written by anyun chatterjee (peace advisor)
I first began my meditation journey in high school. For me, meditation was originally a tool to increase my focus. Embarrassingly, I thought if I started meditated regularly I would get better at standardized test taking and also at games like chess that required a lot of concentration. My first try at meditation was also an absolute failure. I waited to have the house to myself before I settled on the carpet in our living room. I tried to emulate what I thought was “proper meditation posture” by sitting lotus style, eyes closed, palms up and placed on my knees, index finger and thumb touching lightly, back straight, head up, rhythmic breathing: the whole shebang. I distinctly remember focusing on my posture alone for a good minute or so before I started to try meditating. With limited research in the matter, my approach was to focus on clearing my mind. Within a few minutes I realized I had no idea how to do that. I tried to think about nothing but thoughts kept popping up: “my butt itches,” “this isn’t working,” “maybe I’ll try again later,” “I’m kind of hungry,” and so on.
My first try at meditation was a massive disappointment. I wasn’t unrealistic enough to think I would become on par with the Buddha on my first try, but I thought I would at least get somewhere. I sat down on my bed that night and tried to think about what went wrong with my attempt. I stared up at my pockmarked ceiling for close to 20 minutes just thinking. I slowly drifted away from thoughts about my attempt at meditation and began to reflect on my day. And I stayed that way for another couple minutes. Just thinking: what emotions did I feel that day? what emotions did others feel because of me? What failures did I experience besides meditation?
And so my second try at meditation became a surprising success.
The journey I have taken since that day has led to me to understand that my realizations about meditation are not necessarily something I can pass on. The meditation experience is so incredibly personal that obviously what works for one person will not work for another. I cannot tell you that I did x, y, and z and as a result had a successful meditation experience.
What I can tell you is that beginning and subsequently continuing meditation has helped me balance my life. It has not directly made me a better student, but it has helped me accept my failures and be calm enough to realize the direction I need to take to turn them into successes. Meditation has helped me put my life into perspective and reflect further on my purpose. Basically a whole bunch of hippie crap, but the amazing thing is that it’s true and very practical. Meditation has a plethora of proven benefits to mental and physical health, and the takeaways are different for everybody but useful always.
Now that’s all well and good, you may say, but how should I actually try to meditate? And how will I even find the time for it? So let me give you my steps for successful meditation:
Step 1: Set aside a block of time during which you will do nothing but meditate
When I first started I set aside 20 minutes before going to bed. After ~4 years of regular meditation I now meditate once in the morning for about 20 minutes, and once in the night for about 20 minutes
Step 2: Realize that meditation for you will not be the same as meditation for anybody else
I originally tried to emulate what I had read about or seen on TV and ended up setting aside an hour or so and subsequently I would get frustrated that I simply did not have the capacity to meditate for hours on end silently. I also realized that sitting cross legged on the floor was not the best for me due to my back issues. I had to reevaluate my methods to fit my needs, and since doing so I have gotten much more benefit from mediation.
Step 3: Do not worry about creating a habit
As your mind and body start to make positive associations with the results of meditation you will find yourself creating your own meditation schedule. For this reason, there is no reason to say “I will meditate from this time to this time every day.” Let your meditational experience be fluid. Do not make yourself do anything you do not want to in this area.
Step 4: Experiment
Try different positions (sitting in chair, lying in bed, planking, etc.). I have found
sitting in a chair quietly to be very effective for me.
Try different locations (a nice bench in a park, the base of a tree, an empty
classroom, the back of a packed classroom). I recently discovered the high seats in Edwards Stadium at 7am are wonderful, I sometimes meditate there after using the track (btw Edwards Stadium is open for general use weekday from 7 to 9am)
Try different mediums. I also recently discovered journaling to be a wonderful method of external mediation. Not just writing, but also doodling and making diagrams is very effective.
Step 5: Enjoy yourself
Within a month of beginning meditation you will start to learn more about
yourself, learn about what you want from meditation, and learn about what you
want from life. But even if you don’t learn these things, it it ultimately a very relaxing a centering activity. And honestly, if you don’t enjoy meditation even after trying different ways of meditating, you just may not be at a point in your life where meditation is going to help you.