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The Fine Art Of Meditation?

The Fine Art of Meditation?


I’m relatively new to meditation,  or to what I would class as actual meditation rather than just sitting listening to my thoughts and wondering if I should just go and do something else.

Having tried, but not really benefitted from meditation for many years, I recently kind of fell into a regular practice by accident whilst sitting in comfortable contemplation at the end of my personal Yoga practices. This feeling of calm, kindness and of letting go of my thoughts at the end of the practice started to become a bigger part of my daily practice, until at some point, some days, this would become the actual focus and it slowly dawned on me that I was possibly actually practicing meditation.

Instead of trying to sit in stillness and silence with a brain racing to get on with something else, I found myself simply sitting in a state of acceptance, feeling stillness and silence in and around me, a feeling of contentment washing over me as the brain chatter slowed and faded away and some times disappeared.

Everyone has heard of meditation, it’s been around since before records began, you can buy (if that way inclined) statues of meditating happy buddah’s and Hindu goddesses for your garden, and come on, who wouldn’t want to experience a ‘Zen mind’ or be as joyful looking as the Dali Lama for a few hours each day?

Meditation is immediately associated with calm, with stillness, wellness and with peace. The theory goes that if we all meditated for a period of time each day, we’d all be calmer, more understanding, more appreciative, connected and the World would be a better and brighter place.

Sounds a bit cultish maybe, but, come on, looking at the state of things right now, its got to be worth a try?

With over 80 billion neurons in the brain all firing electric responses at over 200mph to every sensation, thought, impulse and action we experience is it any wonder that we might feel overwhelmed every now and then and look for a moment of calm.

It is also said that 80% of our thoughts are actually pretty much just noise to us, repetitive, ponderings with little relevance or positive impact to our lives.

With all of this going on, doesn’t it sound like a good thing to be able to switch all of this off for a moment?

Is it also any wonder that when we do try to sit in silence, focus on the breath and chillout, all we can hear are our thoughts, now even busier and louder than ever, our neurons searching for stimulation and asking us what the f*k is going on, why we aren’t doing anything?

There’s this glorious idea that if we sit quietly in the lotus (meditation) position and just breathe slowly, we’ll be able to calm our thoughts and find this glorious quiet space inside ourselves. Sounds amazing right, but there’s a reason why so called ‘meditation masters’ practice meditation a ‘lot’ and do it early in the morning before anyone else is up. It is also interesting to learn that even those that ‘meditate’ often, still have to deal with brain chatter almost every session.

Here’s a look at my usual practice, as you can see I’m no ‘zen master’ but the process has started and even these sessions are teaching us the way…

Sit in the lotus style position associated with meditation (or similar) in a quiet comfortable space. Place hands over knees, lengthen upwards through the spine… tick, all good so far!

Soften the focus, relax shoulders and breathe in gently but deeply through the nose… Still good!

Relax and breathe out slowly and smoothly, slowing everything down… breathe in, count the breath in 1… Breathe out 1… Breathe in 2 … yeah this is going well… I’m feeling relaxed, this feels good, Breathe in 3… feel the breath, yeah that’s good, I can feel it, I can imagine it coming into my body, yeah filling my lungs, I feel my rib cage expand, should I hold it at the top of the breath? Maybe, or maybe just smooth it out, yeah smooth it out and now at the end of the exhale too maybe, yeah good, I’m really getting this, I’m feeling relaxed and maybe a little bit hungry? Yeah a little bit, after I’m finished I might get something to eat… hmm what do I fancy? Maybe a coffee first? Hmm the coffee shop down the road do great milkshakes in the summer, wonder what the surf’s doing, I should have a look at the tides… breath in, damn it where was I? Shit, reset… Breathe in 1… wonder if my wetsuits dry yet, where did I leave it?…

In a meditation session, its not uncommon for me to find myself talking to someone I’ve never met, somewhere I’ve never been, having a conversation about who knows what?…

Yeah, not quite the stillness of mind that I was going for originally.

