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Consider exploration. If you stand outside a beautiful forest and think you want to know more about that gorgeous forest by exploring it, by experiencing it, you must move toward it. You’ll need to enter the forest and travel through it. Moving in a straight-line course will show you many interesting things about the forest, but you might choose to move in expanding or contracting circles, traveling around the center of the trees.  Perhaps you wander without a plan. Nonetheless, you’re exploring the forest, encountering the plants growing there, what the soil is like, the smells, the taste of the air itself. You also hear and see the inhabitants of the forest. There’s a lot more to it than what you see standing apart from it. If you had always been inside the forest and never left it, you’d not have the perspective of distance, either. You can now integrate the outside appearance and inner experience of the forest.

Of course, this forest is metaphorical. Human beings are both inside and outside themselves all the time.  As teenagers, we develop the “imagined audience,” that illusory feeling of being watched, of being on state all the time. As we get older, we do develop a real audience: our work colleagues, friends, supervisors, you name it. It can become tough to know whether we do what we do to please that audience or to please ourselves.  Knowing ourselves becomes difficult. However, exploring ourselves is harder than picking a direction and moving toward it. How do we imagine ourselves to be? If we are both inside ourselves, yet influenced by the ongoing nattering of the outside world, how do we get inside our own heads, and if we do manage it, how do we examine ourselves? How do we experience ourselves? How can we learn to stand apart from who we are while learning to celebrate the best in ourselves?

Meditation and mindful awareness are the two premier tools for doing just this kind of exploration.  They are reasonably simple skills that can be learned in a single week or even less, a little bit every day, yet keep unfolding and providing benefits for an entire lifetime. Those benefits increase the more you practice mindfulness and meditation, but they become apparent almost immediately. Still, many people confuse meditation with religious practices or formalized worship. It’s not. It can certainly be used in those cases, but practicing meditation only identifies you as a person interested in your good health—mind, body, and spirit.

While there are numerous schools of thought and practice on meditation, speaking broadly, it’s a state of relaxed, nonjudgmental focus.  The focus in mediation is never on your problems. That sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? If we’re not thinking about our problems or our stresses, how can we fix them? Most of us over-focus on problems. We fixate on them to the point where simply thinking about the problem feels like we’re actively working on solving it. Worry and obsession don’t cure any ills of any sort. Merely thinking about a problem doesn’t cure its ills. So how does not thinking about it work? It's important to note too, that meditation is not a way to learn to ignore problems.

At the beginning level of meditation, you need to find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed at all. No rings from a phone of any sort. No beeps, chimes, or ringtones. No pets (or kids) demanding your attention. If you’re thinking that carving out such a spot even for five minutes would be hard or next to impossible, then stay right here. You’re the person who needs meditation most of all! In fact, in beginning meditation, we only spend about five minutes in the process.   

Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Find a comfortable place where you will feel sage to close your eyes. No distractions right now. No music at this point. Get accustomed to silence. Silence can be your best friend.
  2. You can meditate sitting down, standing up, it’s your choice, but at this point, I recommend sitting down. Maintain a posture where deep and comfortable breathing is going to be easy. 
  3. Breath in, slowly, deeply, to a count of three. Hold that breath for a count of two, then exhale for a count of three. In a very little time, you’ll find your own breathing rhythm that works for you. 
  4. Even with your eyes closed or half closed, bring your attention inward to yourself. What are the physical sensations moving or staying in place throughout your body? Does any part of your body feel tight or sore? Oh, and keep breathing, slowly in, a brief hold, then slowly out. 
  5.  Your mind, probably as noisy as is common for all of us, will throw in thoughts, attempting to get these thoughts to the forefront of your mind. Let those thoughts arise, but don’t chase them down. Think of bubbles that arise in the sea. When they hit the surface, they dissolve. These are your thoughts. Are your dissolving these thoughts once and for all? Of course not. In fact, you’re meditating on them, but not thinking about them. Many thoughts are not deep at all! They’re waves, swelling and falling in your mind, carrying your spirit and physical responses within them. In time, we’ll learn how to still these.  
  6. As you meditate, if you chase a thought, if you get lost in fear, draw yourself back in. You’re safe, you’re in a quiet place, and you’re breathing. Later, I’ll discuss why feeling safe is such an important issue. Never chastise yourself for chasing thoughts. It happens, it happens to everyone. Simply draw inward and go back to observing. 
  7.  As thoughts rise up, feelings will too. You may be suddenly sad or disturbed by something, and the feeling may arise with great clarity. Often, a sudden memory of something that must be done will arise. Allow it to rise, don’t try to shove it to the surface. Notice it as it rises upward and without you struggling with it. Let your impulse act, and dissolve away. That’s, of course, symbolic, but our thoughts, our chaotic minds, are so driven to act, that even the most focused people find themselves on so many missions to accomplish things, they end up with a head and heart full of confusion. In fact, meditation may be considered a way of developing a caring, and comforting observer inside of you. This “observer” is not a secondary personality, but it’s a learned ability to step back from the surface of your feelings, a learned ability to disengage from being constantly reactive. 
  8.  Emergence from meditation needs to take several seconds. You’ve been delving deeper than the noisy upper layers of consciousness. You don’t have to turn them back on; they’ll return on their own. Again, draw your attention to your surroundings. Take a slightly deeper breath—a count of 4, and on releasing it, opening your eyes.

The process in its entirety can take five minutes. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” amount of time for a meditative trance, but I find 30 minutes or so to be ideal for me. The above is just an overview, a slice of what we’ll be working with here. Our goal is helping you develop an empowered, and inspired life that also strengthens you to become more capable of dealing with life’s daily issues without having to invest so much of your energy is solving such details.

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