In ancient Japan, so the legend goes, samurai attacked a temple during a political conflict between Shinto and Buddhism. The warriors were astonished to find monks kneeling in tranquil reflection while they were being slaughtered. Ever practical, the samurai realized that meditation could be harnessed to achieve god-like stillness of mind even amid the fury and terror of battle. Zen Buddhism was born and few outsiders fucked with the insanely battle-ready samurai for centuries – with a bit of help from the odd typhoon.
Today, a man still requires mental calm most during stressful times: talking to hoochi mamas, pitching a fraudulent business plan or helping a friend who is on fire. He might also wish to improve his focus during frisbee football or finger painting. Meditation can help.
Simply put, meditation is training the mind to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others. It is impossible to think about nothing whatsoever. For example, if I told you to think of nothing, especially not chicken vindaloo, what would you think about?
There are many guides to meditation and most of them cost money. They are unnecessary. Meditation can be a very simple process and I’ll tell you how to do it right now, for free. Pay me back with a link, a like or a cheeky hand job under the table.
Try the following exercises once a day for a couple of weeks and see if they work for you. I provide three variations.
1. Set a timer for about ten minutes. You need to know when to finish and you might fall asleep.
2. If you like, put on some music. Not death metal. It should either be instrumental or contain lyrics in a language you don’t understand, to avoid distraction. I prefer ragas like this one. Others like classical music or electronica. It matters not a jot.
3. Get comfortable. There’s no need to wrap your ankles around the back of your head. Sitting or lying down is fine. Gently stretch first. Ensure your head is away from your shoulders. Leave some space between your arms, legs and torso so that they are not touching.
4. Focus on relaxing each part of your body in turn, starting with the soles of your feet, then your calves, then the back of your thighs, etc. Work your way up to your head and then along the front of your body back to the tops of your feet. Each time to exhale, feel your muscles relax and your body feel as heavy as lead.
5. Breathe through your nose as slowly as is comfortable. As you inhale, think of the oxygenated air that is entering your lungs. As you exhale, picture the carbon dioxide deposited in your lungs by your blood cells being expelled from your body. Do this for about seven breaths.
6. Now that your body is relaxed and your breathing is steady, you are ready for the meditation proper. This is where we concentrate all our attention on a single focal point. Choose one of these variations.
a) Each time you exhale, focus on the number ‘one’. You might picture the numeral in front of you. Each time your thoughts wander (which they will), just think ‘okay,’ and then go back to ‘one’. Don’t worry if you get off track. The refocusing of attention is the exercise. To be frustrated by it is like being frustrated that weights are heavy.
b) Instead of ‘one’, you could focus on a chant, or mantra. Forget what the cultists and snake oil salesmen tell you. Any chant is fine. Here’s an old Hindu one that Beatles fans might recognize:
hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
Don’t like it? No worries, use another one. The point, again, is to focus your mind. You could chant ‘apples bananas, bananas pears’ if you wanted to, just as long as you catch yourself when your mind wanders and go back to the chant.
c) The third option is to focus only on your breathing. Focus on inhaling deeply into your diaphragm so that your belly rises first, then your chest. Exhale from the diaphragm so that your belly falls first, then your chest. As with the other variations, when your mind wanders, think ‘okay’ to whatever your brain was rabbiting on about and then, calmly, think ‘back to breathing’.
7. Your alarm will go off. Move your hands and feet a bit before you rise. Don’t jump up straight away because meditation is designed to lower your blood pressure – you might collapse in an unmanly heap.
How did you go? Mind kept wandering? Yep, that will happen when you first start. If you keep at it your focus will improve, both during meditation and in your life more broadly. If the above meditations are too hard, try for just five minutes instead. If you can focus well for ten minutes, go for longer. Some people swear by twenty minutes, twice a day. Monks meditate for hours. I could find no published research on the relative benefits of different time periods so just do whatever you find useful.
You might also look into other forms of meditation. There are many. Don’t go shelling out money; there is plenty of good information available for free for those who are literate. Some websites are hippy and annoying – winnow from them the helpful parts and ignore the rest.
You can also do mini-meditations throughout the day. Do the breathing exercise (c) just for ten breaths right before meeting the father of the teenager you just knocked up. Do one chant of hare krishna (b) in your head when a pretty girl has you flummoxed. Don’t do it out loud as that may be counterproductive. If you can’t get to sleep, try meditating first and don’t set the alarm. It might calm your mind and help you to drift off. If not, at least you relaxed for a bit.
Finally, at a time of high stress, focus on controlling your breathing as you have trained to do. Concentrate on the physical feelings that are expressing your emotions – ‘My heart is racing, I have a sick feeling in my stomach’ etc. This will reduce the emotions to purely physical phenomena, thus freeing your mind from affective distraction and allowing you to do those things that need to be done.
Like chopping up rebelling peasants.
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