Meditation for Maniacs – A How to Guide

We’re all a little maniacal from time to time. Saying things we don’t mean while doing things we’ll regret later. But it’s what we keep inside that really haunts us. It’s what’s inside that pesters us incessantly, that keeps us feeling tight and wound up. It’s what drives our undying desire to find escape in entertainment, social media, alcohol, drugs, and various other distractions and mood altering activities. It’s the maniac we have to live with inside our own minds that brings the pain and leaves us feeling empty and hopeless. We all have that maniac, whether we’ve acknowledged it or not.

There is a way to tame that wild beast. Instead of ignoring it, instead of drowning it out and avoiding it, we simply let it tire itself out. We sit and we wait. Let it loose on the inside to rapid-fire random thoughts and invoke emotions like strikes of lightning in the black sky. Don’t disagree and argue with the bolts of lightning, don’t let the thunder bring you fear. Just experience the erratic nature of the spectacle. Remain, and witness the storm long enough to see it pass by. Then you can see what’s left after it calms.

Meditation is the vehicle to traverse through these storms. This guide is meant to be a thorough explanation of meditation without being overly complex. Just enough to get you going while not overloading you with too much information. It’s not a comprehensive guide on all there is in meditation but it’s a starting point. You can read this, start today and continue for years without needing to learn anything else if that’s what you desire.

Meditation can be a bit of a paradox. It’s simple and easy. But it can also feel difficult and confusing. For now we’ll focus on the simple and easy parts. The quickest, simplest explanation I can give is to sit comfortably and breathe while keeping your attention with your breath. It’s all you need to know if you’re adventurous, determined, and believe there are truly benefits to it. 

I don’t think that advice prepares enough people for the process however. Meditation advice seems to be too simple or too detailed for newcomers. I’m looking to land in the middle here, where I think it will have the biggest impact on the most people. Because I believe it can be life changing for everyone.

You shouldn’t think of meditation in terms of right or wrong. If you think you’re doing it right, or even that you’re doing it wrong, then you are missing the point. It’s about the moment, and your awareness of it. Your presence in that moment, not thinking ahead in time or thinking about how something affects you. Thinking does not need to happen. It will happen, but you don’t need to encourage or indulge it. Just experience the moment.

Meditation isn’t an action. It’s a practice. Being curious about meditation might have you thinking you might try it out one day. If it’s fun, beneficial, or interesting then maybe you’ll do it again another day to get the same result. But it isn’t an action you perform to get a benefit when you feel like a reward. It’s not a vending machine you throw change at to receive something every time. It’s a practice you engage in consistently, to learn and develop from. Like an elite level athlete who practices their craft daily. During a challenging moment in their sport, they aren’t stopping to think and deliberate. They’ve practiced their whole life for these moments, and their response comes naturally. Without thought, ego, or emotion they just witness the reality of the moment unfold while they make the clutch play. A meditation practice helps us become aware in all moments of life.

Meditation is practicing being in the present moment fully, with all your attention and awareness. There is no right or wrong way to practice. You’re either practicing or not practicing. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve completed something afterward, nor should you feel like you didn’t “get there” during. It’s a process with no end goal or destination. It’s important to understand this otherwise you might have trouble doing it consistently and start to feel like it’s pointless since you’re looking for the benefit or effects after every session. The benefits and changes meditation brings can be noticeable immediately, however after a few times they become extremely gradual and harder to pinpoint on a short scale timeline. But after years of meditating every single day I am still finding fascinating ways in which it is affecting me.

Once you’re able to relinquish the concepts of right and wrong in regards to your meditation sessions and you accept that it’s a practice you must engage in consistently rather than a, whenever you feel like it kind of thing, you’ll be mentally prepared to start. Now we’ll go over some basics like posture and breathing.

Sitting is the most common recommendation for meditation and it’s a great way to start before you try things like standing, walking, or laying down. There are ways of sitting like the lotus and the half-lotus positions, which if you’re capable of without discomfort you can certainly do. But they’re not the only way. The important part of sitting is that you have a reliable, strong base, which will help you maintain your overall posture and not encourage a lot of movement. Which would be a distraction. Simply sitting cross legged with a good sturdy cushion or pillow under your rear is sufficient. If you’re losing circulation anywhere below your waste, that’s an indication that you should find a different way of sitting. A cushion can be a big help to keep blood flowing throughout the legs and feet.

Now that we’re sitting comfortably, we want to make sure we have a good posture. Our back should be straight. Our shoulders should be up and back, not down and forward. Your hands can rest on your knees or thighs. Having your palms up and open will help you bring an open and accepting mindset. Your pelvis should be set forward, this is the region between the bottom of your abs and just above your thighs. A straight back with shoulders up and back allows our lungs the space to expand fully. With your pelvis forward, your weight is distributed across your thighs and buttocks region evenly rather than all that pressure landing on your tailbone. This position also allows your belly more freedom to expand during breathing. If you’re sitting comfortably and have assumed the posture described, you should have a feeling of effortless balance. You should feel as stable as a thick tree trunk.

Once we’re in position we close our eyes. Our eyes should be closed completely and without effort. Don’t strain to keep them closed, you shouldn’t feel your forehead and face muscles being used here. Simply close them gently and once your eyelids are sealed together let your face sink into a relaxed state. You might see light artifacts or images when your eyes are closed, but we can let them be, we don’t have to focus on them. Leave your eyes in the natural position of looking straight out. They’re going to want to search and focus and try and see, but you don’t need to see with your eyes right now. You just need to be with your breath now.

