Buddhist meditation has numerous benefits that can help you maintain a healthy life physically and mentally. It is meant to bring your mind, body and soul to a natural balance.
Buddhist meditation is a mental exercise but it’s more than that – you can think of it as a vacation for the mind, as well.
You cannot merely take a vacation once a year to free your mind and body from the daily stresses and worries you experience.
A vacation, or for that matter a hobby, or other escape such as alcohol or shopping, offer only temporary relief from the wanderings and anxious thoughts that can have you missing out on sleep and feeling stressed far more than you feel happy and calm.
To live happily, you must take control over your mind and practice feeling at one with yourself.
What does this mean?
It does not mean that you suppress your thoughts or attempt to completely silence your thoughts – it means that you learn how to become an impartial observer of your thoughts and in this way you gain control over your thoughts and feelings.
Buddhist meditation is an exercise in self-awareness.
If we cannot change the unconscious desires that dictate our actions, change will be very challenging.
For example, if you realize that you are impatient and irritable with your spouse, you may promise to yourself that “From now on, I will be more patient and understanding” – but in the heat of the moment, you may find yourself yelling at him (or her) because your impatience has arisen without you being aware of it.
The impatience is due to the way you perceive your spouse, and the habitual ways you think about him (or her) – but unless you are aware of these perceptions and habits, it will be very difficult to actually change your behaviour. Meditation helps you develop the awareness needed to transform ingrained habits.
Mindfulness is at the heart of Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness simply means, present-awareness. One way to practice mindfulness is through awareness of the breath.
Here is a simple tip for practicing breath meditation:
Put on your LifeFlow soundtrack, and relax.
Become aware of your breath… however you are breathing right now is just fine.
Begin counting your breaths – one on the inhale, two on the exhale, three on the inhale, and so forth. Feel the breath, and count.
Thoughts will intrude. That’s normal!
If you notice a thought and you’re able to keep counting without getting involved in the thought, great. If not, then begin again at one.
This is a lot more challenging than you might think, but after you practice this trick for a while, your mind will start to relax and you’ll be able to count to ten with no problem.
When you have mastered this, make it a little harder: this time, count one full breath (inhale/exhale) as one, one full breath as two, and so on until you reach ten.
You may also notice physical sensations as you practice breath meditation. Itches, discomfort, or a desire to fidget can be very distracting. Be patient! Keep returning your attention to the breath. The less attention you give these physical sensations, the less compelling they will be!
Eventually any thoughts that intrude, or physical sensations, will weaken in intensity, your concentration will become stronger and you will experience moments of deep calm and inner peace.
Another way to practice mindfulness is to use a mantra. Mantras are spoken words, phrases or sounds that are repeated over and over (silently or aloud) as a way to focus the attention.
You do not have to use a Buddhist phrase – such as “Om” – if you don’t want to. While these Sanskrit mantras have deep spiritual meaning and energetic power, you can substitute any word or short phrase you like. Some of my favorites are “Love,” “Let it be,” “Peace,” or “Yes.”
Again, put on your LifeFlow track, get comfortable and start saying the mantra, either aloud or silently. Keep repeating it over and over again, as if you were a stuck CD.
Mantras work because their repetitive, monotonous nature is very soothing to your brain. Again, when your thoughts intrude, gently but deliberately bring your attention back to the mantra.
As you practice mindfulness, you will gradually get control over your thoughts.
This means – when you are anxious or stressed out, and you’re stuck in a worry loop of negative thoughts, you will have the power to pull your attention away from your thoughts onto something else.
You can, for example, learn to pull your attention away from a thought about not having enough money, to a thought that makes you feel abundant (hint – gratitude will work wonders for this!).
In time, you will be able to observe your thoughts without becoming involved in them, and in so doing you will become aware of the habitual thought patterns that – for better or for worse – dictate your behaviour. And that’s the first step to positive change!