to the experience of it through meditation and be receptive to a new perspective. By honoring the essence of Self through dedicated practice, eventually grace shines through.
The following is a list of signs that your meditation is progressing:
- You feel an inner calmness during meditation
- You feel increasing peacefulness during your day after you practice
- Your intuition is enhanced and you better understand yourself and the questions life brings
- You have an increased mental and physical efficiency in daily life
- You desire more time for meditation
- You want to hold on to the peace and joy of the meditative state in preference to outer stimuli and drama
- You feel an expanded sense of love toward all beings
- You tap an ever new bliss and a sense of the Divine within and beyond all creation
Keep the Faith
Whether you are just beginning, or have been meditating for years, there will be days when it feels tough to focus and other days when you drop into stillness easily. Have faith in the process and blend courage and love with discipline and dedication. The rest will take care of itself. (Read on in 7 Steps to Take Your Meditation Practice to the Next Level.)