Meditate on This

Our daily lives can be busy, chaotic, pressured and stressful. The rigors of work, home and everywhere we go in between wears us on, challenges our performance, tests our patience, taxes our relationships and affects our health and well-being.

Many of us are searching for ways to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and calm down enough to regain our emotional and physical footing. Some people exercise, run or walk; others eat, read, nap, pray or chat with friends and family. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves, focus and truly be present in the moment – is a useful tool for regaining control of our live. And this goal can be achieved successfully, in part, through meditation.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require special gear, clothes or equipment. Spending even a few minutes in meditation daily can help restore our calm and inner peace.

But meditation isn’t a quick fix, like popping a pill, grabbing a cocktail or hitting the gym. It is an ancient practice that helps us live more consciously and frees us from habits, dependencies and activities that we cling to because they’re comfortable and seemingly help us avoid adversity.

“There is peace and harmony in all of us, just as there is joy and sadness. But we’re so preoccupied trying to preserve temporary happiness and run from aversion that we end up getting caught up in an endless cycle of suffering,” explains Bo Gak Sunim, an ordained Buddhist monk and director of Zenfriend, a spiritual guidance and support practice offering meditation instruction, Zen teachings and training.

Sunim draws an analogy between what he calls “mental hygiene” and dental hygiene, explaining that we brush and floss our teeth upon waking and before going to bed as normal routines to prevent tooth and gum decay and bad breath. But we don’t think about practicing mind health in a similar, daily fashion.

Like any other aspect of our long-term health and wellness, meditation is most effective when you establish a regular, formal daily practice, Sunim says. He recommends meditating for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. When meditating, people should sit silently and still on a cushion or chair, focus on their breathing and concentrate on being totally present with each inhalation and exhalation. That includes letting thoughts about your day, places you like, people you know, problems at work or even happy occasions, activities or events to simply come and go.

Meditation is the practice of training the mind to be free from thoughts and feelings of craving and aversion in order to live a more responsive and less reactive life — for oneself and, ultimately, for others. Working with our minds, he stresses, helps us relax enough to see and understand more clearly the anxieties and worries that plague us consciously or unconsciously throughout the day, and provides a responsible and sustainable method for reducing stress.

That’s also because we don’t just finish meditating and then go about our business, Sunim explains. Instead, as we move into our day we need to continue focusing on our breathing, watching our minds, and paying attention to how we constantly make judgments about people, situations and ourselves. It’s clearly healthier, he explains, when we learn to stop telling ourselves stories or denying truths to rationalize unskillful behavior, or act out in ways that help us avoid or deflect conflict or unresolved pain.

“Think of the practice of meditation as a ‘speed bump,’ for the mind,” Sunim says. “By carrying forward mindfulness throughout our day, we slow down.  Instead of suppressing aversion or reacting defensively, we face situations proactively by responding with wisdom, compassion and objectivity.” Practicing this way, he suggests, allows us to catch ourselves, and consciously “reset” so all our daily challenges becomes less onerous.

But, he cautions, we don’t achieve this level of benefit from simply attending a retreat or a class or reading a book. Sunim compares improving mental hygiene to losing weight — we didn’t get heavy (or stressed) overnight, and we won’t free ourselves from what he refers to as ingrained “habit energies” overnight, either.

For anyone interested in learning how to practice meditation, Sunim offers the following tips:

  • Seek a qualified meditation training center. Whether secular or religious, it’s important to work with meditation teachers who can provide specific reference points and useful guidance and instruction. Taking classes with other students also offers access to a valuable community of support and to related holistic and natural practices.
  • Make a commitment to focus on your overall mental hygiene. Try and establish a standard time or times each day to meditate, and don’t deviate from your practice time, as possible. Even if you can only afford 15 minutes a day, carve out that time faithfully and devote yourself to your practice.
  • Carry mindfulness forward throughout your day. The benefits of meditation don’t stop when you stand up and get on with your day. Get in touch with your breathing throughout the day, and observe things and people around you in greater detail, and from a less judgmental view. These actions help slow you down and regain perspective, especially when facing obstacles, challenges or problems.
  • Don’t create unreasonable expectations. Learning to meditate effectively and reaping the rewards that accompany sound mental hygiene take time. If you eliminate expectations, such as how quickly you’ll “see results” or “feel differently,” you’ll benefit more from your practice. This isn’t a quick fix – changing behaviors and establishing a strong regimen of mind training takes time and commitment.
  • Select a teacher you can grow with. There are many people who can help teach us to meditate. But like other coaches, teachers, doctors and associates in our lives, we each have unique needs and learn at different paces. In time you will change and meditation may lead you to other questions about yourself, issues and the world around you. Then you will need a teacher who is versed, trained, intuitive and a good fit for your personal growth.

Integrate meditation and mindfulness practice into your life in a way that is natural and in harmony with your daily schedule. What matters most is that you begin today by taking the initiative to free your mind from stress, and to live life with greater wisdom, compassion and contentment.


 

Bo Gak Sunim is an ordained Buddhist monk practicing in the Korean Zen tradition, and director of Zenfriend, a spiritual guidance and support practice offering meditation instruction, zen teachings and training. For more information contact him at: bogaksunim@gmail.com

 

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