how (and why) to do a meditation without an app (part 3 of becoming de-viced)
After presenting the reality that 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day can double the grey matter in important regions of the brain, I am commonly asked, “What meditation apps are your favorites?” While i do my best to smile and suggest a few, my heart always sinks a bit. How have we let it happen that even meditation is tied to our phones?
Don’t get me wrong. Apps that teach you how to meditate and help you remain motivated and disciplined can be fantastic tools! I use online meditation tools to supplement my practice and suggest them to others as they begin or want to deepen their experiences. I’ve recorded meditations in the effort to offer guidance to those who are wanting to learn (these can be found here). I believe that these tools have an important place in the world and want them to stay.
My only wish is that, at least some of the time, we would be able to mediate (and live all parts of our lives) with our phones powered completely off.
Not long ago I logged on to a meditation app to find that it was now posting my “standings” in terms of minutes meditated in relation to other users around the globe. Given that a bulk of my practice is done away from my phone, my numbers didn’t make me look good and I don’t need help feeling like I’m not doing enough. That tempting belief is poking at me from the inside, all. the. time. When I looked at my logged minutes I felt an instant sense of failure and competition…feelings I experience often when engaged with my devices. This experience has inspired me to re-approach my meditation cushion with renewed vigor.
To close most of my talks with youth or young adults I invite participants to spread out, to come up onto the stage or down onto the gym floor where there is room for them to lay down or assume another comfortable position. When I do this, I often see the eyes of the principals, counselors, or university chaplains go huge with “Is this woman nuts? What the (insert explative) does she think she’s doing? All hell is about to break loose!” type expressions. They simply can’t imagine that a room of 1,000 young people will be able to handle the unique freedom of spreading out and doing a silent meditation.
They are wrong. Every. Single. Time.
Recently, a middle school principal approached me with tears in her eyes after such a time. She was so grateful for her students to have gotten to practice something so life giving. I know how she feels. I approached my own meditation teacher (who taught me first in his books and then at a retreat) with tears in my eyes after the first day we did 4 hours of meditation as a group. 15 of us, assembled in a circle, on cushions, not moving or speaking. Just sitting and building the capacity to be and to find grounding.
So, today is Sunday and we’ll all, likely, find more than ten minutes to surf the web, play a video game, or watch a show. What if we committed to devoting 10 minutes of our recreational time to try a mediation all by ourselves? We would likely need some instruction before we began and a reminder that attempts at new things require a certain level of grace and self compassion and that failure is A-OK. In fact, failure is relative in the land of meditation. There is, really, no such thing if you simply stay with it and don’t leave it until the 10 minutes are over.
Developing the ability to meditate is simply like developing any other skill. It requires practice and patience and risk. The more you practice it, the more you’ll get from it. The hardest part is trying it enough to begin to feel the benefits of the grounded calm and steadiness that meditation can afford. More than ever I believe we need to be able to function from an internal locus of control, responding to life from this grounded core rather than reacting to every single shiny thing that calls out for our attention. Meditation is one of the best ways I know to develop this ability. *
Ten minutes goes by quickly. Might you commit to spending that small amount of time, today, to practicing the A-B-C’s of meditation? If you haven’t done this before, you will likely feel clunky at it at best. That’s ok. You will have tried. Next time you’ll get a little more from it and, over time, you’ll find you don’t have to work so hard to get a real benefit.
To help you with this first device-less meditation, use these alphabetically organized ideas. You might even consider printing them out and bringing the paper with you to your space. Together we can contribute to a more peaceful and equitable world by creating a deeper ability to be calm and centered within ourselves, even when we are in situations that don’t allow us to pull out our ear buds and devices to bring us into meditation space. Let’s get to work putting this into action.
How to Meditate Without Your Phone:
A Assume a posture of alert restfulness. Find a spot that is free from unnecessary distractions and get your body into a comfortable position. For some, this will be in a chair where your back is straight and your feet touch the floor. For others this may be lying on your back or sitting on a small cushion. Most people find that closing their eyes helps. If you are a person who prefers to keep their eyes open, consider positioning yourself where you have something neutral to beautiful to look at. Don’t be facing the bed that is piled high with laundry. Choose a window or a lighted candle or a blank wall to gaze upon.
B Breathe. Don’t worry about mastering breathing techniques in these early attempts. Simply breathe in and out and see if you can’t deepen the inhales and exhales. If you want a few basic ideas you can “Smell the roses, then Blow out the candles.” to remind you to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Meditation uses breath to focus. If you find yourself distracted simply re-direct your attention back to what it feels like to take in breath and to release it. This is enough.
C Create space to simply BE. This is not a time to succeed, to win, or to accomplish. This is, instead, time to simply experience the spaciousness of being. This is counter to nearly all of our other living. This 10 minutes is simply a gift to yourself. By creating time for it, you’ve already won. The goal now is to simply exist in this quiet space.
D Direct your distractions. Early in one’s practice distractions riddle the time spent meditating. This is normal. Our minds are busy and it takes a lot of practice to keep them quiet. When distractions come (E.G: “I forgot to respond to that text.” or “I think I forgot to lock the door.” or “I really want a pizza.”) simply notice them and, when you can, redirect your attention back to simply breathing in and out or the flicker of the candle you are looking at. Don’t try to free your mind of them. Rather, see them, name them (you can even say to yourself, “Oh, there’s that distraction.”) and then “tell” them that there will be plenty of space for considering them later and redirect your attention to your breath or the state of calm you were finding before the distraction. If it’s simply too difficult to do this without expression, bring a piece of paper and pencil with you to your meditation and write the distraction down, reminding yourself that you’ll tend to it later. The goal is not to be distraction free. The goal, instead, is to learn how to deal with distractions while staying in a calm space.
E Eliminate judgement. This is a new skill and you’re likely accustomed to only doing things that you are good at. Commit to letting go of evaluations about your performance. You are simply practicing and there is no one to grade you.
F Fidget with intention. It would be unrealistic and non empathic to expect everyone to be able to do a silent sit with no movement. If you are a body/kinesthetically smart person there is a chance that stillness is too difficult to maintain, especially early in your practice. If this is the case for you, bring something to the meditation with you that will allow you to move but that won’t require you to tend to it. Prayer beads might be a good idea as would putty or kinetic sand. If sitting is difficult try a balance board or stand, balancing on one foot for a while and then switching. Over time see if you can move less and be still more but be gracious with yourself in this process.
Now it’s time to get to it. Commit to accepting all the experiences that new endeavors entail (feeling silly, looking silly, etc.) and decide that doing a “good enough” job is plenty. Find your space and begin. Loving the world begins with loving our selves and this might just be the best way to do that.
* I am often asked how meditation differs or synchs with prayer. At their core, I personally believe they are much the same thing. While prayer often encourages verbal expression and is typically focused on the Other to whom one is praying, meditation is focused on being. For people of faith this often means meditation grounds one literally IN the being of the Other. For me, finding grounding with and in God (and me in God) is the most steadying force. Meditation helps me find this place. For people who ascribe to no faith or divine presence, meditation helps them ground in the essence of their being, offering stability and centeredness at their core.