This was my meditation on repeat for ever. More often than not it still is. In fact, the biggest difference is that this, recognition and acceptance of the chatter, is now an ‘accepted’ part of my ‘meditation’ experience.

Once accepted and recognized, the theory is that the chat can be dropped and the brain can chill out. This art of becoming aware of the brain chat, earlier and earlier in the response cycle and being able to quickly let it go, is a continuous part of meditation.

Popular belief is that meditation is all about zoning out and finding stillness, finding a state of nothingness and for it to be effortless, but then we have these 80 billion neurons that would like to say otherwise and are very much opposed to being stilled and we quickly realise, its not going to be as easy as we thought.

Our brain constantly responds to every sensation, it is part of our survival instinct, we’re programmed to be on high alert and never more so than when we’re sitting quietly in a vulnerable position.

Every sound we hear is processed and issued a mental or physical response. It is recognized, labelled, compared to similar sounds or experiences and a conclusion of what action must be taken is drawn. All this within the second that you first heard the sound and by now the sound has maybe changed and the active brain and central nervous system is running a diagnostic and coming up with a plan…

Now add our other senses to the process, vision, touch, smell, feel… each producing an assessment, label, comparison, action response of their own. The brain starts to chat, the sound draws the vision, we feel the head turn, we now see what is making the sound and we’re off…

Every millisecond of everyday, our brain is processing, analysing and responding to everything often before we’ve even had the chance to notice it happening.

So first, yeah maybe stilling some of that inner chat every now and then might not be a bad idea and second, with all of that going on all the time, we have to accept that finding the fabled stillness is not going to be easy.

So here’s how… here are my 5 essential tips for my meditation practice.

  1. Environment/Planning

  2. Time

  3. Breathing

  4. Awareness

  5. Acceptance

  6. Practice


With careful planning we can reduce the sensory feedback of our environment to a minimum and make the sensory affects controlled, recognizable, non threatening, easy for the brain to accept and let go.

By letting go of the need to assess and process this information the brain can stop chatting about it and we can drop the neurological response to it earlier.

Something along the lines of, I accept the sounds around me, I know what they are, I don’t need to explore them any further. I accept the feeling of my body weight on the floor, the pressure of one leg on top of the other (and if not, I need to change position now and get comfortable).

I reduce what is visible, I recognize and accept what I can see, the air is pure, I accept what I smell, I reduce my sensory input to a minimum, I am warm and comfortable, I need for nothing and nothing needs me.

With careful planning, a quiet, ventilated, warm, shaded environment can help reduce our sensory input, we can slow down and shut off the parts of the brain that are in constant reaction to the ever changing environment around us.

Now all we need to do is calm the thinking part of the brain and we’re all set.

Calming the thinking brain takes practice, but like the sensory response part of the brain, the more we reduce the brains need to think, the better and easier it will be.

Choosing carefully where and when you will practice makes a big difference.

Allocating time and clearing the schedule is essential.

A brain that is thinking about time or a list of jobs that need doing is not going to be easily stilled.


Allotting time to meditate takes one of the big stressors out of the equation. Without a set time allotment, the mind, like a child on a car journey, will keep returning to the annoying question of ‘are we nearly there yet?’

Setting yourself a time and sticking to it is simple and an essential part of the plan.

How long is up to you, 5 minutes, 10, 20… build up as you go.

Set a soft alarm to gently signal that your time to come back has arrived, but also allow yourself a few moments to enjoy the feeling that you bring with you on your return.


Breathing is one of those things that our amazing body just does for us. Our heart beats, we digest and we breathe. It is also one of one of the only automatic response systems that we can actually take control of.

Breathing is one of the in vogue things to practice these days and rightly so. The way we breathe can directly influence the chemicals released by our brain and change the chemical balance of our blood.

There are many different ways we can breathe, too many to cover here. The breath can be used to activate the body, kick starting the sympathetic nervous system, firing up the neurons to release stress chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol, essential for a more physical state of being, or trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to release endorphins inducing a more calm relaxed state.

For a meditation state of mind a slow deep calming breathing pattern is essential.

