Before you begin… This article is derived from the lesson plan of a meditation session that I taught as part of the 2015 National Association of Adventurous Black Women Sisterhood Conference. It includes three guided meditation exercises, and I recommend that you allot 30-45 uninterrupted minutes to get the most benefit from the article. You should read in the quietest place possible, but absolute silence is not necessary (which I will explain as you read on). The meditations do not contain music, as I wanted them to be as similar to the seminar experience as possible. I recommend sitting on a comfortable chair or floor cushion, whichever position you can best maintain for the duration of this practice.
Photo by Emily Jacqlyn
I want to share something with you that has helped me develop a higher level of peace and insight, and cleared the path for profound changes in my life. That something is meditation. Honestly, I didn’t think meditation was “for me” until a close friend shared a guided meditation recording with me. At the time, I was struggling with an ill-fitting job, was extremely stressed, and had begun to cope in unhealthy ways. I needed a positive way to bring my life back into balance, so I gave the recording a try. I liked the way I felt afterward, so I tried another, and then another. The results convinced me that meditation should be a permanent way of life for me, and my enthusiasm has led me to spread knowledge and teach others.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that you chose to read this article for a reason. I don’t know what it is, and you may not either, but something made you choose it. So, I encourage you to do your best to lay any skepticism aside and be open to trying something new… no commitment necessary!
Let’s begin with a brief writing exercise. You will need a piece of paper and pen or pencil. Take a moment to think of something you are really struggling with, something that is causing you to suffer. We all suffer. It may take different forms (hurt, anxiety, guilt, sadness), but there is something that causes each and every one of us to suffer. Now, just acknowledge it by writing it down. Then, fold the piece of paper and put it to the side.
You may think of meditation as a form of worship or an exercise akin to yoga for the mind. It is actually a state of consciousness. Anything you do with full awareness is meditation. The exercises I have included in this article can help you reach a state of meditation, as can listening to a beautiful song or performing a dance, when you are fully focused on these activities. Chef Niki Nakayama, the groundbreaking owner of n/naka, one of LA’s best Japanese restaurants, says,
“When I’m plating a dish, my mind is completely shut off. It’s all based on feeling. This has to be here, this has to be here. This feels right here. This looks right here. I think it’s similar to that meditative state that people can get to, where they’re not listening to their minds anymore but it’s just that moment.”
That isn’t just similar to meditation. That is her meditation. There are plenty of techniques that can help you generate this energy in your life – I don’t feel that any are necessarily better than the others. Different techniques have had varying results in my life, and I am always open to exploring new ways to develop this awareness. The best way to learn it is to just try it, which you will shortly!
A common misconception is that it has to be completely silent for you to be able to meditate effectively. Not true. You will hear noises when you meditate. We live in the world and you aren’t always going to get that silence, but that’s the point, isn’t it? To learn how to find peace in the midst of the world we live in. By trying to ignore the noise, you’re feeding it more energy. Instead, let it be, maybe even acknowledge that you were distracted, and then return your attention to what you’re practicing.
You may have some discomfort with the idea of meditation because of concerns that it will conflict with your religious beliefs. That’s understandable because of the way meditators are often portrayed – new age hippies who are “spiritual but not religious” (not that there is anything wrong with that, either). It is important for you to realize that meditation does not go against any religion. In fact, meditation can be incorporated into your religious experience, but it is not a religious practice on its own. You can practice meditation in whatever way you need.
Let’s get started. First, we are going to do a breath awareness meditation. For now, just see if you can tune into the present moment. Don’t focus on having a breakthrough, relaxing or becoming enlightened. Just see if you can hold this moment in your awareness. Pay attention to what your senses are perceiving… What you’re seeing, hearing, smelling… The feel of your clothes and the touch of the air on your skin… And then, there is your breath…
If you made it the entire time without getting distracted or losing count, you’re better than me! For most of us, thoughts seem to immediately pour into our mind. Maybe you were thinking of an assignment you didn’t finish at work or chores you have to do at home. Maybe you were wondering why so-and-so didn’t text you back. Maybe you were thinking that this is weird and there’s another article you want to read. If so, stick with me… I promise it’s worth it.
