You might recall from Feeling the fear, part 1 that I mentioned being a professional procrastinator? Well dedication is one of the things that I find hardest in life – remaining dedicated to a process I start but do not see through to its conclusion or fruition, however my very writing on this page is a step that I’ve managed to take towards my goals of seeing something through. In order for that action to occur, I first had to stop and listen to the thought of it – was it something I wanted or not?
Of course, actions speak louder than words however actions often come from the words that we choose – whether we write or say them or keep them in our heads as thoughts. Choosing our thoughts is making the personal choice to bring a change to our surroundings that is the solution to dealing with fears and worries.
As Lao Tzu (or Laozi – depending where you read his name), an ancient eastern philosopher, writer and teacher from around 500 BC said “watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch you words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Destiny for any atheistic perspectives reading this can simply be the long-term consequences of the choices that we make.
He wrote this because with awareness of our thoughts we can change our entire life, when you read it as quoted it seems like a warning or caution – something to worry about! However we can choose to look at it in another manner; that by simply gaining some control over our thoughts we can create the things in our lives which we so badly want and deserve!
How do we gain some semblance of control over our emotions? Well, the simple act of taking some time to stop, slow down, shift our concious attention to something we are doing all of the time throughout our lives; breathing.
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to overcome anxiety, deal with worry and to retrain your brain to focus more and not be pulled off balance by the highs and lows (like an amusement ride) of life. It allows us a chance to step back from ourselves and witness us existing in the present moment.
I intend on writing more on the topic of meditation in the coming months as I get into a habitual practise of it myself and to talk around the philosophy of it; from both scientific and spiritual perspectives. However, no matter which angle you choose to take, the basic goal of meditation is to focus and quiet your mind, eventually reaching a higher level of inner calm and self awareness; something that both scientific and spiritual perspectives advocate as being good for us.
For the moment, if you’d like to try some very basic meditation then I’d suggest the following things – find some space where you won’t be disturbed or have any distractions such as the TV or a mobile phone (although complete silence isn’t needed), preferably somewhere you can sit down although you can meditate whilst laying on your bed (I’ll warn you now though doing this makes it very easy for many people to drift off asleep!), or standing up or even (if you practise it) whilst walking! If you keep it up you’ll find that its possible to meditate almost anywhere and at any time – bringing much greater peace and personal control over your life.
Once you have your space and distractions out the way, its a good idea to do some simple stretches as your body is going to need to remain still for the duration. Youtube has some great and simple exercises depending on what is good for your body. Set yourself an alarm so you don’t have to worry about how much time has passed – I’d recommend thirty minutes if you’re able for your first attempt although as little as five minutes will be a help even if you don’t notice it when starting out. Sit down on a flat surface with a cushion such as the floor or a chair, try and keep your back in a straight line (resting it against a wall or something flat) and when you’re ready, rest your hands on your knees and gently close your eyes. The basic aim is to listen to your breathing – take whatever breath feels comfortable to you; try to breath in through your nose if you can and out through your mouth. Listen to the sound and the rhythm of your breathing and try not to let your thoughts carry you away.
When starting out it is very very easy for your thoughts to grab your attention and pull you away from your breath. Its perfectly normal to think about things you have to do, worries, reminders, reflections or simply your imagination creating things. This is your basic brain functions trying to distract you from the task at hand and it can feel very off putting that you can’t easily concentrate on your breath – don’t worry! This is perfectly normal; your mind is always trying to distract you from the peace and calm of a settled and focused mind – you might recall that inner annoying voice that tells us we can’t do the things that we want? Well it is that same voice which is trying to pull you away from the personal peace and awareness that following and listening to your breath brings.
Sometimes you can notice emotions and feelings coming to the surface – often after you’ve managed to ignore the ‘everyday’ thoughts such as whether you cleaned the dishwasher, did you tell your colleague about that piece of information at work that you’d meant to or that tomorrow you must make that long anticipated call that your friend has been expecting. When the emotions come they will again try to pull you away from your focus on the breath, try and always return to the balance of your breathing. Its like trying to look at the sky without getting caught up gazing at the clouds which whizz on past!
When you come to finish your meditation session, open your eyes slowly and take one last deep breath. If you managed to go the whole duration without opening your eyes then very well done – you’re doing better than me and most of my sessions! If you got very distracted and couldn’t maintain your concentration throughout the session without opening your eyes or stopping the session then don’t worry – thats perfectly normal for someone with a very over active mind or imagination and I personally fall into that category. The trick is not to be hard on yourself but to try again the next day.
Perseverance is key to having success with meditation – don’t give up or get put off if you are struggling to maintain this; it actually signifies that meditation would actually benefit you much more! In an ideal world we should each be trying to meditate at the same time each day – whether its 15 minutes in the morning when we wake and stretch or whether its just 5 minutes at lunch time during work.
I’m going to make one last point here which is that some people find that their dreams become more vivid after meditating or even that they have nightmares. This is also perfectly normal and will change and decrease over time with perseverance. This is effectively your subconscious brain (an extension of that inner voice I mentioned earlier) saying “oh right, you’ve decided to deal with the things you chucked back here? Ok great – well here’s some of the things I’ve been wanting to you show you for some time!”.
The process is one that requires dedication and even courage to get the most out of it, which is quite a nice circular experience as meditation itself aids your dedication and courage! If you are finding the experience too intense then reduce the amount of time that you’re meditating for and instead spread it over the day; instead of 15 minutes in the morning try taking 5 minutes at the start, middle and end of the day instead.
There are many different forms and manners of meditation that can be looked at an practised, the link I’ve put at the bottom here is a summary of what I’ve just described above but also goes into some of the different variations and some other things to do whilst preparing or doing meditation¹.
There are two other basic meditations I would suggest trying; the first is to sit in your comfortable position and place a candle on a table in front of you at approximately eye level half a metre or so away from you. Watch the flame and follow its gentle flickering and monitor your breath as before, eventually you will likely find your eyes gently closing and as they do so continue to keep the mental image of the flame in front of you
Well done any of you reading through this – hopefully you’ve made the first and hardest step forwards in coming to deal with your fears, and if you haven’t got to that point yet – don’t worry, just reading through all of this will have put the idea and notion into your subconscious so that it can take on board what its read and then subtly apply it in your life.
Our brains really are truly amazing – they’re like sponges with the things they can recall without our even realising! They’re also like muscles too, and in order to get the most out of them you’ll need to put them to use. That means that if you really want to take the first step in dealing with fears and worries then you’re going to have to take action – just like Lao Tzu said – actions become habits, habits become character and character becomes destiny.
What destiny is it that you wish to have? Destiny is not wholly predetermined for us, although we have a lot of factors that limit and confine our Free Will (genetics, environment, growing up, social and economic structures around us etc) we still have the ultimate choice in life, difficult though it can be initially; the choice to control our thoughts, from which action and eventually destiny springs.