As with most things in life, consistently living in a more mindful way requires some effort, practice, and knowledge of the tools available to you—in this case those tools are mindful meditation techniques.
More on that in a minute though…
The importance of fundamentals
When I was a kid, I took the Gatorade commercials to heart and, at least in terms of basketball, wanted to “Be Like Mike”. (Bonus: a more extended cut for your viewing pleasure).
Michael Jordan was an amazing basketball player, he could basically fly, and had a smooth flow to his game that was both mesmerizing and inspiring. The connection between what his mind wanted and the performance he willed from his body was very clear.
This isn’t a story about Michael Jordan and the ways he inspired me beyond basketball though, nor is it a story about me and my experiences with the game of basketball.
This is a story about another basketball player, a guy named Pete Maravich.
While pursuing my basketball dreams, someone shared the story of “Pistol” Pete with me.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich was a phenomenal basketball player, though he played with a different style and is less known to the world today than Michael Jordan.
As a kid, Pete Maravich carried a basketball everywhere he went. He practiced dribbling as he walked along the railroad heading to and from school. He carried the ball in his school hallways and classrooms. Basically, similar to Mary and her little lamb, everywhere that Maravich went his basketball was sure to go.
Without fail, Maravich could be found practicing the ball handling drills that today’s middle school coaches still struggle getting wild and energetic youths to pay attention to.
In many ways, the basketball story of Pistol Pete boils down to how dedicated practice of the fundamentals lead to an untouchable style of play and records that are still in place today.
For example, he’s the all-time leading NCAA Division I scorer with 3,667 points scored and an average of 44.2 points per game. All of which he achieved prior to the three-point line and shot clock being introduced, and despite his being unable to play varsity as a freshman under the NCAA rules that were in place at that time. – Wikipedia)
Maravich’s practice of the fundamentals, not some inborn physical gift, gave him skills allowing him to excel and become untouchable in numerous respects on the basketball court.
(Affiliate link to the his story on Amazon if you’re interested—this is the first one I read as a kid: Pistol: A Biography of Pete Maravich. Or, if you’re interested in learning about a more recent basketball player story that parallels Pete Maravich’s in some ways, take a look at Steve Nash.)
Far beyond basketball though, the moral of this story about the dedicated practice of the fundamentals provides an excellent lesson in the power of knowing, understanding, and using the basics.
A fundamental tool for mindful living
So, supposing the scientifically backed powers of mindfulness, and the amazing stories about mindfulness changing lives provide enough evidence that ‘being’ can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life, the question of how to be more mindful arises.
Much like in basketball—or really, any other activity—consistent practice takes your mindfulness and well-being skills to the next level.
Learning basic meditation techniques, gives you tools for finding happiness, clarity and other positive states in both easy and tough times.
When you practice mindful meditation and other mindful techniques, you get tools allowing you to be more present and engaged in life’s great moments. Equally, you’ll have a powerful device for understanding, dealing with, and better appreciating the difficult times in life.
As touched on in “Mind full? Get Mindful.” and seen in the BigSkyRise : Newsletter there are many ways to start living mindfully. Mindful meditation practices and the aforementioned approaches make up core components of the “mindful fundamentals”.
Practicing these mindful fundamentals is fairly simple once a good starting point is found, and any inaccurate perceptions and myths are cleared away—and with meditation there are myths aplenty.
The many myths of meditation
Just like with mindfulness itself, there are many myths associated with meditation and the practice of various techniques for cultivating mindfulness.
Myth: There is only one kind… (or how meditation is really a bit like apples)
Just like there are many kinds of apples, some used for cooking, some for snacking, some for drinking, and some for pies, meditation comes in many varieties. In much the same way apple varieties have different uses, the various types of meditation all have different methods and goals.
Being aware of the existence of many types of meditation allows you to better select a practice that will more precisely fit you and your needs.
In the case of cultivating greater mindfulness, it’s good to look to mindful meditation techniques.
