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Meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably in the west. However, this is an oversimplification of a practice that has so much more to offer.
If there's one thing the West is particularly good at, it's taking things from other cultures and making them worse.
Besides Yoga, which has basically been reduced to a particularly arrogant form of exercise, meditation is a practice that immediately comes to mind in that regard.
In fact, meditation has been so misrepresented that many don't even really know what it is. Let's change that.
First, DO consider why you want to do it. Due to its commodification in the west, many people have a distorted or even completely false understanding of what meditation is and what it is supposed to do. It's all about "being zen," "peacing out," and "calming yourself down," right? Well, not really.
We can gain a better understanding of what meditation is by looking at the Tibetan word for it: gom. Gom roughly translates to "becoming familiar with." What are we becoming familiar with? Our own mind.
As many meditation masters will tell you, the essence of meditation is awareness. Becoming aware of our own mind, how it works, and how it relates to the world around us – that is what the practice of meditation is all about.
So, if you're looking for something to calm your nerves, you might be better off with a soothing mug of herbal tea. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a deeper connection to yourself and a way to become more compassionate with others, you might just have clicked on the right article.
For your own sake, DON'T take meditation out of its original context. Meditation is a practice that was developed over centuries and involves different aspects that work together in particular ways. It is not advisable to take a single element out of this framework and present it as its own thing.
The "mindfulness" fad in the west is a very good example of this. It may surprise you to hear that the obsession with mindfulness is quite weird to experienced meditators. The reason for this is that mindfulness is not a form of meditation, it is a tool used in meditation. On its own and without any explanation why you should be mindful, the practice quickly becomes tedious and uninspiring.
In general, DO prioritise frequency over duration. Another common complaint people have with regard to meditation is something along the lines of "I can't suppress my thoughts for that long!" First, meditation is not about "not thinking any thoughts." In fact, most practices will encourage you to simply watch your thoughts come and go – because that's simply what thoughts tend to do.
The second point to address is that meditation does not have to involve sitting silently for prolonged periods of time. It can, of course – if that's what you'd like to do. But especially if you're just starting out, you may want to do just five minutes of meditation a day.
Keep your practice short but do it every day – that's how you develop a habit. And once something becomes a habit, it gets easier, and when it gets easier, you may naturally develop the wish to practice for longer.
DON'T restrict yourself to "the cushion." It's easy to think of meditation as sitting cross-legged and trying your best not to fall asleep. It is true that this kind of "formal meditation" will probably be the core of your practice. However, if your motivation for wanting to meditate, i.e., becoming familiar with your mind, is genuine, you should definitely consider giving more "informal" styles a shot.
Yes, this may include "mindfulness" in some way or other. But again, it goes way beyond mindfulness at the same time. For example, meditation also involves looking at your emotions in a non-judgmental, open way. While this is a skill that can be developed in formal practice, it becomes truly meaningful once we make an effort to incorporate this approach into our daily lives.
Be curious and DO explore all forms of meditation. Reducing meditation to just mindfulness is not just problematic from a cultural point of view, it also narrows our perspective. There are countless different methods of meditation and for good reason: Not every method will work for everyone.
Some people really enjoy resting meditation. Others are simply unable to focus their attention for longer than a few minutes and might benefit more from more dynamic practices. Explore to your heart's content and feel free to give everything a try.
And finally, the most important tip: DON'T meditate. Seriously. It may sound strange, but the best meditation is non-meditation. What does that mean, you ask? Well, the thing is that when most people "meditate" they are trying to "do" something. But that's ultimately not really the point.
The essence of meditation is awareness – you don't "do" awareness, you "are" aware. The practice of meditation is complete once you can rest in that natural awareness without grasping at anything or feeling the need to do something.
And once you reach that point, you will certainly have no more use for any of these trendy mindfulness apps.