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I was listening to a song by an Argentinian singer. The refrain of the song means “If you forgot, breath”. I find this very relevant. We often forget to breath deeply and take in enough of vitalizing air. It’s not difficult to catch yourself doing so. You may notice, even right now, that your breathing is shallow, your body is tense and your posture is slouching. This may be caused by emotional states such as sadness, fear, spite, anger and anxiety but also by neglecting your mind and body. Those are the demons that the title of this article refers to. Your mind becomes obsessed with little things: small everyday happenings, other people, worries, fears, fantasies etc and you forget about yourself, your body and the bigger picture of your life.
Meditation is to bring the focus back to yourself, to breath life back into you. One meaning of “being yourself” is to not let stuff, of any kind, steal your mind from you. It means to be really alone when you are alone. To be yourself, to feel that your mind and emotions are yours and in your control even when facing challenges. And meditation let’s you achieve exactly that.
Not only meditation is helpful for avoiding feeling such as anxiety and anger, it is essential for defeating depression as well. Think of depression as a force that tries to compress the sphere of your soul. Now think of meditation as a way of “inflating” yourself back to fullness. Actually deep breathing can give you a euphoric feeling and this is no wonder: your breath is the fuel of your life and you should make an effort to appreciate it. Even if a hundred things are lacking in your life, you still have your mind and your breath and you can use them to your advantage.
Deep breathing is beneficial for you in many other ways. It slows down your heart rate, calms your mind, forces your body fluids to move around and gives you more oxygen. It can even help lower your blood pressure.
Meditations gives you an opportunity to relax both your body and mind.
Letting go of demons
If you are depressed you may spend a lot of time reliving past experiences, as if by replaying them in your mind you can change what happened in the past. Psychologists call this rumination and it is one of the main characteristics of depression. Depression has even been described as feeling threatened when the source of threat is gone. If you are severely depressed you may spend hours of your precious time ruminating every day. This is bad for you because it 1) wastes your time, 2) will not result in any good/real outcome and 3) reinforces your negative emotions which can have harmful effects on your hormones and liver.
I like to liken such behavior to the ancient tale of Ajax. The gods made him think he was killing his enemies but in reality he was killing cattle. Don’t be like Ajax; know that any time you spend fantasizing stuff in your head is wasted time. Because those stuff are in your head and won’t translate to reality. (There are notable exceptions, for example imagining your desired future or imagining a peaceful scene to relax or to get to sleep. However you still have to not confuse those thoughts with reality.) So whenever you start to ruminate or fantasize know that it is the “devil” inviting you to the torture room. Make a conscious effort to say no.
The solution to your hurt feelings is not to relive past experiences further and further but to let go. Let’s face it, the past is already gone. The past is like the rear mirror in a car; you glance at it, you don’t stare into it. Otherwise you would be led off course! Now I know what you are thinking. You are afraid to repeat those experiences again. But like I said, rumination will not help you with that. Think what you learn from a bad experience, get somebody else’s (such as a counselor’s) opinion if needed and then put the experience away in your mind’s basement.
Meditation is the perfect way to disengage from negative thoughts. When you meditate thoughts come to your mind but you do not pursue them. You let them go, like watching the clouds pass. There is a scene in the movie Flatliners in which a man is grappling with a boy he manslaughtered when he was a kid. But then his friend comes in and sees him lying on the ground as if defending against something imaginary. (If you have a link to a video or gif of this scene please share it in the comments section.) So just meditate and let the dark clouds pass. Read on.
Stop in your tracks
The main point here is that the remedy to your worries, anxiety and feelings of guilt, doom, sadness, etc is to not worry and think more but to stop thinking and worrying on a regular basis.
You may be preoccupied, worried and ruminating nonstop. When depressed you may get feelings of doom, that your world is falling apart or that the ground is disappearing from under your feet. You may even feel that the world is there to get you. Therefore you engage in panicked thinking, escaping to the world of your mind. In such a situation sitting back, relaxing and not thinking may be the last thing you want to do. However, and this is crucial, any solution sought in a state of rush, anxiety, panic or hopelessness is not going to be a good decision.