Myth: Meditation is only for religious or spiritual people, or people that are different…
Along with meditation coming in many forms, meditation exists for people of all backgrounds and beliefs.
You don’t need to be Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, spiritual, religious, a hippy, a yoga practitioner, or anything else to meditate and to benefit from it.
There is no requirement to join some type of group, hold a specific religious belief, or follow some doctrine.
You are free to be who you are.
Myth: Meditation means getting up in the morning and sitting cross legged for hours on end…
A very common set of misconceptions about meditation is that it requires a specific posture, takes a lot of time, and can only be done at a certain time of day, usually morning.
The seed of truth is that there are people who do approach it this way, and doing so has some benefits.
Other options exist though, and especially when starting out that approach isn’t necessary.
In terms of the length of time that meditation needs to be done, there is a Zen proverb that goes something like, “you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” and it’s probably pretty spot on.
For everyday living though, one minute or ten minutes, of meditation is better than no meditation, and meditating for a short amount of time daily has more lasting effects than doing a marathon session and then not doing it at all.
The time of day:
The same general rule applies to meditating at a specific time of day, meditating at any time of day is better than not at all.
There are some benefits to meditating in the morning, such as having a bit more energy to apply to your practice, slightly less going on in terms of distracting thoughts, and also being able to apply your mindful practice throughout the rest of the day.
In comparison there are also benefits to meditating in the middle of the day. Doing so, gives you a chance to refresh and reset your perspective from your morning activities and carry a different energy into the rest of the day.
Much in the same way, meditating at night has some benefits too. It can help you let go of the troubles, struggles and thoughts from the day, perhaps even helping you get a better night’s sleep.
Myth: It’s only possible to meditate in a serene, remote location
While meditating in a serene, quite and remote location can greatly improve the meditation experience, and can be relaxing in its own right, it certainly isn’t necessary.
Sometimes, a less-than-ideal meditation environment can provide additional elements to work with in your meditation.
In fact, there are even meditation techniques designed specifically for situations like commuting via bus or subway, or while walking in a crowded city. (Checkout Headspace for some of their “On the Go” meditations.)
Additionally, while there are times that the environment can be challenging to work with, as can be heard above in the recording from the environment I was in this morning, simply taking the time to meditate is enough to be beneficial.
Going beyond the myths
The number of myths regarding meditation are numerous and there are nearly as many articles addressing those myths as there are myths themselves.
Mindful.org’s overview of 5 top mindfulness meditation myths and this article by Charles Francis about 10 misconceptions of mindfulness meditation are quick and worthwhile reads. This nice visual walkthrough aimed at the intelligently skeptical, is also worth checking out: The Skeptic’s Guide to Meditation.
The quickest way to go beyond the myths of meditation comes from Andy Puddicombe:
Forget any ideas of what you think meditation is, or isn’t, and instead just sit with the mind exactly as it is. #thatsheadspace
— Andy Puddicombe (@andypuddicombe) February 22, 2016
//— Point of personal trivia: This is the point where I was interrupted by my appendix doing a rather emphatic “explosion imminent” warning… —//
Ready. Set. Meditate. …but how to start?
When you’re ready to get into the game of mindful living, and start practicing mindful fundamentals and meditation techniques, the question of “how do I start?” often arises.
The great news… you’ve already taken the first steps by deciding you want to meditate, and by clearing some of the myths about meditation from your perception.
Beyond that, it’s almost as simple as:
- Notice your breath.
- Notice when you get distracted by thoughts, emotions and feelings.
- Acknowledge and let go of those thoughts, emotions and feelings and notice your breath.
To get the most long-term gain from it, there are some useful tips and tools to know about.
A key for starting and sticking to it
One key when engaging longer-term with a meditation technique is to find one that works for you, your personality, and where you currently are in life.
Some people will gravitate towards a more formal approach, while others a looser, more free-flowing approach.
The idea is to try something for a while to see how it works for you. If it works, stick with it. If not, explore another approach and give it a try.
