Practice paying attention to what is happening right now
These days meditation is gaining mainstream popularity, from dozens of meditation apps, to the Netflix show Headspace, through tens of thousands of academic papers on meditation. Meditation can help with stress reduction, convey health benefits, and help you be more aware and in control.
Meditation lets you observe your thought patterns and emotions in real time, be less reactive, and change your own behavior. Finally, perhaps the ultimate benefit of meditation is that it can be a path to liberate you from the Ego Delusion—the idea that there exists a “you” that’s separate from the world, and is subjectively more important than everything else.
There are multiple ways to meditate, from mindfulness meditation or body scans, to walking meditation, Osho’s dynamic meditations, nondual meditations, and more. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, in silence or guided, and even while engaged in other activities, like doing the dishes or conversing with people. The ultimate benefits of meditation are realized when it’s not taken as a separate practice, but rather integrated into your everyday life.
One of the most common forms of meditation is mindfulness. To practice mindfulness meditation, start by setting aside some time. Ten or twenty minutes is fine, but if you’re low on time even five minutes can be beneficial. Sit with your eyes closed and observe what is happening moment by moment. Your objective is simply to notice everything that happens—thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sounds—without judgment and without holding on to anything that catches your attention.
You’re not trying not to think, but rather just to notice your thoughts and other phenomena such as feelings and sensations. If you catch yourself lost in thought, gently return to the practice of observing. And if you find that you’re judging yourself to be “not meditating well enough”, simply observe that as another occurrence. It might be easiest, especially in the beginning, to meditate using a recorded guide or an app, or even to attend live meditation sessions.
Attention is like a muscle, which meditation builds. The best way to build and maintain that muscle is with a daily recurring practice. Even a short meditation, repeated daily, is better than a long but sporadic one. As mentioned above, there are various ways to meditate, each with its own unique characteristics. While it’s good to have a core practice you can rely on, it’s also worthwhile to experiment and find what attracts you at any particular time. See Tools 4.2 and 4.3 for a few suggestions. Whatever you choose, try not to restrict your practice to formal sessions; this tool is meant to be integrated via short yet meaningful mindfulness moments throughout your day.
Remember, meditation is a life-long practice, it’s not something you achieve and forget about. There are always higher levels of awareness to be reached in the present moment.
The Mindful Geek: Secular Meditations for Smart Skeptics, by Michael Taft (Cephalopod Rex, 2015).
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion , by Sam Harris (Simon & Schuster, 2015)
Sam Harris’ app Waking Up. https://wakingup.com/