What definition of meditation you obtain will usually depend on who you ask!
However, since so many people have so many questions and preconceptions of what meditation is and is not, here’s the Modern Meditation simple guide on how we approach mindfulness based meditation & teaching.
What meditation is:
Meditation can be described as a state of direct experience, a natural state. It is also often described as a state of relaxed awareness, so being aware of what’s actually taking place, being alert to the “here & now” and being in the moment.
It is a skill of being present, of being more accepting of yourself and others, with the simple basic idea of “being and not doing”. As we all have ever busier lives, this is a skill which we often need to re-learn from our childhood.
It can be helpful for goal setting (such as wanting to relax more, relieve stress, stop smoking), but does not have to be done with that as an end result.
It can be secular, or form part of a religious practice which encourages meditation, such as Buddhism. The sense of internal observation and connection means that, for some, it can be a spiritual experience, which is why it underpins some religions.
Meditation is an ongoing process, where your skills, understanding and experience of it develops as you do this over time, hence it being described as a practice.
What meditation is not:
Meditation is not about being a hippie, being “away with the fairies” emptying your head of thoughts or “zoning out” (at least not for those of us with regular everyday lives, who can’t abandon them to live in seclusion and practice meditation for hours on end daily!)
Meditation is not the same as sleeping, although some guided meditation can be done with the aim of relaxation and assisting restful sleep thereafter.
There is also, amongst some, a popular misconception that meditation involves sitting and chanting; it does with some religious practice, but this is not something which is integral to the practice of everyday meditation in any way. You can sit however you wish to – not necessarily cross legged – on a chair is fine!
Meditation is not time consuming; often people will think or say that they do not have the time for a sustained meditation practice, but are not familiar with the benefits of practice, and how much can be gained by just setting aside a few minutes a day, or by doing very short meditation and mindfulness exercises which may then help them in their daily life.
Meditation is not always an easy or relaxing process; it can tap into underlying emotions, or mean that you start to focus on issues or difficulties in your life which you may have previously avoided. It is important to understand that this is natural, and part of practice. There are days when the experience will be easy and relaxing, and other days when it may not be, but will be just as rewarding nonetheless.
For many people, starting to meditate can be challenging, but here, we explain how to get started:
(1) Find a comfortable space and sit. If you are sitting in a chair, just ensure your spine is straight, and the soles of your feet touch the floor completely. If sitting on a cushion, or at the edge of a yoga block with your legs crossed, try and have a little height behind you, so your hips are slightly higher, and your legs are crossed at a slight downward angle; this can be more comfortable than sitting "flat" to the floor and cross legged.
(2) Set aside a time when you know you can sit without interruption, even if this is only for 5 minutes a day to start with.
(3) Pick a meditation that suits you, and how you are feeling. If you want to start with some easy and short guided meditations, then some excellent free meditations that take you through everything, with simple steps and relaxing voices can be found on the UCLA website (the University of California and Los Angeles has a dedicated meditation centre, so are experts at this). Guided meditation can be really great when you're starting out, as for many, just sitting quietly with their own thoughts is a little too challenging - a soothing voice can be a great support.
(4) Understand that some days will be tougher than others, that some days you might only be able to sit for a short time, and that some days you may not be able to calm your mind and focus at all; if so, resolve to try again the next day.
(5) Use local groups and workshops to get advice and support, such as the “Introduction to Meditation and Mindfulness” workshops which I run (see "Events" on this website for more details).
(6) Once you've started.....keep going! View this as your first step on a long, exciting and rewarding journey. Keep reminding yourself why you started meditation, and what you want to achieve.
I have lots of people who ask me about this - most of them querying whether I would be playing them whale music or a celtic harp "muzak" piece during meditation, and how irritating they would find this if I did!
The short answer is no - so if you love whale music, you're going to be disappointed if you come to one of my teaching sessions!
Now for the serious article about adding music to your meditation - as ever with Modern Meditation, we keep it simple and practical. Listen to what you love. Meditation, like music, is very subjective. Different styles will suit different people; the intention and focus whilst you listen is more important than what you are listening to (though more relaxing music can help, some enjoy listening to really complex music, as there is much more to capture their attention, and stop their mind from wandering).
The aim of meditation to music is to approach your listening in a very different way than you might usually.
Relax, focus on the music, and if your mind wanders, bring it back.
Meditation with music involves active listening, so not as background music or relaxation, but truly engaging with the music, keeping your mind on it, and picking up richness of sound, complexity of instruments or layering of parts that we may often miss.
If you're new to meditation, you may not want to meditate with music to start with, as it can be more of a distraction than a welcome addition, but once you feel ready to give it a try, here are some tips:
Breathe deeply and slowly, close your eyes, and really listen, mindfully, with your full attention on the music, and nothing else.
If you love classical music, you might like to try:
"Clair De Lune" - Debussy
or perhaps Nocturne #10 in A Flat, Opus 32/2 - Chopin.
If you'd like to try more modern tracks:
"Slip into something more comfortable" by Kinobe (instrumental version) - I often use this as background to a guided meditation, as the noise of the waves and the music transports you to the beach - enjoy!
For a more complex modern meditation piece, try "La Femme D'Argent" by Air - although I recommended this to someone recently who strongly disliked it, hence my saying this is all very subjective - you can't please everyone!
For a very traditional sounding Indian piece, there are lots of beautiful pieces of music designed with meditation & contemplation in mind. A favourite of mine is the Raga "Glory of the dusk" (you can search for this on You Tube), which is specifically for contemplation and meditation at the end of the day - a lovely piece to sit with in winter, perhaps with a candle burning too, so that you can simply watch the flame, breathe, and focus on the music.
Whatever you choose, enjoy your meditation to music.