When people think about meditation, they often have an image of someone sitting crossed-legged on a cushion on the floor, eyes closed, waiting for inner peace to wash over them.
After meditating for a few years I’ve come to realize that meditation isn’t about what happens when your eyes are closed, it’s about how you live your life. All of your life; both the messy parts that feel uncomfortable and painful as well as the joyous parts.
Meditation is about creating a new way of being. A way of being where you feel peaceful, grounded, healthy and tapped into a life force much greater than yourself. It’s about living your life from an expanded state of awareness in which you align your life with your deepest truths. It’s about connecting with who you are, what you value and what you need in order to flourish in all aspects of your life.
I was having supper with some girlfriends the other night as we celebrated International Women’ Day. We were talking about the number of people struggling with poor health, stress, sleeping problems, anxiety, depression, and feeling lost in their life. I thought to myself, “That is exactly why meditation and mindfulness practices are so essential these days.” It’s not about doing things differently it’s about being different in the midst of our busy and distracted lives.
How do meditation and mindfulness set the stage for you to be different? How can you make sense out of the endless information out there?
Countless practices arise from virtually every spiritual and religious tradition. Each practice has a different perspective. Meditation and mindfulness are related but they’re not the same thing. Some meditation practices are mindful and some mindfulness practices involve meditation, but not all meditations are mindfulness-based. Meditation, therefore, is the broad umbrella under which a variety of practices exist, including mindfulness.
For this reason, I avoid getting caught up in continuous academic debates and varying opinions surrounding definitions.
With meditation and mindfulness, it actually boils down to cultivating four ways of being that enable us to thrive in all aspects of our lives. It’s like we’re building a cake with four tiers. Each layer of the cake is a different flavour and so it has different ingredients. We start with the base layer and then build from there. When we look at our final cake, we don’t see the ingredients anymore. We only have the cake.
Let’s take a closer look at the four layers:
- The base of the cake is a simple meditation practice that enables us to develop concentration and focus. As we learn to settle our minds and create space for silence we give our bodies a deep state of rest. It enables us to shift out of survival mode into a restorative and nourishing way of being. Through this practice, we create an environment in our body that promotes health and healing. We are cultivating the ability to be resilient from the inside out. In other words, we don’t wait for external circumstances to be “just so” before we thrive in our lives. (Download this 5-minute meditation and quick guide to get you started.)
- As our minds and bodies become settled, we develop the ability to pay attention without judgment to each moment. This enables us to become aware of our surroundings, thoughts, feelings and the subtleties of our bodies in order to gain insight and make wise choices. We develop increased awareness of our lives as they’re unfolding and we do this in a way that is accepting rather than judgmental of what is arising. This is all about learning to live in the moment with less focus on the past and future. We learn how to be accepting of what is arising in our lives which makes us more peaceful.
- Next, we add a layer in which we cultivate life-affirming qualities such as self-compassion, loving-kindness, gratitude, and forgiveness towards our selves and others. As we increase these expansive feelings and emotions we minimize the emotions that are reflective of our small sense of self. Emotions like anger, resentment, guilt, jealousy, sadness, and bitterness are replaced with joy, contentment, fulfillment, and gratitude. We learn the principles that enable us to attract more expansive emotions and ways of being.
- Lastly, we develop a connection with an intelligent life force that flows through us and for which we are a part in order to manifest a life that aligns with our highest truths. We tune in to the ways in which this intelligent life force speaks to us and we enter into the flow of intuition, creativity, coincidences and synchronistic events. We use this information to guide our lives and it becomes our inner compass. As we align our outer lives with our inner knowing we begin to thrive in our relationships, vocations, and health.
Where are you in your cake-building?