My meditation master once told a story about a stressed executive, who came to him wanting to learn how to meditate.
It didn’t take long to see that the guy couldn’t sit still.
From his finger twitching and body fidgeting, you could see that his mind was racing.
The bags under his eyes told tales of stress-filled, sleepless nights.
If anyone ever needed to tap into the de-stressing benefits of relaxation, this guy was a prime candidate.
But my meditation master turned him away.
“Why on earth would you do that?” we asked him, a stunned class of trainee meditation teachers.
His smile shone gently as he explained.
Meditation is about so much more than just sitting still, closing your eyes and expecting to stumble across inner peace.
It is a three-stage process which, like learning to drive a car or play a musical instrument, takes dedication and practice.
Stage 1: Relaxation
Until you can relax your body and your mind, meditation is nearly impossible. Youl’ll be sitting there, desperately uncomfortable after the first few minutes, totally pre-occupied by your shopping list or last night’s television.
You simply won’t be able to sit still!
Being deeply relaxed is about completely relaxing your body, whilst keeping your mind alert. If you nod off, you’re asleep, not relaxed! Relaxation is also about acceptance – accepting your environment, accepting your body (with all its aches and pains) and accepting your mind (even if it’s chattering away!). Only when you are deeply relaxed will you be able to start to meditate.
Stage 2: Concentration
Until your mind can keep its attention concentrated on one thing for a period of time, you’ll find it extremely difficult not to be constantly distracted by other thoughts. Meditating isn’t about “emptying your mind” and “thinking of nothing”.
It’s about allow any thoughts to drift past, without stealing your attention. In concentration, we bring our attention inside, to allow us to move towards reconnecting with who we really are, rather than the external, ego-based world we usually inhabit.
Concentration exercises, such as candle gazing and physical awareness exercises, can help the majority of us who have very poor concentration skills!
Stage 3: Focus
Once you are deeply relaxed and able to concentrate, you will be able to focus on the practices you have chosen, leading you into meditation.
This is where your awareness can really expand and you start to experience the happiness and sense of inner peace that regular meditators achieve.
So my meditation master had turned this man away, because he didn’t want his prospective student to waste time and effort, trying to meditate, when he was still completely unable to relax. After a full twelve months of practicing deep relaxation, which can itself be life-changing, the student returned to become an excellent meditator.
If you have tried meditation and haven’t got the results you were hoping for, then the foundation stages might be missing. It’s well worth finding a teacher to guide you through the process.
Sometimes on our spiritual path, we try to run before we can walk. It can take a wake-up call, such as seemingly being denied our dream, to help us realise we need to lay firm foundations first. Only then can we soar.
Whether you’re a regular meditator or a newbie, wanting to get meditation to work for you and avoid the common pitfalls, you might enjoy the online Beyond Alchemy Meditation Club: http://www.beyond-alchemy.com/meditationclub
It’s ideal for anyone who can’t make it to a meditation class or who wants to meet like-minded people and share the journey.
It’s packed with useful meditation resources, including expert guides, MP3 downloads of guided meditations and deep relaxations and even videos.