Throughout his 14-minute guided meditation, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reminds the viewer that it’s normal for thoughts to come up mid-meditation. Instead of clinging onto them and headed to wherever they want you to go, Mingyur Rinpoche asks you to let the thought go. Allow it to leave your body as you exhale. And when another comes, do the same thing.
Meditation isn’t about the absence of thought: it’s about situating yourself fully in the present moment, with whatever baggage and burdens you have.
A report by The Washington Post shows that downloads for “mindfulness” apps like Headspace and Calm have spiked over quarantine, implying people's yearning for a cure to the madness, an escape route from a world that seems increasingly bleaker by the hour.
However, meditation is more than just escapist soma. Although carving out 10 minutes a day (Headspace’s shortest sessions are a mere three minutes) to meditate does provide a reprieve from whatever it is you were doing, there's still a lot to takeaway from it and make the practice worth your while.
Working with your breath is perhaps the biggest lesson you learn while meditating. It’s the signal that drives every other body function, and it’s the reason why every guided meditation focuses on it.
By working with your breath, you end up controlling your mind. We’re primed to listen to our minds above anything else. This reliance becomes a tricky thing to counter once we realize that our thoughts can lead us astray.
Breathing exercises shut the mind up. Take a look at box breathing, an exercise that’s a kind of meditation in and of itself. This exercise forces you to inhale, exhale, and hold your breath according to specific counts.
It’s commonly broken down into four counts: inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four, and then hold for four. Holding your breath increases your blood’s CO2 levels, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and calms your body down.
It also goes without saying that by moving your breath across your body, with each count of four, your mind doesn’t have space to focus on anything else. Just as your heart pumps blood and your stomach breaks down food, your brain thinks; racing thoughts are a byproduct of your body functioning as it should. However, returning to your breath brings you back on top of things.
Of course, such breathwork isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when people think of meditation. Meditation and mantras are often thought of as one and the same, and there are guided meditations for every concern under the sun: forgiveness, humility, anxiety, and the like.
In her book When Things Fall Apart, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön introduces the idea of Maitri. Maitri is the act of loving-kindness rooted in the belief that “whatever occurs is neither the beginning nor the end, just the same kind of normal human experience that’s been happening to everyday people from the beginning of time.”
Metta meditation is one such way to cultivate this loving-kindness. There are a couple of ways to go about this meditation, but the premise is essentially the same. You repeat mantras that wish peace, happiness, and kindness to five different groups of people: yourself, your loved ones, people you are indifferent towards (like acquaintances or people you pass by), those who have caused you pain, and then eventually the whole world.
It seems like a stretch at first, but with each session, you inevitably realize that you’ve crossed paths with so many people throughout the course of your life. Even though you might fixate on a particular person in the second and fourth groups, you’ll often find that the third group brings to mind people you don’t normally think of.
This practice is humbling. It forces you to wish peace and happiness to people as they are right now and yourself as you are. Because you’re focusing on the mantra with each exhale, you don’t have space to think about what the person has done, how they’re doing, or where they are in the world. You simply wish them well and move on.
To Pema Chödrön, the key to being present is to accept things as they are right now, without wishing or hoping for anything more. By meditating and working with the breath, you train yourself to be okay with where you are today. You begin to show up for yourself because you start to learn that things will be calmer by your next exhale. – Rappler.com
Gaby Flores is a full-time writer and part-time graduate student based in Manila. Her work can be seen in Esquire, Mabuhay Magazine, and Cha Literary Journal. She's into all things culture, dairy included.