Sitting cross-legged might prove the best fit. Or, perhaps a walking-style meditation, which is often nice for kinesthetic learners, works best. Perhaps though, something else altogether will be more compelling.
The important part when starting out is simply starting.
Find what works for you now and that will allow you to develop a longer-term habit and relationship with meditation.
After that, you can always revisit the nuances and benefits other meditation techniques hold.
Simple, quick tips
- Start small and take it slow — Aim for 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes a day, or whatever is easily achievable for you to do each day.
- Approach without expectations — Let go of the thoughts about how meditating will or won’t change your life, how it will or won’t feel, and any other expectations that exist each time you meditate.
- Be curious — Approach each meditation like it is your first time doing it, and be curious about what is there.
- Let go of judgement — Each session, and each moment, is unique, there is no better or worse. There is only what is. Keeping judgement out of it makes it is easier to let go. In the same sense, if you miss a day, don’t worry about it, just start again today.
- Let it happen naturally — There is no need to force anything. In a sense, you are there just to observe, to know the breath, the thoughts, the emotions, and other such things that are going through your mind. Watch them and let them pass, don’t resist or try to push them away. In the same sense, if something doesn’t feel right, take a break.
- Don’t try, simply be.
Is there an app for that?
There are a large number of apps and tools available for a wide variety of meditation techniques and experience levels.
While it certainly isn’t necessary to use an app on your phone or computer, it can be a helpful tool in cultivating a long term practice and in providing a simple starting point.
The best app or tool is the one that resonates most with you, so it is worth exploring if the first one(s) you try just don’t click.
My personal favorite, and most frequently used tool, is Headspace. The Take 10 intro series—which is free—provides an excellent starting point for discovering meditation. It also works as a nice refresher even for when you are already familiar with meditation. It’s possible to repeat the series in an ongoing way, and I’ve come across people online who do just that.
One added bonus with Headspace is that it comes in mobile app and web form, so whether you are on your phone or on your computer, taking a few minutes is easy.
These other free or freemium guided meditation apps I’ve tried are worth exploring as well:
Have experience with any other great apps or tools for mindful meditation? Please, share in the comments below.
How about some how-to’s and exercises
Similar to the large number of apps around, there is an enormously long list of articles and how-to guides for getting started with meditation.
Here are a few good ones to check out.
This video introduction from Sharon Salzberg and ABC’s Dan Harris is worth a watch and provides a quick, easy to get into introduction and perhaps you’ll catch yourself meditating before you know it.
Alfred James’ Pocket Mindfulness blog has a good walkthrough touching on some of the difficulties and concerns that can arise during mindful meditation, and it is well worth the quick read.
This how-to guide on mindfulness meditation from James Doty, a Stanford neurosurgeon provides a nice overview of the process of mindful meditation, and in a sense, more importantly, touches on the profound impacts that can come from this practice.
Time to start practicing those fundamentals
While there is no steadfast rule stating one must meditate to live mindfully, it certainly helps. When done consistently, meditating pays off in amazing ways. It allows for greater enjoyment of the good times and provides a tool understanding, and even appreciating the tough times.
In the same way Pete Maravich practiced fundamentals to build an incredible basketball ability, practicing mindful meditation techniques allows for elevating our awareness and ability to live mindfully.
So, go out, explore, give it a shot and share your experiences in the comments below.
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Mindful meditation techniques are fundamental tools which form a great means for cultivating a more mindful life. Getting past the many myths of meditation, understanding some simple tips, and approaching mindful meditation in an open way leads to substantial benefits. These benefits are well worth the minimal effort and time it takes to find and practice a personally suitable technique.
Fellow Journeyer @ BigSkyRise
This post and BigSkyRise are about making lives better, so please considering sharing with someone you care about. The more people living happily, the more wonderful the world will be.
(Update 2016-04-11 : Fixed the broken share links above. Sorry about that, and thank you to the kind reader who pointed it out.)