I first learned to live in ‘consciousness’ on September 2, 2013. It was on that day that I begrudgingly agreed to attend a Buddhist chanting session in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. I did not want to go because I lacked any knowledge of Buddhist philosophy. Also, the idea of chanting with strangers meant that I had to step completely outside of my ego’s comfort zone and into the unknown.
While I enjoyed the community updates shared during the first half of the meeting, I was still not looking forward to the chanting as the updates concluded. The group then chanted a well-known Buddhist verse in unison for the last 15 minutes of the meeting. I had not expected much from such a simple exercise, but as I walked out onto the streets of Georgetown, I realized my consciousness had been completely altered. All of my senses had been heightened: colors appeared more vivid and I felt I could smell the food in restaurants that were blocks away and hear the sound of cars approaching from a distance.
It was clear at that moment—after 29 years of living and only 15 minutes of chanting—that I had emptied my mind of the noise (the flood of thoughts) that had been distracting me, and distracts almost all of us, from the beauty of the present moment.
Focus on the Present Moment
We can transform our lives in a single moment by changing the focus of our minds. Consumed by regrets about the past and worries about the future, we are left with little time to concentrate on the present moment.
When we fail to focus on the present moment, we lose the key to improving ourselves. And, when we do not manage to improve ourselves, we suffer.
The present moment is the only time that we will ever have to make the decisions that will transform our lives. One minute, hour, day, week, month, year, decade from now, we will still only be in the present moment.
It is in the present moment that we can finally begin to hear the whisper of our heart, guiding us towards our true purpose. The same purpose that our ego wants to scare us away from pursuing due to its fear of the unknown.
Through meditation and the practice of mindfulness, I learned how to arrive at a place of stillness and shine the light of awareness on the distractions preventing me from living a purposeful life.
Beginning A Meditation Practice
Practicing meditation is simple, but our expectations must be realistic. If I told you that running a half-marathon would change your life and you failed to accomplish that feat on the first day, would you be a failure? Of course, you would not be a failure; you would just need to undergo training. Likewise, it is as unrealistic to expect to quiet your mind in one day, after decades of allowing millions of thoughts to run wild. Our mind is like a muscle; our resistance to negative thoughts will grow with the proper practice and training.
I encourage you to meditate first thing in the morning so that you can quiet your mind and let go of any lingering unwanted thoughts.
These simple steps can guide you in beginning your practice:
· Find a comfortable place.
· Sit with your back and neck straight, and your shoulders relaxed.
· Close your eyes.
· Focus on abdominal breathing: feel your stomach expand as you breathe in and contract as you breathe out. (This is a game changer for relaxing your nervous system.)
· Direct your attention to a mantra: a word or phrase that means something to you.
· Silently repeat that mantra in your head for 5 minutes. (15-20 minutes per morning was my sweet spot in the first year, but this varies for each person.)
· Do not get frustrated if you get distracted by a barrage of thoughts; watch those thoughts be born and then fade away.
· Gently bring your awareness back to your mantra
The minutes that we spend in meditation are minutes worth living. And you will soon begin to experience the benefits of your new ability to stay singularly focused on the things that matter to you. It’s a beautiful thing: meditation every day will change your life.