Meditation can be defined as the practice of noticing when the
mind wanders. Or, more precisely, meditation can be defined as
the practice of being aware of when the mind moves off a chosen
point of focus.
The chosen point of focus can be called the anchor-the anchor
of the meditation.
Some possible anchors are breath, sounds, sensations in the
body, what you see with the eyes closed, a prayer, affirmation,
What the anchors have in common is they are all things that are
happening all the time. And if something is happening all the
time, it is happening now. It is a present moment experience.
So meditation is the practice of being aware of when the mind
moves off a chosen point of focus, or another way of saying
that, is that meditation is the practice of being aware of when
the mind moves out of the present. When the mind moves out of
the present and you notice that, you come back to the present by
coming back to the anchor.
The most important idea to remember when meditation is this:
how long you stay on your anchor in between wanderings off the
mind and overall during the course of the meditation is not
important. You are still going to get the benefits of
meditation, simply by having an anchor and having an intention
to come back to the anchor, when you notice that you are off it.
For some people, this is a difficult idea to take in because
for most activities you learn how to do them and then the next
questions are “How do I get good at this?”, “How do I do this
right?”, “How do I achieve in this activity?”
But meditation is a different type of activity, it is not about
doing, it is about non-doing. It is not about achieving, it is
about non-achieving, it is not about results, it is about
process, it is not a performance.
So when we meditate, we choose an anchor and we make an
intention to come back to the anchor when we notice that we are
off it. We try to stay focused on our anchor but without any
attachment to how long we actually do, and we try to notice
quickly when we are off the anchor but without any attachment to
how quickly we notice. When we happen to notice we are off our
anchor, we gently come back. And it is through this process and
this mindset that we are going to get the benefits of meditation.
Some benefits of meditation are relaxation, stress reduction,
improved decision-making and increased appreciation for life.
Let’s see how meditation can help with stress reduction. When
we meditate we focus on process and not results. Whenever we do
that in our life, focus on process and not results, we are going
to bring down our stress in whatever we are doing, because we
are focusing on what we can largely control: what we are doing
in that moment in front of us. Instead of what we largely cannot
control: the results of any activity or what others might say
about what we have done.
So when we meditate, we choose an anchor and make an intention
to come back to the anchor when we notice that we are off it.
The process is all in our heads. No one else knows what we are
thinking about and no one else cares. It is our own private and
personal experience. In that environment, can we practice giving
ourselves a break, can we practice taking the pressure off.
And for some people, this is very difficult. So even knowing
the ground rules going in, they’ll start to meditate, notice
they are off their anchor, and then start having thoughts like
“Oh, my god, I am off my anchor, I don’t know how long I have
been off my anchor, I don’t know how to concentrate, I must be
doing this wrong.” Those are normal thoughts to have when you
first start meditating. All you do, is notice that you are
having those thoughts and then come back to the process, come
back to the practice, come back to the present, by coming back
to the anchor.
In this way, you can make the meditation practice itself a very
low stress or non-stress experience because you are not trying
to do or achieve anything. Then you take that philosophy out
into your life where you choose. Applying the principle of
meditation of focusing on process and not results into your life
is called the practice of mindfulness.
For example, let’s say you are swimming in a pool. You can
either be having continuous thoughts like “am I going as fast as
I normally go, I am burning enough calories, is there chorine
getting in my hair, am I going to be late for my next
appointment.” Or you can notice that you are having those
thoughts, and then come back to the process of swimming itself,
focusing on your arms and legs moving in the water, focus on
your breathing in the water.
Again, whenever you do this, focus on process and not results,
you are going to bring down the stress in whatever you are
doing. Meditation gives us an opportunity to practice and
experience this philosophy.
This article is adapted from Gary Halperin’s new book Feel Better Now: Meditation for Stress Reduction and Relaxation.
Gary Halperin is a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher and
Meditation Teacher and has been teaching yoga and meditation
since 1994. Gary was the Spa Director at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina
and the Spa Programs Director at the Coolfont Resort in Berkeley
Springs, West Virginia. He was a resident, practicing a yogic
lifestyle, at the Kripalu Center
Ashram in Lenox, Massachusettes for 3 years. He graduated from
Amherst College and served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican