Meditation for the mind and body

Purple flowers

Lots of people like me like to stay up late and sleep with the sunrise, rather than go to sleep and wake earlier (despite the latter being healthier), but for some it's a choice and for other's it's something they can't help. I won't place labels on this when it might not be the case, but the complaint I hear the most often is something along the lines of 'my brain won't shut up', or 'I can't stop thinking'.

I recall a time in my life where I have faced a similar problem, but I've never really had a problem with ordering my mind what to do — in certain tasks anyway. If I tell it not to think of anything, most of the time it's possible (I'm just an airhead now), but what helped me at that stage of my life was learning meditation — perhaps not exactly, in the sense that I have never mastered the proper breathing, but to the extent where it has helped with sleep.

Of course there are many ways to meditate though, and these are but two. Culture, religion, all those things can influence what meditation means to you, and each person can have their own way of doing it. It's not set in stone.

Sky with the moon

Clearing your mind

When I was younger, what kept me up more often than not was the compulsion to read. If I had started a book, I would have to finish it, unless I got too tired to do so. This I never tried to resist, but occasionally my mind churned with worries and wouldn't let me sleep, imagining up scenarios.

Of course, one can learn from the books they read though. I remembered reading about meditation in Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet/series. Mediation, or 'the sitting thing', allowed characters to clear their minds of all thought and distractions while breathing to a pattern of seven counts in and seven counts breathing out. For characters with magic, this allowed them to pull their 'uncontrolled' or 'untamed' magic back within their skin and gave them greater control of their power, as well as allowed them to sort their thoughts.

"Meditation," Numair said. "It clears the mind, and rests it. If you have the Gift [of magic], medication helps your discipline." [...] "It's not only for the Gifted. I told you, it rests the mind. It helps you get a—a grip on the way you think."

"It helps you decide what you want," Onua added. "And how to get it."

And later:

"[...] Your mind needs discipline. [...] Learn to focus your mind: focus creates strength. Meditation helps you reach the same end. We're doing spring cleaning up here." He tapped her forehead with a long finger. "Once you put everything into its proper place — once you organi[s]e your mind — you'll be able to find what you want quickly."

Clearing the mind stops exactly the type of thing you want, which is thinking so much. What is a clear mind but a mind absent of all thought? No one said it was easy, but there are easy ways to help you clear your mind of all thought, and one is as simple as just focusing your mind on a sound that you hear — because naturally you close your eyes when you meditate.

This isn't thinking because you're only listening, not counting, not wondering. From listening to my own even breaths to listening to the tick of a clock, I try to listen to something that will have a consistent sound, and is the reason I started wearing my analogue watch to bed — probably also the reason I still wear analogue watches. Trickling of a stream nearby (or a waterfall, perhaps that's why there are always images of those meditating near waterfalls) or the whoosh of cold air out of an air conditioner could work just as well.

Occasionally I work by senstaion too, just by feeling my own steady pulse, usually at my neck rather than feeling for it at my wrist. Anything with a steady rhythm is good for focusing your attention on — not by thinking but in just listening or feeling.

Of course you're not meant to fall asleep to it, but if you just want to clear your mind so you can get to sleep, this works like a charm.

Ant on a leaf

Focusing your mind

Meditation is sometimes touted as people as being medicinal, and while I'm not spiritual enough to really believe that just by thinking about something you will get better, perhaps there is something of the placebo effect in this nonetheless.

One of the articles I remember reading way back in the day involved something of the sort of imagining a rainbow of light and it slowly flowing through your body, filling you up and focusing on whichever aspect of your body needed healing. I confess I might have tried this out a couple of times just to see if it would work, but I don't really recall how it was supposed to work.

Another form of meditation which was mentioned in another Tamora Pierce work, Cold Fire, is the sort which focuses your mind in two ways, both of which involve focusing on a specific task at hand, and only that task.

One, for those with magic, involves imagining an object in your mind and pulling your power inwards so that it fits cleanly within that object. While we generally do not have magic, that isn't to say that we can't also focus on an object in our minds eye and try to shed other thoughts.

The second, involves combat, where one will try to strike the other, with the meditator focused on being aware of where the other will strike next and be in a state of consciousness such that they will automatically react to block a strike, rather than think too much about where the other may be and thus be too distracted. Perhaps you could even think of it as opening your senses?

In this sense, anything you do that consumes you completely so that you are not distracted by anything else could possibly be one form of meditation. Perhaps in this day and age we are all suffering from social fatigue.

Ready to go sit near a waterfall?

Of course, there are many, many ways to meditate, and this is only a couple, but I do strongly believe that this is a method that can help many friends who have complained of thinking too much to be able to sleep. I have not had problems getting to sleep since I considered these methods of clearing or focusing the mind, and if I stay up late now, it is unfortunately by choice or because I have assignments due and don't have a choice. Perhaps it's not a solution for everyone, but I do see it as a very feasible one.

Sadly, I don't know that any person I have recommended this to has tried it, but I live in hope. I haven't meditated myself for a really long time, but perhaps it's time to get back into it and see if I can do it properly this time, because meditation has been found to have numerous health benefits. But meditation in itself is not a cure for something. If you're sick, go see a doctor.

Apparently meditation has been practiced in one form or another by characters in many science fiction stories. So all you self-professed nerds should be down with this stuff, right? :D

Apologies for the somewhat unrelated images of random aspects of nature from my Flickr.