“So what do you do?” asked the young man at the party.
“I teach meditation,” I replied.
“I tried that once, but it didn’t work for me,” he said.
“Don’t worry — you just had some bad instruction.”
I proceeded to give him a simple technique that is sure to revolutionize his experience. (More on this in a minute.)
You see, saying meditation doesn’t work for you is a bit like saying food doesn’t work for you, exercise doesn’t work for you, or sex doesn’t work for you.
Meditation is a way of attending to the most basic human needs:
- to understand life more deeply;
- to know yourself;
- to gain power through fundamental exercises in self-control;
- to deepen your relationships by opening your heart;
- to feel your desires and consider what is the best way to attain them; and
- to feel your connection with all of life, which deepens to become a palpable sense of union.
If you tried meditation, and it did even one of these things even a little bit, you wouldn’t say it didn’t work, because it would’ve done something amazing.
I think the reason my friend felt meditation didn’t work for him is connected to the single biggest problem with the way meditation is usually taught and understood, namely:
You don’t know what to focus on.
As I explore in some detail here, meditation must begin with concentration, the focusing of the mind on a single point.
You might think then, that those of us raised in the Western world would have a substantial advantage in learning meditation, because one thing that is very much part of the culture is the value of concentration. What is Western education but one long lesson in how to concentrate the mind?
Unfortunately, meditation is taught in way that is very different from everything else.
If you want to learn how to walk on a wire, you must concentrate. If not, you fall off the wire. If you want to fix cars, you must concentrate. Otherwise your repair is likely to go awry. Every skill is like this, and every skill has built-in ways to know if you are succeeding or not. The job of a teacher is to help you find the short-cuts (where they exist), to encourage you to stick at it, and to give you a step-by-step method that you can follow that works to help you learn more.
Meditation instruction differs from this long-established tradition of teaching a skill. You hear puzzling and bizarre statements like, “be present,” “pay attention to the now,” “focus on what is,” and so on.
If these statements seem meaningless to you, that’s because they are meaningless. They are vague, weak ways of saying one simple thing: concentrate.
But concentrate on what?
If the practice of meditation is the study of the self, what aspect are we to focus upon? A meditation teacher should give you a very clear answer to that, but unfortunately, from what I have seen, most do not.
And that is what leads to the number one problem in meditation being a lack of understanding about how to even begin. Concentration is the beginningof meditation. But it’s just the beginning. There is much, much more.
So here is how you solve this problem, and this is what I shared with my friend. If you’ve tried meditation in the past, and it didn’t work for you, try it this way:
- Sit up straight and tall, in a chair.
- Place your hand on the center of your chest.
- Focus on two things: your breath and your heart. Usually it’s hard to focus on two things at the same time; the secret here is to imagine that your heart is breathing. Your heart breathes in, your heart breathes out.
That’s all there is to it: focus on your breath and heart. Now we have many more advanced techniques we can add when this gets easy for you. Because this is what your mind does when you get good at focusing on something. Your mind says, “what else you got? I can do this plus something else.”
When you first learned how to drive, it took 100% focus. But when you got good at it, your mind wandered.
In Heart Rhythm Meditation, we have a systematic way of adding more techniques to the practice to occupy your mind, so that your mind is always on board, always knows what to focus on, and then you can explore what meditation is really about: opening your heart to the Heart of All.
I’d love to hear your thoughts — please write a comment below.
yours in the One Heart,
[Photo credit: h.koppdelaney]