After many years of thinking it was a bunch of hocus pocus, meditation first caught my interest a few years back when a good friend of mine told me about his experiences with a meditation school in New Zealand. After seeing my interest he let me borrow Learn to Meditate as an introduction. I dove right in. Soon after that I read about [http://www.readingforyoursuccess.com/] Spirit Rock Meditation Center and the importance of clearing your head in The Four Hour Work Week. In fact Never Eat Alone even spoke of it in its closing chapter. And it has always been a part of Tony Robbins material. I was beginning to see a pattern. And my increasing yoga practice and fiancÃ©e being a teacher didn't hurt the cause either.
Before I knew it I was on a roll. Next was The Power of Now, then How to Practice by the Dalai Lama and just last week I read Saltwater Buddha, which relates Zen and meditation to surfing (recommended by the same friend who gave me this book). The author happens to be a really nice guy my age living right in San Francisco. Then things really kicked into gear this year when three things happened. First, I realized how incredibly stressed and constantly anxious I was as a result of the business I had recently launched. Then I found myself at a week-long wellness retreat with my family in Mexico that had a huge focus on meditation. And finally just last month, I saw the Dalai Lama live in Santa Barbara. Before I knew it, I was a major believer. I had to find a solution to my non-stop, stress-filled life (self-induced of course) and meditation seemed like a reasonable spot to turn. It seems to have worked for thousands of years for people in other parts of the world so why should we be any different?
Many people hear the word meditation and a pile of stereotypes come to mind. Over the years western society has given it that feel, although I think now people are finally starting to come around. I am hardly one to talk since I only started seeing its value a couple years ago and it finally took me having serious day-to-day discomfort (stress) to really dig into it.
The benefits of meditation range all over the place from better sleep, calmness of mind, stress reduction, improved relationships, reduction in fear and even cited medical benefits. In fact, if you read enough you will find someone linking the benefits of meditation to just about everything in life. Drs. Andrew Weil and John Kabat-Zinn have made great strides in linking the health and medical benefits of meditation and mindfulness to the body via scientific studies. There are finally starting to be proven relationships between the mind and body and its effects on one another. Eventually people might just start paying attention to all this.
If you have ever been curious about meditation but are not sure how to take the first step (or perhaps were embarrassed to admit it to others), Learn to Meditate is the perfect place to start. I will warn you that it is very much an introductory book; although I have a feeling most experience levels would still find value.
I am grateful to have been given this at the perfect time a few years back when I was just opening up to learn. The extremely short chapters touch on just about every form of mediation so you can get a feel for what works best. I remember the first exercise I did left me feeling calmer and at peace than I think I had ever felt before. To this day that first experience was the most intense and I can't guarantee you similar reactions but I am pretty certain you'll have some neat distinctions.
Key points to take away:
Consistent meditation has the power to significantly reduce or even remove stress and anxiety.
The benefits of mediation can be received from as little as a few minutes a day.
Meditation ranges from concentrated breathing to extended periods of focused thoughtlessness.
Our busy lives cause our minds and bodies to crave time alone to get clear and refresh.
Time to yourself can be the best daily gift you can give your mind and body.
Meditation can act as the perfect natural sleeping pill.
A common misconception is that if people spend less time doing things and more time clearing their mind, they will get less done-this could not be further from the truth.
To me meditation is similar to throwing a stone into a pond and then throwing another one in only moments later. Almost immediately the rings of water intersect and create other rings at a pace much too fast to count. You may not see an immediate and direct effect of meditation on your life but as you progress you will likely start to notice the rings of a calm mind rippling through every part of your life making all kinds of improvements here and there. Some small and some large, but all of them beneficial.
This is not meant to be a book to power through. It should be enjoyed slowly and is designed to be read only one section, a few pages, per sitting. With each section comes instruction of how to practice various forms of meditation. This makes it great for beginners because dozens of techniques and styles are covered. And there are beautiful pictures to go along with most pages. Read it at your leisure and be sure to leave 5-20 minutes to practice the techniques that perk your interest. By the end of the book you will likely find a few that click and warrant further exploration.
It's funny that meditation is not more popular in the states. When you think about it we all meditate. I think Dr. Kabat-Zinn defines meditation in its most basic form as directed concentration. I think it's safe to say that we've all had experience with this. Be it trying to ride a bike as a child, cramming for a difficult mid-term or giving a presentation to your superiors. Tiger Woods does it every time he hits a golf shot. Michael Jordan used to do it before every game when he focused on himself winning a thousand times over. Think about the things to which you give total and complete focus. I had a short experience with it in setting up to a birdie putt on the golf course just today. That's all meditation. As Eckhart Tolle puts it in The Power of Now, it is presence. Being absolutely and completely in the present moment. I know what you're thinking. Easier said than done, right?
At first glance you'd think it would be easy. That's what I thought. Just sitting still and thinking about, well, nothing at all. But I quickly found it to be quite the opposite. We have been so trained in our society to be constantly multitasking and focused on getting things done. And even when we are alone with nothing around us we quickly pick up a book or worse yet our phone and call someone or check email for the 30th time that hour. We go so fast that at the end of it all we have left no time just for ourselves. No time to think and definitely no time to not think. Reserving a few minutes each day to just sit and be can have huge benefits even if it's just that you are taking a pause from sprinting on to the next task. And that's at the very least. A lot of us don't even remember what's it's like to not have something pressing on our mind or to not feel stressed or anxious. It has just become a part of life. An unfortunate given.
So I encourage you to take this as a chance to reclaim some of that time for yourself. It may benefit you and those around you in ways you could not imagine. After all it's very difficult to be truly successful without a clear mind as your guide. Whatever your reason for looking into meditation, I encourage you to start here. And if not here, then start somewhere. Maybe for you that means just taking a few deep breaths throughout the day to get centered or perhaps it means sitting in silence for hours on end. You pick. I started with 5 minutes every few days and now I strive for a couple 20 minutes sessions a day if possible. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't. Just do what works.
It's hard to know what you will get out of it. But if all you end up with is a little extra time to yourself each day, that isn't such a bad thing either. That's where some of the most powerful things can begin...in a room alone with nothing but a clear mind. I think you'll enjoy the feeling.
About the Author
Read more action-provoking posts by Scott Dinsmore, a writer, learner, value investor, speed reading teacher and entrepreneur. His "take-action" oriented book reviews, summaries and articles can be found at Reading For Your Success, where he is committed to enabling people to make their lives and careers a success through action-based reading.
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