Obsessing and worrying all the time just wears you down. First emotionally then physically. When you are overwhelmed by emotions, your mind goes into an overdrive trying to find a solution, even if just an imaginary solution. This causes your body to tense up and your breathing to become shallow and fast. If left unattended, this causes problems such as anxiety and insomnia.
If you’re reading this you are likely not a military commander in the midst of a battle who needs to make life-or-death decisions in a matter of an instant. So sit back, relax and let your mind to gain peace.
The feeling of liberty you experience when you can relax and think about nothing, or in other words, nothing but your core self, is unparalleled. That is why Osho calls mediation the final freedom. You’ll be calm and content by yourself no matter where you are. And now we will see how to achieve that.
How to meditate
The basic principles of meditation are to relax your body, to stop your thoughts from wandering and to breath deeply. Therefore during meditation you actively try to prevent any thought from occupying your mind.
If you are new to meditation and start right off the bat by sitting down and closing your eyes, both your mind and body will want to resist the forced confinement. You’ll be fighting yourself to stay calm and that’s not what meditation is about. Instead, as suggested by Indian masters such as Osho, start your meditation by doing whatever you like. That’s right, do a crazy dance, jump up and down, run around, breath deeply and fast, scream, beat your chest, shake your body in all different ways, sing, get naked (if the circumstances allow). Needless to say, don’t do anything harmful to yourself or others. Do things like these until you release your oppressed emotions and start to calm down. Then you’ll be ready for the calm part of your meditation.
Now find yourself a peaceful corner. It can be under a tree, a corner of your room, a specifically designated meditation room or even a bathroom (if there is no better option). Places with wide views such as natural vantage points and the sea or river banks are perfect for meditating. Later you’ll be able to meditate anywhere but to start you need a quiet place. If the environment is noisy, you can listen to brown noise through your headphones. It would be even better to put on meditative music. (Just search “meditation music” on Youtube.)
You can start your meditation with your eyes open and then close them as you progres. I don’t start my meditation by immediately closing my eyes. Instead I look at the trees outside my place and the sky, and I breath deeply. I do this for a few minutes till my mind calms down and then I close my eyes. However as long as what you see is not messy or distracting, it’s not strictly required to close your eyes.
Now focus your attention on your breath. Breath slowly and deeply in and out. As deep as you can and when you inhale your belly should get inflated and not your chest. This is because the latter is associated with anxious states and also because it does not fill your lungs with as much oxygen as the former does. Feel how your breath hits your nostrils. You’ll see that breathing deeply can give you a feeling of euphoria. Yes, that simple breath which we take for granted can make you euphoric better than any external agent.
Your mind will inevitably want to wander and this is something to be expected when you are a beginner at meditation. However you should try to stop pursuing your thoughts and to bring your attention back to your breathing. At first it will be like a battle between you and your mind but as you keep meditating it will get easier. Do NOT give up because you do not see results at the beginning. You may have to practice for a few weeks till you start to see results. I’ve found that meditating in darkness helps keeping my mind from wandering.
Some say you should use a timer to set a specific time interval for meditation. However I don’t see this as necessary. Meditate as long as you feel is needed for you at that moment, as long as it takes to calm down your mind and as long as you enjoy it. It may be 5 minutes or it may be a whole hour.
I recommend mediating at least twice a day. Once after you wake up and once in late evening. The first one helps you start your day focused and the latter helps you get a good night’s sleep. When meditating in the evening you can take it to the next level and actively prevent any thought from entering your mind in the first place. This is specially helpful for those who have insomnia, because they mistake the bed with a place for thinking. After working out is also a good time to meditate as your heart is racing and your stress hormone levels are high. You can even practice deep breathing while working out.
You may be thinking this is too much time to spend on meditation but what’s the alternative? Watching stupid TV shows? Wasting time on social media? Spending time daydreaming? You’ll see that meditation, working out and attending to your hobbies are likely the only “me times” you actually have.
As you progress you see that you can meditate anytime and anywhere. While taking a walk, when doing something boring, when taking a shower, while standing in a line, even when driving. You don’t close your eyes for such meditation though! Feel free to meditate in public places as well. I’ve found out it can help with social anxiety. It’s up to you weather you close your eyes or not.
