To “meditate” simply means to think.
It’s the term most often used to describe any practice that allows us to monitor, observe, or detach from our thoughts. And in our “always on” 21st-century technotopia (I just made that word up, like it?), the health benefits of using meditation to “switch off,”even for a moment, make it seem like a no-brainer. Less stress, better sleep, improved cognitive function—yes please! If only it weren’t so darned difficult to sit and actually do it.
It’s been seven years since I first experienced meditation in a private session with Andy Puddicombe, founder of then fledgling meditation app Headspace (which has since been downloaded millions of times). At the time, I was so high-strung on a combo of work stress, lack of sleep, and caffeine, as soon as my mind began to quiet, I almost had a panic attack.
Which is not the reason it took me until last year, despite having gone on to create conscious lifestyle platform The Numinous, to find a regular meditation practice. I took classes, used apps, experienced mass meditations at festivals. Nothing stuck. Until finally, I found my “zen” with TM, or Transcendental Meditation. And yes, modern life feels infinitely more manageable for it!
It’s a journey I write about in the chapter “Highly Meditated” from my upcoming book, Material Girl, Mystical World. Below is an excerpt from the chapter.
. . . . .
You might have heard the saying, there’s no right way to meditate. Which essentially speaks to the fact that, as with yoga, different styles of approaches to meditation work for different people.
My friend Ellie Burrows, founder of NYC meditation studio MNDFL, thinks the reason so many of us have a problem maintaining a regular practice is that too many of us are trying to meditate like Buddhist monks—who spend years meditating for hours every day with the ultimate aim of achieving nirvana, a.k.a. transcendence from the human experience of suffering. It is in this state of integration with pure spirit, say the monks, that we’re able to full-on communicate with God (the Universe, Source, oneness consciousness, etc.). And that the way to get there is by removing all earthly thoughts from our heads—or at least detaching from them so thoroughly we no longer notice they’re there.
There’s a name for this approach: Focused Attention, which involves actively monitoring every single thought that pops into your head and kindly (these are Buddhists, after all) asking it to retreat. Or else simply disregarding it by remaining focused on the breath. Anybody who’s tried this will know that it is extremely difficult. Not least because the mind (well, my mind at least), tends to go: Aha, a thought! Ignore it and go back to the breath . . . Oh . . . wait . . . now I’m thinking about ignoring that thought . . . And so on.
While emptying the mind of all thoughts with the view to creating a clear channel to God is a very noble pursuit, it’s not actually what little old me, a Material Girl still going about my daily business in the Material World, is really in this for. Yes, I want to feel connected to my higher Self, but mainly so I can make better choices and have a better time here in the earthly dimensions.
Enter Mindfulness meditation, or Open Monitoring inking. This approach is slightly less intense, since the aim is to simply become aware of and observe the thoughts as they come and go, without actively trying to make them go away. Because this is far easier than maintaining full-on Focused Attention, Mindfulness meditation has become way popular. But still, the degree of effort involved in mindfully monitoring my thoughts is still enough of a deterrent to doing it daily. It’s also not exactly fun—kind of like being monitor in a kids’ playground in charge of keeping a lid on the action.
For about five years or so I dipped in and out of the above techniques, all the while telling myself this was enough. Plus the fact that even what I was doing seemed to be having an effect. After experiencing life (a.k.a. my thoughts) from the perspective of my higher Self firsthand, I naturally found myself stepping back to observe the contents of my head all the time—particularly in stressful situations. Instead of getting carried away on a fast train to anxietyville, the internal conversation would go: Oh look, anxiety. Who invited you? I was less reactive and undoubtedly more connected to my sense of self. Overall, I felt I could give myself a pat on the back for embracing meditation at all.
But then I discovered Transcendental Meditation, or TM, and everything fell into place.
Want more? Click here to for more information on Ruby’s book, Material Girl, Mystical World. As a special gift, Ruby is offering an exclusive pre-order package including:
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Ruby Warrington is a British journalist, consultant and entrepreneur, currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Formerly Features Editor on the UK Sunday Times Style magazine, in 2013 she launched The Numinous, a conscious lifestyle platform that bridges the gap between the mystical and the mainstream. Ruby works regularly with brands on a consultancy basis, while her writing features in publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Her first book, Material Girl Mystical World, is out with Harper Collins in May 2017. Meanwhile, other projects include “sober curious” event series Club SÖDA NYC, and Moon Club, a monthly mentoring program for spiritual activists.