A lot of clients have expressed to me that they are curious about meditation but feel like there’s no way they can get their minds calm enough to meditate. This is simply how the mind is! It’s a natural biological function of the brain to think. The heart beats, the lungs breath, and the brain thinks. That doesn’t make you a bad meditator. It makes you human. Trying to completely get rid of your thoughts is basically trying to become a vegetable.
Think of your mind as an ocean, and your thoughts as the surface. Some days it’s gentle, some days it’s rainy, some days there are tsunamis. Some days it ices over. That’s life. But even when it is at its most tumultuous, if you descend far enough below the surface, the water becomes calm. Peaceful. Safe. When we speak of mindfulness, consciousness and awareness, we’re talking about that depth. The place you can look up from to observe everything that is happening on the surface, without being tossed and turned along with it. Think of meditation as the anchor that’s keeping you there.
That breathing exercise was not about the breath, it was about the awareness you were generating. The breath is a tool for you to get there. When you focus on your breath, it takes your attention away from the thinking process and creates internal space (or depth). One conscious breath, when you are aware that you are breathing, gives you a break from that incessant stream of thought. This is because breathing isn’t something you choose to do but, rather, it’s something that you witness happening. All you have to do is watch it happen without making any effort. Anytime you notice that you are upset or scattered and find it difficult to concentrate, you can simply go back to your breathing and reconnect.
Breath awareness is also a natural foundation for inner body awareness. Inner body awareness helps us develop presence – we live in a world of GO! GO! GO! So much stimulation, so much news, so much to focus on… we give so much attention to everything that is happening outwardly. Always analyzing the past and planning for the future and forgetting that you are only ever here, right now. What do I mean? The past is gone forever and the future doesn’t exist, simply put. Even five seconds into the future is just 5… 4… 3… 2… Now.
When you connect your mind back to your body, you reestablish yourself in the present moment. So, you start with your breath, and from there expand to your body, paying attention to sensations you experience. When you fine-tune yourself to be aware of these things that you normally block out, you create the foundation to become mindful of your emotions, your states of mind and your thought processes. This is essential because so many of the issues that we suffer from originate from within…
During this meditation, you may have felt some emotion arise, asking for attention. Let’s go back and think about suffering… As black women, the messages we receive tend to lean toward “be strong,” “keep it together,” “figure it out,” “don’t be weak”…”It’s handled” (Olivia Pope voice). The thing is, we do suffer, whether we admit it or not. That’s just the human condition. But we’ve been made to think it’s not okay, that we aren’t allowed to be vulnerable, not even just to ourselves. How are you doing?
Reality: “Not so good. Actually, pretty bad.”
Answer: “I’m good!”
You don’t want to be in your feelings? Well, guess what? Those feelings are still in you. When you suppress something, you push it down inside of you, and it takes root and grows. And one day that thing will burst through the surface, and it’s gonna be bigger and badder than before. But… but, but, but… if you take the time to acknowledge your feelings, instead of trying to rationalize them, push them away, analyze them – if you will just let them be, their hold on you will weaken. If you can learn how to suffer well, and stop creating more suffering around your suffering because you don’t want to suffer, you can begin your own healing process. There is so much more to be said about this, but that is for another day and another article.
Let’s finish with a meditation on love and compassion, a very gentle meditation. That’s a word we don’t use often… gentle. This world can be harsh, and so much of our worth is measured by our achievement. What you have done, what are you doing, what you plan to do. And we don’t realize that we don’t have to do anything at all to be worthy. Every person, every living thing, just wants to be happy and free from suffering. And we are worthy of those desires, no matter what we are or are not “accomplishing.” Everyone needs to know that they are worthy; that they are as worthy of peace and happiness as everyone else. You need to know this…
Take a moment and think about what you want most deeply, the way you want to feel in your life. Think of the feelings that came to you in this last meditation, the different variations of, “I want to be happy”. Choose the one that resonates with you most. Now, take out your piece of paper and write this down, right there with the thing causing you suffering. As you write, bring the energy that you just generated to both of them – they are two sides of the same coin, of your life, and you are giving your love and compassion to both of them. As you move forward throughout the day, let your mind rest in the awareness, the peace, and the goodwill that you just created.
Thank you for being with me.
Photo by Emily Jacqlyn1