If able, you should breathe through the nose. If it feels like you can’t get enough air or breathe at a pace you’re comfortable with, then breathe through your mouth. Breathe at a relaxed pace. The breath is our body’s signal on how to be. Fast breathing makes us anxious and panicked, when we breathe slowly and evenly we become calm and relaxed. So we will breathe slowly and evenly, the same amount for our inhale as for our exhale. Since we’re relaxed we don’t need to time or count it, we just feel the amount in and match that amount out. We are calm, still, and relaxed. Our posture is centered, strong, and unwavering. We feel our breath bringing life into our body, and we feel it wash our distractions, stress, and desires out of our body.

Once we’re sitting and balanced and breathing, we can bring our attention to our breath. “Stay with your breath” is a common instruction given about meditation. For some reason it seems far less common to find a detailed explanation that follows. The phrase is simple but since most of us have never done it, or even thought about it, we’re not quite sure we understand it. Before meditation popped up onto our radar we likely never spent our conscious attention thinking about how we’re breathing. To stay with your breath is to be aware of it. Aware of the pace, aware of the sensations that arise from breathing, and aware of the effect your breathing is having on your entire system. When you breathe in you should “track” the air coming in through your nose/mouth down your windpipe and into your lungs, feeling it fill your lungs, and your diaphragm expanding to assist the lungs in receiving the air. Once your lungs are full, your out breath should start immediately with no pause in the process of breathing. Now you feel the diaphragm contracting and assisting your lungs in pushing the breath back up the windpipe and out of your nose/mouth and into the ether. When I say “track” the air, I mean for you to be aware of the sensations. Feel it flow through the nose/mouth, feel it rushing to the lungs, feel it grow your lungs. This is tracking through physical sensation, not through a visual representation. It’s tempting to use visualization when trying to stay with your breath, even though we don’t see air. But simply experiencing the sensations around the process of breathing is part of staying with your breath. 

The other part of staying with our breath is our awareness and our attention. We have a propensity to time travel inside our own minds. Thinking back or thinking ahead. Our minds are rarely ever in the same moment as our bodies. We think ahead about the desires we have, what we crave, and what we want to avoid. We think back on things we enjoyed, and on things we wished we had done differently. The human mind is the most powerful device in our known universe and it was just handed to us with no guide and no safety training. Now it runs wild all day, everyday, beyond our control. Running off on tangents we don’t even want and teaching us how to convince ourselves of decisions it’s already made. This is the hardest part, this is the practice. We sit, breathe, and put our attention on our breath and practice being in the moment. The same moment our breath is in. Our mind thinks about the future, and while trying to experience the present moment, we realize that it’s thinking about the future. So we say, “No mind, not right now. Right now we’re breathing and we’re here, now. We are not thinking about the future at this moment.”. And after some time of continuing to think about the future we realize the mind has bested our intentions. That realization is the key to this whole thing, that is something that we have never done. We realized our mind is out of alignment with our intention. We realized it as it was happening, not a day later when thinking back and reviewing how we behaved in the past. We’re in the moment realizing our mind is somewhere else. That is a point in time when we’re fully in the present moment. Now we go back to our breath. We are aware of our breath. We feel it, we sense it. Our mind and our body are present in this moment, the same moment our breath is in. Our intention, attention, awareness, mind, and body are in unison. In the same place, at the same time, with the same goal. To breathe, and to BE.

Your mind is your biggest hurdle in this process. It will kick and scream on your path to mindful awareness. The first time you reach a state of being in the present moment, it will be your mind that kicks you out of it. Because you’ll feel that feeling of being only in the present moment, it will be so new and unique to you, it will feel like the weight of an entire universe was just lifted from your shoulders. It will feel like you’ve finally found where you belong. You’ll feel all that in an instant. And as quick as it comes, your mind will recognize it as something you’ve achieved, and in that recognition you will have “lost” it. This is why it is a meditation practice. You are practicing being in the present moment. The more you practice, the more you can be in the present moment. 

As you go through life, you are increasing your awareness of the realities you experience. You are experiencing them as they are, not as you need or desire them to be. Without these needs and desires, the moments you experience are not actually describable through language. Words come to mind like perfect, true, and peaceful. But every word used takes something away from that moment. Only the experience of the moment can show you. Defining it will destroy it. Defining it is what has us outside of it in the first place. 

Our problems arise from wanting and not wanting. When we’re in the present moment, we accept that moment and everything in it for what it is. We experience the moment without wanting or not wanting. We don’t get rained on and think about how uncomfortable it is to be wet and cold. We just feel the wet and just feel the cold. We experience it for everything that it is, without telling ourselves what it could be or shouldn’t be. This doesn’t mean we don’t open an umbrella or put on a coat, it means we don’t fight the feelings we have. We don’t think we’re not supposed to feel cold, we don’t think our experience is wrong, we simply feel cold. 

Mediation is practicing being in the present moment, experiencing every part of reality. Living in the present moment is freeing ourselves from ourselves. No longer accepting the fear our predictions of the future bring, or the sadness our regrets of the past cling to. Freeing ourselves from the idea that some particular part of reality shouldn’t be the way it is. Being in the present moment is when we truly get to know ourselves for the first time. We are meeting the real version of ourselves. Not the version of ourselves that our stories we tell would have us believe. Once we know ourselves truly, we will disappoint ourselves no more. We will love ourselves and accept ourselves unconditionally. In doing so, we will make better choices for ourselves. Loving ourselves and making the choices that are best for ourselves will improve our experience in the present moment and all subsequent present moments. 

We sit, we breathe, we be.

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