Before going into the secrets of meditation it’s probably best to make clear first what kind of meditation practice we're referring to here on Anxiety Unravelled.
There are numerous wonderful meditation practices that can bring you benefit – many of these involve some form of visualisation, contemplation or concentration and, like all meditation techniques, they have great value in training the mind and helping you to become aware of your thoughts. These are important skills to develop when trying to reduce anxiety problems.
But the simplest, most satisfying meditation of all is when you can allow the activity of the mind to settle – usually either through a breathing meditation, a sound meditation, or simply becoming aware of the space between thoughts.
The trouble is, most people find this really difficult and give up, feeling like they just can’t do it. Once you learn the basic secrets of meditation of this kind though, it becomes very straightforward, very effective and the easiest meditation method of all.
Just as the more you ‘try’ to get to sleep or worry about getting to sleep the more elusive sleep becomes, the same can be said of trying to quieten the mind. You can only put yourself in a situation conducive to sleep or meditation and allow them to occur, without effort.
Mental activity and physiological activity are closely linked. The more active your mind becomes the more active your physiology becomes. This is one of the most important secrets of meditation. As the mind becomes quieter, or as thoughts become less clear or defined, the physiology of the body will begin to settle. In other words a settled mind = a settled body = a settled mind.
Most people will have had direct experience of this at some stage when trying to get to sleep for instance - the more active the mind, the more we tend to toss and turn and the more sleep eludes us. When at last thinking starts to settle we may finally drift off into sleep.
As you sit to meditate, using your technique without force, the mind will at some stage start to settle. When this happens, the physiological activity in the body also begins to settle and you can experience some deep rest.
Now, the part many people don’t realise is this - as rest gives your body an opportunity to unwind stress, this will naturally lead to an increase in physiological activity as some stress release occurs. Of course, this inevitably leads to an increase in mental activity, as we now know that when the physiology is more active the mind tends to be also and vice versa.
One of the greatest secrets of meditation is knowing that this is when the mind then comes out into thought and that this is quite natural.
Once you realise that you are thinking, if you very gently go back to your meditation technique the cycle will start again. The following illustrates the cycle that may repeat itself many times in any one meditation sitting.
You can see that mental activity is an inevitable and important part of the meditation process. Unless you lead an entirely stress-free life the mind has to come out into thought at some stage whenever you sit to meditate because it occurs whenever stress starts to unwind. The body’s own intelligence will organise the timing and speed of this stress release.
If you have expectations of meditation, if you try to push away thought or hold onto an experience or force the technique, effort is introduced into the practice and this has the effect of preventing the mind from settling.
The settling process will happen at its own pace if you just take each meditation as it comes and allow that whatever experience occurs, whether it is a quiet or a ‘busy’ meditation, it is okay. You are not trying to relax or to have some experience. You are simply practising the technique, without judgement, and taking it as it comes.
The effect of a meditation practice accumulates over time and it is how you feel after meditation that is more important than your experience during the practice. You may feel that your meditation is always 'busy' with lots of thought (this just means you're unwinding lots of stress) but if you look carefully you will find that, little by little, you handle day to day life more calmly.
As we know that a settled body = a settled mind, check out 23 lifestyle tips. These tips are useful for everyone that is feeling unsettled, not just the anxious. The more settled your body is the more you will get from your meditation practice. As an extreme example, look at it this way - if you are full of Coca-Cola or coffee for instance, you are unlikely to be able to sit comfortably in meditation. There are many other more subtle influences in our everyday lives that will have a similar effect, for example different foods, different experiences, different environments, these will all affect how you're feeling at any moment in time.
The more you are able to really understand and take on board these 'secrets of meditation' the more benefit you will receive from these simple meditation practices.