On Thursday I came out of a 5 day silent meditation retreat in the green mountains of Sri Lanka. I would like to share with you 5 insights I gained as many of my coaching clients are keen to keep up a regular meditation practice and lead more mindful lives.
I often work with clients on addressing the balance between being and doing. Meditation is a great antidote against our tendency to perceive ourselves as ‘human doings’ instead of ‘human beings’.
1. The middle way
One of the challenges of meditation is finding the middle way between trying too hard and too little. The meditation instructor at the retreat explained that he generally taught Northern Europeans to reduce their current effort by 50%. Southern Europeans should reduce their effort by 25%, while Sri Lankans should increase their effort by 500%.
Meditating is like holding a little bird in our hands. If we squeeze to tightly, the bird will suffocate. If we hold it too loosely, the bird will fly away. The same goes for meditating. If we manage to walk the middle way, our mind neither suffocates nor does it fly away.
Meditation is not about fighting the mind, it’s about taming it. We cultivate the mind’s power of concentration. From a ‘monkey’ mind which jumps all over the place, it becomes stronger and sees more clearly. We experience more peace and mindfulness.
During meditation we all struggle with aches, boredom, or endless thoughts. Meditating is not about torturing the body and punishing the mind. Gently bringing the mind back to the breath is a more effective approach than scolding it. As long as our back is straight, we can meditate in any seated position, cross-legged or on a chair. Mind and body should be relaxed, although there is another paradox to consider: not being a slave of your body’s aches nor of your minds’ wanderings.
A regular meditation practice enables us to be more present to the now. We can leave behind memories of the past, worries about the future. Instead of daydreaming, there’s the joy of the present moment. There’s the daring to embrace the beauty of now, and trusting ourselves that whatever happens in the next moment, we will manage just fine.
The moment always changes, and so will our thoughts, emotions. Making friends with impermanence, is a powerful and courageous thing to do. It means that we allow the wind of change to blow through us. We experience beauty, happiness and joy as much as we allow ourselves to feel sadness, loss because we know there will always be change.
There are two ways to relate to emotions. Either we repress and control them, or we express and indulge them. Instead, in meditation we attempt to just create space for them, to experiment, to make friends.
One of the things I focus on in my coaching sessions is to enable clients’ emotions to flow so that they are e(nergy) in motion. This way, emotions don’t get stuck in our bodies, and all our energy is freely available to follow our life course.
If we imagine ourselves in a sailing boat setting course for the other side of a lake, we need to learn how to navigate the wind, the currents of the lake and our little boat. An enlightened being is able to reach his destination without diverging, while most of us get blown off course regularly.
Coaching and other forms of therapy and meditation, allow us to become more conscious of our life course and choices. We also learn from our past mistakes to navigate more accurately.
The benefits of a regular meditation practice are worth it. For me, the glimpse of a blissful calm lighting up around my third eye chakra is enough to make my morning. After the retreat, I feel a steady, nourished feeling in my stomach which stays with me all day. Even after standing for two hours in a overcrowded Sri Lankan train!