Updated: Mar 2
Settle yourself comfortably in a quiet space and then open your eyes and concentrate on a visual stimulus. This could be anything – a lamp, a flame, a small object, a crack in the wall, maybe a picture? Anything you like. Whatever you focus on, take note of the light and the energy that surrounds you.
As you focus on this object, take note of how your body feels and the position you are sitting in. Feel the weight of your body pressing down on your seat, then notice how your body feels against the surface on which you’re sitting. Notice the sensations from your clothing on whichever part of your body it is stimulating.
For this exercise, don’t count your breaths or visualise the light in your body, just breathe regularly and deeply to the rhythm of your heartbeat and concentrate on the object you’ve chosen, imagining and feeling the energy of the whole world emanating from that very spot. With your eyes open, you have the chance to rationalise and experience fully the present moment, the here and now. Feel and understand that the whole world is revolving around this very point in time; don’t think about past experiences and don’t think about hanging your washing out. You are the master of your own destiny and this very moment is only for you. Gain as much peace, harmony and love as you need. These are ever-present and available to you whenever you choose to call on them.
Love in the First Degree ♫
I read about this method a while back and it gives me such a sense of heart-warming peace. It involves recalling your most vivid recollection of love. It can be a love for whom or whatever you were cherishing but this exercise does not involve reaffirming your love for any person or situation, this is about reactivating that feeling that you had (or may still feel).
For me, it was a Sunday afternoon in early January, in Scotland, with my then girlfriend, Hannah, about three weeks into our relationship. We were on a walk before I was due to head home. We found a stream flowing down the side of a steep hill and noticed that the pool of water into which it was flowing had completely frozen over, with snow dusting the entire area. It was so cold but all we could do was stare lovingly into each others’ eyes, absorbing the beautiful surroundings. I can still feel the shooting sensation of pure love streaming through my body and the realisation that she was the only person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. (obviously I didn't as I am now married to my darling, amazing wife, Whitney, but like I just said, this isn't about reaffirming your love, this is about recollecting a past feeling of pure love and using it to evoke the perfect love, for yourself.
Even if you have felt it on another occasion, you can use whatever memory you find easy to summon. This is about using the feeling of love that you had, to strengthen and develop love for yourself. When you are meditating, breathing steadily and noticing the sensations running through your body, encapsulate that pure love and reinvigorate it, refocusing the feeling on yourself.
The Final Countdown ♫
This technique is something I developed after reading a fantastic book called Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, about improving your memory, something I was having problems with after a brain injury that I suffered many years ago which will be written about throughout my blogging.
Similar to the practise of numbering your breaths from 1 through to 10, in this exercise you need to visualise each number as an object or character. If you also have memory difficulties, replacing each number with it’s corresponding image will help you to visually retain it. You can change the images to whatever you like but it actually helps if they are as incongruous as possible, you will remember something that is out of place more easily than something that is logical.
So you’re sitting, cross legged, on a beautiful sandy beach on a gloriously hot, summer’s day. Behind you and to your sides stand a surplus of palm trees that silently rustle as the wind calmly passes through them. Bird song fills the air, and the fresh, freeing smell of the sea encompasses your airway.
On your first inhalation, visualise running your finger through the sand you’re sitting on, resembling the number 1
On your next breath, you notice a magnificent swan swimming towards you, its neck resembling a number 2.
As the swan gets closer, it opens its wings and releases an abundance of loving hearts, which resemble a 3 taking you back to the strong feeling of love that you summoned in the previous exercise.
You look past the swan and notice a sleek sailing boat coming your way, which looks like a number 4.
As you take another breath, you board the sailing boat and notice a door knocker resembling a 5.
You knock on the door, and as it slowly opens you notice a baby elephant, whose trunk is shaped like a number 6, which breathes out a mist of loving happiness, joy and laughter.
You look to the side of the boat as you take your next breath and see a diving board, which looks like a number 7.
You go over to the board, jump up into the air and propel yourself into a large hour glass timer, resembling a number 8. It is using love and laughter, instead of sand, to track time.
You get whisked down to the bottom of the hour glass timer and notice a large helium balloon with a rope attached to it, looking like a number 9.
