One Size Fits All?
Don’t you hate it when you’re out shopping and find something you like, but the tag says “one size fits all”? And you know that means it’s going to be either too big or too small, because the “one size” just means “we’re going to throw the net out wide when it comes to sizing this garment and see where it lands”.
It’s also a pet-dislike of mine when I hear meditation teachers saying or even suggesting that there is only one correct way to meditate. Just like choosing the clothes you buy, meditation is highly personal. There is no “one size fits all”.
Meditation is focused awareness of the present moment. It’s intentional awareness, it’s non-judgmental and it’s curious. It’s a way of opening to your current moment-to-moment experience; and because that moment-to-moment experience is unique for each of us, the path into that meditative state can vary person to person, and even one day to the next.
What do I mean by that? Let me use myself as an example.
I usually find it comfortable to sit on a chair and focus on the breath entering and leaving my nostrils when I meditate. But sometimes, if my brain is firing too many thoughts I may find it easier to focus on the sensation of my hand resting on my tummy as it rises and falls with every breath. Sometimes I find it irritating to focus on my breath and prefer to focus on the sounds around me – not the meaning of those sounds or thoughts about those sounds – rather, in a non-identifying way, I focus on the actual sense of hearing. And there are still other times when my body feels too restless to sit and I’ll do a walking meditation, focusing on the sensation of each foot as my weight shifts from right to left and back again. There are occasions when sitting on a chair doesn’t feel right so I’ll sit on a cushion on the floor. Or if I’m not well, I may lie down to meditate.
I encourage my students to try different ways to meditate and learn what works best for them. However, there are some basic rules.
- Within a single meditation, don’t swap and change your point of focus. Once you’ve decided what you need in that meditation, stick to it for the full time.
- Don’t think about the process. Feel it. Meditation is a focus on any one of the 5 senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. It’s not a time out to think, to reflect, to ruminate or to day-dream. If you focus on your breath, you don’t need to count or ask yourself it you’re doing it right. It’s your If you focus on sounds, you don’t need to name any of the sounds or wonder why they’re loud or soft. In meditation you’re just sensing and observing, not analysing or judging.
- Don’t be fooled by restlessness. A restless body or a wandering mind is not a signal that you’ve meditated enough or that it’s the wrong time to meditate. It may, in fact, be a signal that you have a greater need to meditate at that time. Set your intention. If you only have 5 mins, commit to 5 full mins. If you have 30 mins, commit to that. If restlessness pulls you out of your meditation it may just be your brain is rebelling against the silence, or that your body is rebelling against the stillness. In our busy, switched on and often highly stressed lives, we can forget what quiet and stillness feels like. So it’s not surprising that a part of us may unconsciously rebel. That’s ok. You can choose not to listen.
Most importantly, don’t take your meditation too seriously. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! Like brushing your teeth before bed, you may not always feel like it, but you do it because you know it keeps your mouth healthy. It’s the same with meditation. In addition to the physical benefits associated with reduced stress, it keeps your mind mentally fit and strong. It’s a gift you give yourself, a kindness. So do it with an open heart and enjoy!
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