As the rate and pace of everyday life increases, we seem to feel an obligation to be busier and more productive, constantly chasing some goal or outcome.
The consequences of this go largely unfelt and unexamined, until it starts to hurt. Tired and wired, we stop being able to keep up with demand, and start bringing less to the table.
In the last few years, meditation has re-emerged as a way of addressing this, but it often comes with a plethora of apps, gadgets and platitudes.
You are told to quieten your mind, control your thoughts, and ‘be in the moment’ – while adopting a position that makes your knees scream, while listening to musical wallpaper. No wonder most of us feel: “I can’t do it, it doesn’t work for me”.
Let’s start with the word itself. In Latin, ‘in medio stare’ literally means to be, come to, or stand in the centre. A simple yet powerful statement of intent. But to where and towards what?
I like to describe it as an invitation to settle or rest at the centre of ourselves; simply stated, mediation is less about “doing” and more about “undoing”. As we unwind, relax all the tensions that stretch our attention and put undue strain on our bodies.
It all comes back to rest. I know it sounds simple, obvious even, but we don’t realise how tired we are, and how unbalanced it makes us.
If we are not fully charged up, we end up running on fumes – and we all know how it feels to find your phone at 5% battery.
We need to find a way of arresting the incessant momentum that makes even sleep inadequate. We need to give all that we think with (which includes everything from our central nervous system to the surface of our skin) permission to go offline. So how do we reintroduce ourselves to moments of stillness? How do we find quiet pauses that begin to address these energy deficits, and relieve us from the effects of prolonged stress?
We need to start simply. Forcing it to happen is missing the point. The body and mind know how to move naturally and effortlessly into a rested state.
This is coded into us, in the same way that water flows naturally down a slope. We simply have to remember how to let it happen.
Here are three simple exercises we can start using everyday. They are designed to give you an immediate sense of how natural meditation should be.
Find a comfortable seated position. Begin by closing your eyes. You may notice a sudden flurry of thoughts or restlessness.
This will pass; simply allow yourself to be drawn into a sense of spaciousness, with nothing to focus on and nowhere to go and nothing to reach.
You are literally gazing into (inner) space. After five minutes or so (try not to set an alarm), very slowly open the eyes. And simply notice how you feel.
Sit in a place where you can gaze up at an open patch of sky. The longer we look at a view without boundaries or edges, the softer our focus becomes.
You can also practice this ‘deep looking’ exercise by a large body of water or the sea. Let the coruscating surface naturally relax your gaze. You may notice that your breath slows down, and that the tensions in your body begin to relax.
Try listening deeply to natural sounds or rhythms, which will have a powerful effect on how you feel. The sound of rain, waves and singing birds all have a charm that will subtly draw you into a more relaxed place.
Each of these exercises will help give you a taste of that still centre, even momentarily. One thing to remember: a ‘silent’ mind is not a mind free of thoughts necessarily; it’s a mind free from conflict and agitation.
There will be thoughts, feelings, sensations, perhaps even emotions. These are all positive signs that we are beginning to let go of the burden of stress that we all carry.
The quality of our lives will always be determined by the depth of our rest. We simply have to stop, and start.