Most people I meet don’t meditate, though many have tried it once or twice. What we know about meditation usually comes from TV shows and movies, where wizened gurus tell us to think of nothing, or to clear our minds. But anyone who has ever tried to think of nothing knows how impossible that is. How do you visualize and think about something that doesn’t exist?! I’m not sure you can. The irony is, we think of “nothing” by thinking with intense focus on something.
There’s more than one way to meditate, but in general, the important part is that we concentrate on something in our present reality. For most, that means concentrating on our breathing, how do we do that? It’s helpful to pick one aspect of our breathing like the way the air feels in our nostrils, or the sound the air makes as it goes in and out. Focusing on our breathing anchors our awareness to the present moment, and that is the essence of mindfulness. We become more aware of our existence. We get out of our head and start to concentrate on being. We notice the signals coming from our body, we become more connected to ourselves, more in touch with what we are experiencing in the moment. As we become focused on just being, existing without having to do or think about anything, we find a stillness that begins to settle on us. It is an amazing feeling and one that you just don’t experience unless you’ve practiced calming your mind. Some people like being out in nature because it helps them find this clarity and calmness. But we don’t need to plan an expedition so that we can feel peace. The brain can’t really tell the difference between being in the woods and imagining being in the woods.
Visualizing being in a beautiful place where nothing is required of you, where you are your perfect self is an incredibly powerful way to let go of the sorrows and worries we usually carry around. For the time we are meditating, it’s like we’re a different person who doesn’t feel stress. Really though, this is our true self, this is the person we are when the baggage of the world is stripped away. We can access this blissful, stable, and happy self of ours whenever we pause to meditate. With practice, we strengthen the neural pathways of peace in our brains. Where once there was an overgrown and hard to find path to peace, with frequent use, we can pave it to create a wide freeway leading to serenity. It took me about a year of consistent practice to get to that point. It was well worth it, because now at any time, I can concentrate and return to stillness without actually having to meditate. Frequent meditators enjoy more happiness, deeper sleep, better immune systems, and less fear. It is a skill worth practicing, that I hope someday will come to rightly be seen as important as eating our vegetables.
About the Author Kenneth Jeppesen is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Weber State University, and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Kenneth is a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples & Families.