A deep easy inhale followed by a slow longer out breath will help relax the body and the mind and slow the heart rate.

Breathe in through the nose, keeping the rate of airflow constant from the start of the inhale to the end. Exhale through the nose or the mouth, but again keep the flow constant from start to finish, it helps to close the throat a little, think of it sounding a little bit like Darth Vader.

Use the diagphram to draw the breath into the lungs, feel the ribcage and belly expand with the in breath, feel the inter-costal muscles between the ribs expand and then exhale slowly feeling the rib cage and the diaphram slowly come back to neutral inducing a feeling of relaxation.

I like to maintain a Breath in for 4 and out for 6 or just follow any easy rhythm and feel the release and relaxation with the outbreath until awareness of the breath fades away.


Awareness means being aware of the whole process and understanding what happens and why.

If you understand that the brain will want to chat and why, then you can be ready and become aware of it as it happens. This will allow you to accept it and let it go quickly before it gets to start a dialog.

Understanding that my brain wants to be busy and why, helps me relax and let it go quiet.

Understanding that every sound, outside influence or internal feeling will try to cause a dialog makes it easier for me to avoid the dialog in the first place.

By being aware, I can choose to shut down this state of awareness or make the adjustments I need before things have the chance to become an issue.

I am aware until this awareness fades, but also aware that the process might reboot at any moment and I accept this.


This is the big one for me, the one that makes the difference!

Accepting that the brain will chat, being ready to recognize it but to not follow it on its weird journey is all part of the process, understanding, recognizing and accepting, is all part of the journey back to the breath and the starting again.

Accept that this is the process, accept that you’ll need to reset every now and then and probably more often than you think and you just might be able to switch of the inner dialogue. By not fighting it, you might just be able to find that inner calm, even if its only for a brief moment.

Use the breath as your anchor and pull yourself back there as soon as you feel lost in the current of brain chat.

With time and practice you will find longer periods between interruptions and this is where you’ll find the gold.


Practice is the real key.

The old adage Practice makes perfect is true to most things, so long as you know what to practice and whilst I don’t think perfect meditation really exists, the more you practice the more you’ll benefit from your practice.

Making meditation a regular part of your schedule and allotting a time for it to happen is essential for a successful outcome.

After a lifetime meditating, the Dali Lama practices meditation every single day.

So what might you feel?

What is the goal?

One idea is that we’re searching for this inner calm, this stillness that is reputed to exist inside of us. Anyone that practices meditation will tell you that these moments are few and far between. But they will also tell you that yes, they are there, they do exist and that the benefit of finding these moments can be life changing.

Once you have found the pathway to a calm mind, even only for and instant, you are well on your way. Once you realise that the calm, content feeling you find inside of you ‘is infact just you’ it can become a place of peace and calm that you can retreat to anytime anywhere, anyplace, triggered simply by intention and the breath.

Today, we generally Live lifestyles that are triggered by stress responses continuously, everyday and all day.

Stress becomes our drug and anxiety becomes our default feeling.

We scroll and search for our cortisol hit and live with a comforting feeling of stress that makes us feel busy and relative.

It strangely makes us feel alive, and once upon a time, living in a cave surrounded by predators, maybe this hightenned stress level did infact keep us alive,  but today, we’ve gone beyond our natural instinct, we’ve become obsessed with this feeling and its making us angrier, more impatient and have less empathy and compassion towards each other and the world around us.

We spend our days blaming others for what we don’t have or the situation ‘we’ have put ourselves in.

We are late and in a rush, we eat badly and feel unfit or unhappy with ourselves. We are in a dangerous spiral where one thing leads and enhances the next…

Meditation can show us another way. It can release us from our addiction to stress and teach us to connect with ourselves and one another in a more sympathetic way.

It can release us from the noise and show us that infact, we can operate at a much higher level of efficiency, responsibility  and make better decisions when starting from a space of calm, kindness and understanding.

Working out the pathway to a calm understanding mind is the ultimate reward and meditation is the journey there.

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