In addition you can also meditate whenever you get emotional. Whether it is anxiety, hopelessness, dread, etc meditation is of great help. The important point, however, is that as you keep meditating you get into such emotional states less and less and you become more mindful…
This way meditation becomes a lifestyle which is called mindfulness. It means that you pay attention and appreciate what you are doing instead of worrying about the future or thinking about the past. Being in the moment ALL THE TIME. Not letting anything or anybody stealing your mind from you. As an example when eating a meal you chew it slowly and appreciate the taste and don’t worry about anything. This way you can avoid overeating as well.
Meditate to allow your mind find solutions for your problems
You need a direction for your life. You need to know where you’re heading and how you want to get there. Think of your mind as a farm on which crops such as ideas, solutions and strategies grow. A farm cannot yield crops if it is constantly subject to storms, pests and frosts. And that is what the devils mentioned earlier in this article do to your mind. They rob it of what it can produce.
I used to do this to myself did that A LOT. I spent so much time thinking about the past and little everyday happenings that I did not have enough time planning for the future. The result was that I was unprepared for what was lying ahead; I could not make progress in my career and in my life.
Again meditation is to rescue. It brings calm and quiet back to your mind. Meditation prevents you from fixating on one thing and helps you find alternative resources instead. It helps you remember what is more important for your well being and what deserves more of your attention. In other words it helps your muse to do her job.
I like to think of my muse as a slender woman (don’t ask me why) who is in charge of finding solutions to my problems and more importantly of finding resources and ways for me to get more out of life. For me to self actualize and prosper. She, however, needs peace and quiet to do her work. There are a lot of things I can do that would disturb her. Each time I get anxious or nervous, I can feel her shaking in distress. Each time I get angry or think negative thoughts I can feel her getting sick. Not getting enough sleep, eating junk food, worrying, drinking alcohol or taking stimulants in excess all disrupt my muse. And whenever I’m getting cheap entertainment (TV, social media, etc) she falls asleep.
Alternatively there are things that nurture your muse. Meditation and being mindful in general, not letting doubt, worries and fears getting into your mind, eating healthy and exercising your body all make your muse happy.
Let’s face it, most people’s muse is nearly dead. She’s been fed junk of all kinds (food, information, entertainment, etc) and her job has been disrupted by stress, not thinking, not being mindful, constantly being “entertained”. She eventually becomes morbidly obese and demented. That’s why most people go through their lives unhappy without really knowing what they are doing. You don’t want to be like that. You want to live and not just exist. As you keep meditating you notice that new ideas come to your mind. Ideas for solving your long standing problem, for you enjoy life more. You may start thinking about a business idea that you had back in the day, about traveling or even moving to far away places, of finding a vocation that suites you better, of picking up an instrument,….
So, keep meditating.
I started this article by quoting a song and I end it by recalling relevant scenes from a couple of movies to give you visual mnemonics for the topic of this article.
When various different things take up your attention, your mind and your soul become decentered and ultimately they get scattered into pieces. This can also happen when something devastating happens to you. When you start meditating, your scattered sould and your broken heart start to become whole and centered again. Just like in the famous seen in the Terminator II movie.
In a different way, when you meditate and your mind and body start to relax, you realize that the sources of sorrow, anxiety and threat are not with you anymore. You realize there is no saber tooth tiger chasing you in the wild. (Actually the source of anxiety is believed to be the ancient fear of early humans of predators. But guess what, there are not many predators left anymore.) You become like Neo in Matrix. You realize you can just say no to the dark thoughts and feelings, to the demons, and move on. There are more important and beneficial things you’ve got to do.
We go from birth to death.
Three out of ten follow life.
Three out of ten follow death.
People who rush from birth to death
Are also three out of ten.
Why is that so?
Because they want to make too much of life.
I have heard that the one who knows how to live
Can wander through the land
Without encountering the rhinoceros or the tiger.
He passes the battlefield
Without being struck by weapons.
In him, the rhinoceros finds no opening for its horn.
The tiger finds no opening for its claws.
The soldiers find no opening for their blades.
Why is that so?
Death has no place in him.
I know this may sound like nonsense to you at the beginning but with persistence in meditating and avoiding negativity you’ll start to see the light.
And then my friend, there will be no return to darkness.