Meditation’s gotten a lot of hype in recent years, and, as with any hype, there comes a level of expectation and obligation. Books, articles, and interviews detailing the many benefits of meditation may induce the feeling that you have to take up the practice. Meditation is now so commonplace that most people have tried it at some point, voluntarily or otherwise. If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you’ve given it a shot – and it’s equally likely that you don’t get what all the fuss is about. Meditation has many wonderful benefits, and can do amazing things for our wellbeing and mental dexterity. However, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
In a nutshell, meditation is about maintaining focus on a fixed point. As far as what that fixed point is, the possibilities are limitless. Most commonly we focus on our breath, but you can also focus on one of the five senses, an audio track, or an image that you hold in your mind’s eye. This prolonged, deliberate focus keeps us rooted in the present moment, so peripheral troubles melt away. With practice, meditation makes us calmer, gives us more agency in adopting a positive and productive attitude, and makes us better able to consciously direct our focus.
Before you give up on meditating, it’s important to note the myriad ways it can be practiced. If sitting in abject silence isn’t for you, maybe give yourself a more concrete point of focus. You may respond better to watching a candle flame, or listening to drumming or nature sounds. Also, you need to know that meditation is called a practice because that’s what it takes. Don’t give up after one try – keep at it for a week, for short periods of time. Set an alarm for five minutes, increasing gradually as you become acclimatized. And most importantly – try not to judge yourself. Everyone’s mind wanders during meditation; that’s why we meditate. The important thing isn’t to completely shut off your thoughts, it’s to invest the time in becoming conscious of them. There are no letter grades for meditation, and that little judgment voice has no place here. No one “fails” at meditation. Each meditation is what it is for that particular moment, day.
Now, let’s say you tried all of the above and you still hate it. That’s fine. Life would be pretty dull if there was only one right way to accomplish something, and meditation’s benefits can absolutely be achieved through other practices. The key is to find tasks where you’re drawn into the present, so your focus turns away from the worries of your chattering brain. The activities that best substitute meditation are generally repetitive, low-stress, and strike a good balance between active and passive. Truly, you can mediate anywhere anytime. Here are some examples.
Go For a Walk
Yes, it really is that simple. Put on your walking shoes and start wandering. Already this is a great stress reliever, and doing it with the intention of zoning out makes it a meditative exercise. You should notice that your mood improves as you do this. To make the most of it, try to focus on the feeling of your feet traversing the ground, heel to toe. You can even choose to focus on one of your senses, taking note of everything you hear, see, or smell as you walk. This is a walking mindfulness meditation.
While not as leisurely, jogging and weight training still fill the criteria of a repetitive, focused action. You may have to make some adjustments for optimal benefits; for example, it’s hard to ease the mind when you have music blaring, or when you’re checking your phone between sets. But, if you commit to eliminating distractions and excess stimuli, there’s no reason your workout can’t also be a meditation. Make the work out ” intentional”; be present with every movement at every moment. Feel your body, your muscles, your sweat, your heart.
Remember when adult colouring books became popular a few years back? The action of colouring is simple and immediate, allowing for that ideal place of focus that is so beneficial to our brains. If you’re of a more creative bent, this could be the right meditation for you. Choose the colours, feel the pencil in your fingers, relax into the shading, be present with the image created.
Or a similar chore. Much like colouring, this provides us with an easy action that can be repeated until we become engrossed by it, allowing our focus to rest in presence. Feel the textures, smell the freshness of the newly cleaned fabrics, feel the completeness of the fold. Plus, there’s the added bonus that your laundry is folded by the time you’re finished.
At the end of the day, any simple stillness will do. You don’t have to close your eyes or sit in lotus position; you can lie down in the grass, or perch in your favourite chair, and just do nothing for a little while. No pressure for results – just the choice to be still.