The ancient practice of meditation can lead to a calmer, more peaceful 2015. But how can you get started? PBI.com discussed meditation basics with Dr. Patty Shutt, a licensed psychologist, life coach and founder of Sacred Treehouse in Delray Beach, which offers beginner and advanced meditation classes.
PBI.com: How would you describe meditation to someone unfamiliar with the practice?
|Dr. Patty Shutt
Shutt: Meditation means awareness. It’s a state of being in the moment, fully immersed in pure consciousness, without any doing—simply being. Through the practices of concentration, relaxation, movement or mindfulness the mind can settle and a person reaches a state of being without distraction and freedom from conditioning.
What do you view as the fundamentals of meditation?
I teach basic concentration skills to beginners to cultivate discipline in the mind and to become more one-pointed. Our minds are divided during most of our day and jumping from one task to another, often without our permission. We start with practices of awareness of breath, awareness of sensations and work toward awareness of thoughts and feelings. For some, instruction in using a mantram, which is a short phrase repeated silently, works as a way to harness the wild, restless mind.
What do you view as the biggest mental benefits to practicing mediation?
Often individuals report a greater sense of clarity, concentration and awareness of the most important things in life.
What about the physical benefits?
The physical benefits are endless because with meditation comes a slowing down or stilling of the body, enhanced breathing and greater physical relaxation. These all facilitate natural healing and wellness mechanisms to operate at full capacity and can lead to dramatic decreases in symptoms of chronic illnesses, a decrease in pain and even total healing.
How can meditation aid in achieving New Years resolutions or personal goals?
With a meditation practice one can learn to be more accepting and at peace with oneself, and with this peace comes clarity and a deep longing for the important things in life. Searching, seeking and striving ends, and one opens up to what is already present in this moment. Once we are aware of what is truly important, the effort to achieve the goals that are in balance with our values becomes easier, and the desire to pursue goals that are not in line with our principles fades away without regret.
How much time should one dedicate to meditation each day?
The formal practice of sitting meditation requires between 20-45 minutes per day. However, as one begins to develop a daily practice, one can start off with a shorter duration and gradually build as concentration improves. One will gradually shift one’s priorities in life to make the time for meditation as the practice continues.
Is it best to practice the same meditation exercises each day or to vary the routine?
I find that both are needed to establish a lifetime practice. We train with the same practices to facilitate discipline in the mind and to recognize resistance and overcome it with daily commitment and dedication. Bringing a variety of strategies and tools into daily practices keeps one loose and flexible and can challenge those who get rigid and unbending. There are many schools of thought and an even greater variety of teachings, and it is up to the individual to choose the path that is best.
What is the ideal environment for meditative practices?
The best environment is right where you are—anywhere and anytime. Any comfortable spot with minimal interruptions will do. Getting caught up in having to have the “right” place, space and time often leads to putting off the practice.
Can you give a few examples of some beginner meditation exercises?
In my classes, I often teach people a simple breath meditation where they follow the inhalation and exhalation as it naturally occurs, simply bringing awareness to just this breath. I also offer mantrams that can be repeated silently to help with concentration and quieting the mind. In some classes, when people have a strong spiritual practice that includes a favorite or significant prayer, they are instructed to start with passage meditation and slowly recite the prayer silently in the mind. These beginning strategies help with concentration and steadying the mind and body. Finally, if someone struggles with sitting still, they can start with walking meditation or mindful yoga.
Can you describe walking meditation?
There is a formal walking meditation that is practiced with full awareness on each step, directing full attention on the sensations of the movement, the steps and the breath. There are variations of speed and distance, but there is no destination because the objective is to simply be awakened to the present moment through the act of walking.
Have you come across any common meditation mistakes?
It is common for people to relax into a state of dissociation or a dreamlike state that is often pleasant and misconstrued to be deep meditation. It is more likely deep relaxation and is not to be confused with meditation, which is a state of deep clarity where all the senses are alive and awake.
What do you feel is the most common misconception people have regarding meditation?
The idea that one must clear one’s mind or empty one’s mind is a common misconception in beginning meditation. Many people give up immediately when they discover their monkey mind—a state of wandering and jumping from thought to thought, which is a more typical experience. It takes time and patience to move past that.
Anything else you think our readers should know?
Meditation is a simple practice that is extremely difficult and requires great effort, commitment and discipline. A good teacher will help students start where they are and cultivate the necessary tools and strategies to put in full effort in a gentle and non-striving manner. As one becomes more present and at one with the moment, life unfolds naturally. Once a student gets a glimpse of the power of meditation, the discipline will lead to a lifelong practice of transformation. Making meditation part of your New Years resolution may be a lofty goal for some, but practicing mindfulness in every-day life is a way to start without needing to make radical changes in lifestyle and habits.