Meditation Made Simple

Meditation has been showing remarkable effectiveness in the research studying its impact on anxiety, depression and trauma. This is meditation made simple, for you. A lot of people are turned off because they’ve heard about meditation as a part of a religious practice, but it’s actually a form of mental exercise. Meditating is simple, and, once you’re accustomed to it, most people find it pleasurable. There are many ways to meditate, but here are some simple instructions on one of the most popular meditation techniques.

– First, find a quiet place, preferably one you like, where you will be undisturbed.

– Make an agreement with yourself about how long you will meditate. 5 minutes? 20 minutes? An hour? Set your watch or clock where you can see it without difficulty, or, ideally, use one of the many great meditation timers that are available, that way you don’t have to keep an eye on the time. I have a lovely one that I downloaded to my iPhone, it’s called, “Zen Timer.”

– Sit comfortably. If it feels right to sit cross-legged like a lot of meditators do, fine, but lots of great meditation gets done sitting in a comfortable chair, too. It’s a good idea to sit up fairly straight, it helps you stay alert.

Okay, you’ve made a plan to meditate for a specific length of time, gotten to your meditation spot, and made yourself comfortable and ready to meditate.  You’ve just done the hardest part.

– Now, close your eyes, or gaze with half-open eyes at a non-distracting surface.

– Allow your mind to focus on the subtle sensation of the breath passing in and out of your nostrils. Some people count breaths, and that’s a particularly useful approach when you’re just learning to meditate. Count 5 breaths, and then go back to one and start counting again. When you find that your mind has wandered and you’ve lost count (notice that I said “when,” not “if”, because a wandering mind is all part of the experience), just start over from one.

– Don’t keep score. The whole point is that your mind WILL wander from the breath. When you notice that you’ve started planning your day or something, just say to yourself, “Thinking,” and start over again, counting the breaths passing in and out of your nostrils. One meditation teacher suggested thinking of it like training a puppy. When the puppy wanders off, you don’t scold the puppy, you gently pick it up by the scruff of its neck and plop it back on its spot.

Isn’t that ridiculously simple? You will find as you meditate that a lot of different emotions will arise, some of them very difficult to sit with. When you notice that is happening, guess what you do: return to the breath.

I haven’t known anyone who, if they stuck with meditating for a couple weeks or more, didn’t see a significant shift in their peace of mind, clarity, and relationships. It’s so simple, and it is so remarkably effective.

There are some wonderful places to receive highly skillful instruction on meditation in the Bay Area. I recommend the San Francisco Zen Center, or its facility located on a little farm in Marin, called Green Gulch. (www.sfzc.org) They have introductions for beginning meditators every week. If you go out to Green Gulch, plan to stay for a delicious, organic lunch prepared from their garden. To really kickstart your meditation, go on a retreat, a one-day, weekend or week-long time at the meditation center where you devote your time to meditating and receiving instructions on how to deepen your practice.

Dan Quinn, Psy.D.

I’m a licensed clinical psychologist who provides warm, down-to-earth, practical help with: relationship skills, assertiveness, conflict, anger management, anxiety, depression, trauma (PTSD), career counseling, couples counseling, autism spectrum, adult ADHD (ADD) and other psychological challenges.