You grab hold of the balloon rope and it whisks you into the air. As you rise above the number 1 you drew on the beach, you notice the swan and all the hearts surrounding it, you see the majestic boat sailing in the water beneath you as you catch a glimpse of the door knocker. You then see a baby elephant stepping out on deck, in front of the diving board which is now next to the hour glass timer floating in the water, you look up to see the balloon you are dangling from expanding beyond all proportions, and then suddenly exploding in magnificent style as you breath out, covering everything around you with love, joy and happiness, culminating in a number 10. You then visualise yourself from above, wherever you may be sitting, and then start again, with a massive smile on your face.
(Don’t) Scratch that Itch ♫
This next technique is something that suddenly came to me one day. While you’re meditating and focusing on sensations, or breaths, or your own love, you suddenly get an itch on your left ear. Your natural reaction is to scratch it to alleviate the annoyance. Do not scratch it. Instead, focus on the itch and notice how aware it makes you feel of that tiny area of your body. Your mind is now directed at this irritation, which is increasing your awareness and helping you to be as fully present as possible. Keep this up and remind yourself not to relieve it. You will find that within a short time the itch will subside and you have consequently invigorated your awareness as a result. Bless the itch.
“Smile Like You Mean It ♫
Smiling, nine times out of ten, means you’re happy, unless it’s a sarcastic smirk. Generally speaking, smiles activate peace, joy, love, laughter and happiness. Using the methods I have just shared, visualise a massive smile, from cheek to cheek, in the front of your mind the next time you meditate. You will find that even imagining a smile will make you feel happier and more positive.
If a smile isn’t enough I quite often do the following to actually make me laugh during meditation. It might not work for everyone but I have quite a simple sense of humour, so we’ll see if it works for you. Here is a link to a very funny clip called ‘meerkat Alan’. Lots of people have seen this but if you haven’t, you’ll have to follow my advice and watch it. It’s a simple image and I can easily see the video in my mind, which makes me laugh every time I think of it. If that doesn’t amuse you, I’m sure you know of other sketches that make you giggle every time you think of them, so experiment with whatever makes you laugh next time you are meditating. ‘Alan’!
My Way ♫
I hope that the above techniques will enable you to make a proactive start to meditation. Feel free to alternate between the methods, or even combine them all during the same session. During my meditation earlier this morning, I decided to do just that and moved through all of them. If you find that your mind is particularly restless one particular day, have a go at this.
Sit cross legged on your bed and, with your eyes open, focus on a prominent but relatively innocuous part of a picture, poster, or part of the view from the window, in front of you.
Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose, pause for a couple of seconds and then breathe out through your nose. Continue to do this until you get into a natural rhythm.
If your mind is focused on your breath and doesn’t wander into thoughts about the party you had last night or how many bags of rubbish keep piling up for you to put out, then continue with the breathing, and smile.
If you find yourself singing in your head a rendition of Don’t Look Back in Anger with a bunch of your drunken friends and then see yourself downing copious amounts of vodka; breathe in through your nose but this time visualise a steady stream of warm light infiltrating and circulating around your body.
On your out breath, see your drunken misdemeanours leave your body and then dissipate into the wall in front of you.
Without focusing on the comic mishaps from last night that just flew into the wall, take another deep breath in and then allow the passive light to gently flow throughout your body again, before breathing out.
On your next breath in, notice the feeling of your whole body sitting on the bed and focus on how your thigh feels cross legged next to your foot.
On your out breath, start to turn the drunken mishaps into shady light and breathe more of it out. Use the next few inhalations and exhalations to listen to any sounds from outside, see them as different shapes, colours, smells and textures, and know that you are as conscious as possible in this moment and that you are present.
On your next breath in, you choose to visualise a massive smile in the front of your head, which consequently causes you to smile and feel calm and happy about how your life is going right now.
Then replay a comic YouTube clip in your head, on your next out breath, which causes you to laugh out loud. You’re happy, smiling, present and meditating.
Over the next 20 breaths visualise each number from 1 to 10 as you breathe in and out, releasing feelings of relaxation and pure joy.
After a while you’ll reach a point where you no longer feel the need to stop. You are perfectly content in this moment and you are at peace with the world.
Know that when you eventually stop meditating you are going to bring with you the peace, harmony and love that is currently enveloping you, and smile.
My next blog will include the 4 core mindfulness meditations but before we get to them, please try some of the techniques that I have just told you about.
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