As a kid growing up in North Alabama, I would spend part of each summer staying at my grandparents home. Loved it there because Grandpa owned a grocery store/gas station and all of us cousins descended on the place each summer. We played, fought and lived. Along the way, Granny and Grandpa taught us the value of hard work, fun and family. And I learned daily meditation exercises, taught in my Grandpa’s own way.
I never really considered Grandpa to be an “Enlightened One” or a guru. He wore bib overalls with a white button down shirt, drove a old pickup, and could never be mistaken for anything except a Southerner. But after all these years I have come to believe he was a Mindfulnes master in disguise. I never saw him angry or upset, never saw him surprised by anything. He always gave thanks for what he had and never coveted the material things in life for himself.
I think you would have liked him too.
What is meditation or mindfullness?
Meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual focuses their mind. Mindfulness is a method of handling emotions by paying
attention to them. I use the terms interchangeably and think of them as the same. Meditation is a practice where an individual focuses their mind on a
particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state and may be used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression,
and pain. It may be done while sitting, repeating a mantra, closing the eyes in a quiet environment and even while walking.
Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly
bring lasting results. It takes practice and trial-and-error to incorporate into your everyday life, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Clearing the mind is very difficult. Some recommend not to expect a clear mind, but to allow the thoughts to just pass without acknowledgement.
Unwanted thoughts will, over time, diminish.
Give it time and take your time. Meditation takes practice and a lot of it.
If you’re expecting to do it ‘perfectly’, you may actually create more stress. There is no ‘perfect’ meditation session.
Start small and work up to longer sessions. Begin with a short session of 5 minutes. After you are comfortable, move to 10 or 15 minutes until you are comfortable meditating for 30-minute sessions.
With practice and time, meditation becomes easier and more effective. You will feel relaxed and refreshed, ready for the rest of your day.
Track your time and set goals. It is easy to lose track of time while meditating and two minutes can seem like an eternity when you are just beginning. This can cause you to worry and have thoughts like “Is my time up?” or “Have I meditated long enough?” Those thoughts defeat the purpose of clearing your mind.
You may want to set a timer. Use an app on your phone and set it for the amount of time you want to meditate. Be sure to use a gentle tone or set it to vibrate, then turn off the screen and relax.
With practice, you may eventually find yourself saying “Wow, that was 10 minutes? I could go longer!” When you are comfortable, skip the timer and allow your meditations to last as long as desired.
Mindfulness is a powerful approach to living fully in the present moment. Through practical meditative exercises, you can learn to experience total consciousness in the here and now.
One of the great mindfulness teachers is Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, known to his students as “Thay,” for his down-to-earth approach to concepts like enlightenment and freedom of the mind. I think my Grandpa would have agreed with his teachings.
Thay’s exercises for mindfulness in everyday life.
1. Mindful Breathing. Thich Nhat Hanh advises students to begin with the most essential life process – our breathing. He asks that each person pay attention to the in-breath and the out-breath – using each to cultivate a feeling of joy in being alive and able to breathe.
Grandpa’s exercise: “Son, just breath. Its all we need to do”
2. Concentration. He next suggests going deeply within the process of breathing, following in-breath and out-breath fully until no other thoughts are present.
Grandpa’s exercise: “Son, don’t think, just do it.”
3. Awareness of the Body. The third exercise involves shifting awareness from the breath to the entire body making that breath:
“Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I am aware of my body… Mind and body become one reality”
Grandpa’s exercise: “Son, watch yourself”
4. Releasing Tension. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the fourth exercise to address feelings of anxious tension that we might not have noticed before
Grandpa’s exercise: “Son, just relax and hold on”
5. Walking Meditation. Finally, Thich Nhat Hanh descends upon a favorite exercise and personal pastime – walking meditation. “You don’t have to make any effort during walking meditation, because it is enjoyable. “
Grandpa’s exercise: “Son, go get me…”
Listen to sounds in a non-judgmental way. Just tune your ears to sounds and not judge them based on thoughts of past experiences.
Choose music that you have not heard of but are curious to find out what it might sound like. Close your eyes and listen – use headphones
if you prefer. Let yourself get lost in the journey of the sound and get into the groove of the music/song without bias as to the genre, lyrics or
Simply listen to the sounds around you. Don’t think of what music or sound it is – just let yourself absorb and experience the sound.
The types of music that are good for meditation are recordings of the sounds of nature such as ocean waves, streams and birdsong. Natural
sounds are soothing and less catchy than actual music, so your mind is less likely to latch on to it and distract you. Natural recordings help relax your
mind and body, allowing you to enter a state of deep calm and inner peace that meditation brings. Meditating while you hear nature’s sounds is pretty close to the practice of meditation in the old days.
Listening to music has many benefits—so many, in fact, that music is being used a branch of medicine known as music therapy. You can
play soothing new-age music, classical music, or another type of slow-tempo music to feel calming effects, and make it an exercise in mindfulness by really focusing on the sound and vibration of each note and the feelings that the music brings up within you. If other thoughts creep into your head,
congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently bring your attention back to the current moment and the music you are hearing.
Of all the exercises, mindful breathing is the beginning. We need to get centered and to remain centered. Grandpa said we all have to breath.
We do it daily, anyway. The other exercises will fall into place much easier once we understand the true meaning of breathing.
If we all follow my Grandpa’s and that other guy’s (Thich Nhat Hanh) advice, we can begin to understand ourselves just a little better.
Did you have a Zen master in your life that you may not have recognized at the time? Most of us do, at one point or another.
As always, feel free to share your Zen master, or if you have any comments, questions, or information please post.
Walking the Path of Peace,