How to Meditate: Sam Harris

From time to time, I like to pass on any interesting articles on the topic of meditation. As I’ve written many times before, meditation is a very useful adjunct to psychotherapy – and like psychotherapy is a practice that has the potential to improve quality of life. (I would not recommend it as replacement for psychotherapy – that would be just as silly as recommending psychotherapy to someone interested in meditation.)

I’m not that familiar with Mr. Harris, but he’s written a number of books with intriguing titles and I was immediately struck by his clear, straightforward, pragmatic and informed meditation instructions. He strikes a very nice balance of both committed and skeptical, one many writers on the topic should be envious of.

Here’s the link to his article, How to Meditate. Definitely worth a click.

And here’s a brief excerpt in which he compares learning to meditate with learning to walk a tightrope:

As every meditator soon discovers, such distraction is the normal condition of our minds: Most of us fall from the wire every second, toppling headlong—whether gliding happily in reverie, or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred and other negative states of mind. Meditation is a technique for breaking this spell, if only for a few moments. The goal is to awaken from our trance of discursive thinking—and from the habit of ceaselessly grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant—so that we can enjoy a mind that is undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.

Break the Cycle! (of Compulsive Thought)

photo by LUH 3417 (creative commons)
photo by LUH 3417 (creative commons)

Stop Being a Victim of Compulsive Thinking. MeditationSHIFT is one of my favorite sites for musings mindful. They consistently and fruitfully mine the same territory — don’t fall victim to your thinking mind — don’t get lost in compulsive thinking, or “stop following your mind wherever it leads.” So often we take for granted that we are in control of our minds. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

 This is the essence of mindfulness and meditation. They are practices that allow you to cultivate awareness of your compulsive mind and its non-stop activity. They help you develop the skill of noticing it all without getting caught up in it. They train you to move your attention away from the mental drama instead of indulging it.

As such, you are no longer victim to the next thought, emotion, or urge that pops into your head. And, you break the cycle of conditioned behavior that culminates in unskillful decisions, actions, and reactions.

Got Discomfort?

Nice post on meditationSHIFT (the 9/2 entry in their “daily musings” section) about dealing with discomfort in meditation, and by extension, in life. This is a topic not adequately addressed in most mindfulness material, and can be one of the chief stumbling blocks one encounters while attempting to establish a meditation practice.

Some readers made astute observations about things we tend to be uncomfortable about, including meditating. Many people approach the practice with the belief it will be relaxing. Relaxation can be a side-effect, to be sure, but it’s not the goal.

How to Stay Motivated and Committed to Your Mindfulness Practice

photo by JD Hancock (creative commons)

Piece at PsychCentral has some useful tips I thought I’d pass along. This is my favorite, but there are some that are equally useful!

Start meditating for short periods.
The best way to start a meditation practice is simply to start meditating. You’d be surprised at how difficult this can be. We often procrastinate until we find the perfect time. Don’t wait. Start immediately.

Find a quiet place where you can sit for a few minutes without being disturbed. Close your eyes and begin following your breath. Focus your attention on the sensation of the air passing through the tip of your nose. Count your breaths one through five silently in your mind. When you get to five, simply start over again. When you get distracted, immediately bring your attention back to your breath, and continue counting. The counting helps you stay focused.

After a few minutes, stop counting and begin observing the entire breathing process mindfully. When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

Start with about a 10-minute session, then work your way up to about 20 minutes or more. It may be a challenge to sit still in the beginning, but it will get easier as your mind settles down over time.