A Brief Introduction to Meditation
by Gary Halperin
A Brief Introduction to Meditation
Meditation can be defined as the practice of noticing when the mind wanders. Or, more precisely, meditation can be defined as the practice of being aware of when the mind moves off a chosen point of focus.
The chosen point of focus can be called the anchor—the anchor of the meditation.
Some possible anchors are breath, sounds, sensations in the body, what you see with the eyes closed, a prayer, affirmation, or mantra.
What the anchors have in common is they are all things that are happening all the time. And if something is happening all the time, it is happening now. It is a present moment experience.
So meditation is the practice of being aware of when the mind moves off a chosen point of focus, or another way of saying that, is that meditation is the practice of being aware of when the mind moves out of the present. When the mind moves out of the present and you notice that, you come back to the present by coming back to the anchor.
The most important idea to remember regarding meditation is this: how long you stay on your anchor in between wanderings off the mind and overall during the course of the meditation is not important. You are still going to get the benefits of meditation, simply by having an anchor and having an intention to come back to the anchor, when you notice that you are off it.
For some people, this is a difficult idea to take in because for most activities you learn how to do them and then the next questions are “How do I get good at this?”, “How do I do this right?”, “How do I achieve in this activity?”
But meditation is a different type of activity, it is not about doing, it is about non-doing. It is not about achieving, it is about non-achieving. It is not about results, it is about process. It is not a performance.
So when we meditate, we choose an anchor and we make an intention to come back to the anchor when we notice that we are off it. We try to stay focused on our anchor but without any attachment to how long we actually do. And we try to notice quickly when we are off the anchor but without any attachment to how quickly we notice. When we happen to notice we are off our anchor, we gently come back. And it is through this process and this mindset, that we are going to get the benefits of meditation.
One benefit of meditation is stress reduction. When we meditate we focus on process and not results. Whenever we do that in our life, we are going to bring down our stress in whatever we are doing, because we are focusing on what we can largely control: what we are doing in that moment in front of us. Instead of what we largely can not control: the results of any activity or what others might say about what we have done.
So when we meditate, we choose an anchor and make an intention to come back to the anchor when we notice that we are off it. The process is all in our heads. No one else knows what we are thinking about, and no one else cares. It is our own private and personal experience. In that environment, can we practice giving ourselves a break?
And for some people, this is very difficult. Even knowing the ground rules going in, they’ll start to meditate, notice they are off their anchor, and then start having thoughts like “Oh, my god, I am off my anchor, I don’t know how to concentrate, I must be doing this wrong.”
Those are normal thoughts to have when you first start meditating. All you do is notice that you are having those thoughts and then come back to the process, come back to the practice, come back to the present, by coming back to the anchor.
In this way, you can make the meditation practice itself a very low stress or non-stress experience because you are not trying to do or achieve anything. Then you take that philosophy out into your life where you choose to. Applying the principle of meditation of focusing on process and not results into your life is called the practice of mindfulness.
For example, let’s say you are swimming in a pool. You can either be having continuous thoughts like “am I going as fast as I normally go, I am burning enough calories, is there chorine getting in my hair, am I going to be late for my next appointment.” Or you can notice that you are having those thoughts, and then come back to the process of swimming itself, focusing on your arms and legs moving in the water, focus on your breathing in the water.
Again, whenever you do this, focus on process and not results, you are going to bring down the stress in whatever you are doing. Meditation gives us an opportunity to practice and experience this philosophy.
This article is adapted from Gary Halperin’s book "Feel Better Now...Meditation for Stress Reduction and Relaxation." For more information and to order go to www.feelbetternowyoga.com.
Gary Halperin is a professional level certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher and has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1994. He is the creator of the “Feel Better Now Yoga” DVD. He was a resident, practicing a yogic lifestyle, at the Kripalu Center Ashram in Lenox, Massachusettes for 3 years. He graduated from Amherst College and served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.