You Already Know How to Meditate
Have you ever been mentally distressed? One of the things we tend to do when overwhelmed by thoughts is to pace up and down or go for a long walk. The reason we are doing this is we somehow know that by putting our attention on something physical (e.g. the act of walking), we will get relief from our thoughts.
Deliberately moving our attention away from thought to something physical is a form of meditation. Our attention can only be on one thing at a time, so if we are focused on a sensation, we can’t be caught up in thinking. The fact that we intuitively do this when mentally distressed shows how meditation is completely natural – it also means that most of us already have plenty of evidence of the effectiveness of meditation.
Resting in the Body
One way to describe this process of moving our attention from thinking to physical sensation is as ‘resting in the body’. When we rest in the body, we can get some relief from anxiety, depression, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s a handy tool to have, but why do we need to wait until life has us on the ropes to get this relief? What would happen if we made resting in the body a part of our regular routine?
Has anyone ever made the observation that you think too much? Hopefully, you didn’t do like I did and take this as a compliment. The reality is that thinking too much doesn’t usually mean we are busy coming up with a cure for cancer or developing new groundbreaking inventions – it’s more likely we are caught up in repetitive patterns of thinking that ultimately make us miserable.
One of the benefits of resting in the body is we get to temporarily escape our addiction to thought. This gives the mind a chance to calm down, and it leads to mental clarity. The more time we spend focused on the physical, the more relief we enjoy.
At this point, you may be worried that by resting in the body, you will be missing out on some important thinking. You won’t be. In fact, it is by moving our attention away from thinking that the mind can calm down enough for the useful thoughts to be heard over the din.
Resting in the Body Offers a Taste of What is to Come
By the time we arrive in rehab, most of us are going to be so desperate enough to take a leap of faith. We are able to provisionally accept that making some dramatic changes to our life will be worth the effort. The problem is our state of desperation diminishes as we begin to feel physically and mentally better – once the desperation disappears, so can our willingness to change unless we get some concrete evidence of better things to come.
I don’t expect clients to blindly put their faith in anything I say. In fact, I don’t want them to just take my word about anything because this is not going to lead to permanent change. I encourage ruthless skepticism because it is unreasonable to expect clients to believe something without offering proof.
The best proof I can provide for the value of mindfulness is resting in the body. When you start moving your attention to physical sensation, there may be a sense of ‘so what?’ It’s not going to be near as flashy as the effect you get from drugs, but just persist with it. Remember, you had to get hundreds of hours of exposure to favorite drugs to really get a taste for them.
After you have spent enough time resting in the body, you will start to want this relief more and more. You will clearly see how it makes life easier – you won’t be just taking someone else’s word for it. You are going to feel more alive than you have felt since early childhood. When your attention is focused on the physical body, you are completely focused on this moment – you are not escaping reality but jumping into reality where you belong.
Once you clearly see how resting in the body improves things, the motivation to continue to practice will naturally arise. You won’t have to bully yourself into doing meditation in the same way you didn’t have to bully yourself into doing drugs. The mind just gets it and supplies the motivation.
Mala Beads as an Aid to Resting in the Body
Mala beads can be a useful tool to get us into the habit of resting in the body, and this is why it is the first mediation practice you will learn at Hope.
Using the mala beads is easy – just put your full attention on the physical sensation of the bead between your fingers. Move from one bead to the next until you have completed a full loop. Don’t worry if you get distracted, you just simply return your attention to the bead and by doing this you are training your concentration.
When it comes to meditation, curiosity tends to work better than trying to force the brain to cooperate. Become curious about what it is like to put your attention on the beads – imagine you are conducting an experiment.