How often do you allow yourself to find a quiet space where you can reflect and visualize deep down into who you are and what you want most? Can you meditate?
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What do you know about meditation? What is your position on it? Are you open minded towards it? Or is it maybe “something whacky” for you? Have you ever tried it? Have you ever wondered if you could, and if you did, whether it might work for you, or even help?
Usually in the context of arresting the incessant “left brain mind chatter”, or when a client needs a very specific focus or sometimes even when they are approaching overwhelm, the conversation very often arrives at the need to discuss meditation in many of my coaching programs. Given its recurrence, I thought it may be a useful tip to share with you all, and that way I can refer to it more easily next time it emerges.
I remember asking Sogyal Rinpoche (Foremost Interpreter of Tibetan Buddhism to the West and author of the “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”) what meditation was.
He said: “do you know the gap between one thought finishing and the next thought starting? – prolong it”. I could relate to that – just being and breathing without any thoughts.
This gave rise to one of my most popularly used coaching concepts I wrote about under my blog article: Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself.
The Coaching Context
So when in a coaching program we get to the 7 words coaches hear most often: “I don’t really know what I want” this century old tool often emerges as an option. I often ask: “can you meditate” and invariably hear “nope, never done it, but have always been curious“, or “I used to but have lost my way“. We are usually so busy and pressured that we don’t allow ourselves to find a calm and quiet space where we can reflect and consider what deep down we really want most, do we? We have forgotten to visualize what we want. As a child, even teenager we could dream of the most amazing “wants”, couldn’t we?
So after establishing whether they are open to this concept of meditation– and I respect that not everyone is – I outline broadly what it is and how this ” quiet time of introspection” works:
Can You Meditate? The What:
There are times, particularly under excessive pressure or stress, or when in need of clarity of thinking and also when we want to visualize an outcome or an approach or a goal etc, when we need to move away from our ongoing and exhausting “left brain mind chatter”, right? Finding a few minutes or even half an hour where we can “go into ourselves” in a place of “calm” and to connect with our inner resources; a state where we slow our breathing, which slows our heart rate and which arrests the busy mind of its chores and grants us some quality time just to be in tune with who we really are.
At that point we are usually in a state of relaxation and ready for the practice of what I now call the prolonged space between one thought finishing and the next thought commencing.
Please also know that in such a state of relaxation, your “defense warning systems” are still “razor sharp”and you are not asleep.
In my blog The Left Brain and the Right Brain I refer to a video clip from Jill Bolte-Taylor in which she describes the difference between these two brain spheres exceptionally well. I would urge you to find and watch it.
Can You Meditate? The How:
I have found this to work best for me as follows:
a) Find an area of complete and undisturbed quiet and sitting upright in a chair, feet on the ground and hands folded lightly in your lap or resting on your thighs. Some prefer sitting on the floor but in an upright position, and if they can, legs crossed. Whatever is comfortable for you. You will also know whether it works best for you: with eyes open or closed.
b) I am speaking of a 3 to 5 minute practice of complete mind relaxation where you focus your attention entirely on your breathing. I have learned that I can either focus all my attention on a thought or on my breathing – never both. And so, in keeping with the most widely used approach, I urge you to focus your full attention exclusively on your breathing. After all – you do take that with you everywhere you go, right?
c) If you lose your attention momentarily and a thought emerges, just let it go without engaging it and return your attention to your breathing.
d) Imagine “watching” your breath inhaling up your nostrils and down into your lungs and then equally “observing” it exhaling back out of your nostrils, while noticing how it is faintly warm as it does so. Keep repeating that cycle with your complete attention focus entirely and only on your breathing in this way. Breathing in. Breathing out.
e) I recently learned an additional technique to further engage your attention so that there can’t be room for any thoughts. I learned to imagine inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right nostril, to then inhaling again through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril and then calmly and quietly repeating that process cycle for the next few minutes, “watching” each inhale and exhale in your mind’s eye and with your full and undivided attention.
f) I even suggest you might count the number of inhales and exhale left nostril / right nostril cycles and that if you lose your way, you start again at zero until you have managed 10 uninterrupted cycles – that would usually be about 3 or 5 minutes by the time you have got it right.
Can You Meditate? The When:
I urge you to set a goal to do this at least once a day. I have found we are usually either morning people or night owls, which may have a bearing on your preference, but you will know what works best for you by “trying on” a few options.
This will feel quite unfamiliar to you at first. It will require some discipline and a little perseverance. (Oh dear, there’s that word again: discipline).
- If you reach the end of a day and haven’t managed to do one, please make a point of doing so before you retire to bed, but never lying down – always sitting upright.
- I also suggest that you have a scratchpad handy and sit quietly in thought for another 5 or so minutes afterwards and just let your awakened right brain feed you some ideas, having allowed it to feature by shutting out the tiresome left brain chatter for a while. That scratch pad can be your phone or PDA etc during the day as you get new thoughts and ideas, please be sure and write them down right away. (This is an important part of granting some insights into the “I don’t really know what I want” question).
- You might also want to keep a scratchpad and a pen next to your bed for when you wake up at night with a good thought or idea, or within a dream, so it isn’t forgotten by morning.
- There may also be times during your day, particularly if you feel a bit of stress or anxiety or overwhelm approaching that you can simply try practicing to “tune out” in this way – just for a few minutes of deep and quiet breathing while shutting out any possibility of processing any thoughts. You might be able to close your door if you have an office. Maybe you slip into an unused meeting room and if all else fails, you can head outside or even seek refuge in the loo – whatever you find will give you the opportunity to “chill out” this way.
So just to recap, we are talking about a few dedicated and undisturbed minutes of relaxation and calm and applying the above described technique(s) maybe once or a few times each day as the need or opportunity arises.
However, if i asked you why you might want to practice “can you meditate?”, what would you use to convince yourself that this would be a prize worthy of the price? What purpose might you leverage this towards? What benefits would you want to achieve in doing so? My experience is that if you have some expectations, that these will drive you to do something initially unfamiliar, just on the off chance that it might get you results you haven’t been able to achieve otherwise.
Of course I’m not a specialized meditation teacher and couldn’t offer any guarantees, however I have shared this technique with a lot of my clients, many of whom practice it in their own adapted manner today – whatever will work for you. My experience has been very positive and today I can “meditate” for prolonged periods, although usually not longer than say half an hour. And a few minutes are often plenty good enough. Sometimes it feels so good I don’t want to “come back”.
So if you “have a go” and find after a number of attempts that this just isn’t working for you, why not Google or look in your local community ads to see where there are meditation courses on offer? That way you can be guided “hands on” by someone who does this for a living. You will also find a bunch of CD’s and books that can help.
Provided of course that you are curious enough in “wanting to have a go” at something that has been around for centuries and may just help you find the clarity you have been yearning for so long. I believe you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.