Meditation is awesome, but it’s often difficult for people to define & understand, let alone effectively engage and sustain.
A very basic conception of informal Meditation:
A combination of intentional relaxation and the centering of attention, especially on the breath; purposefully keeping the body & mind still, letting thoughts & body sensations arise and pass, and becoming completely engaged in present awareness. This is most often done when sitting, particularly in a lotus-style position.
If done correctly and consistently, meditation can have major benefits. But if done incorrectly and inconsistently, then it probably doesn’t make sense to spend time doing it.
Even when done correctly and consistently, meditation is still unsatisfying for many people. Many people don’t want to (or can’t) focus on a meditative object and not think at all about anything else – many people just want to control their thinking and think less or better.
While meditation advocates would say these people are missing the point, their ‘correctness’ doesn’t change the reality of how people tend to approach it. Fortunately there are great alternatives for those interested in the benefits of meditation but not interested in meditating.
Here are 3 practices to supplement (or replace) meditation practice:
Basic mindfulness involves consciously attending to your present moment experience. It is a form of non-judgmental noticing. It is a way of consciously perceiving an experience just as it is. It can most simply be described as conscious awareness.
This practice involves the intentional engagement of conscious awareness. It is not a structured, formal activity – it essentially involves maintaining a consciously aware mindset or attitude which can be applied at anytime.
This is a form of mental processing that can be purposefully engaged to optimize how you function and how you feel.
Self-organization essentially involves two processes: clarification and sorting/ordering.
Clarification is what a lot of people actually do when they think they’re meditating. Clarification is a focusing process that involves carefully defining and elucidating personally relevant concepts. But it directly involves thinking, whereas meditation involves non-thinking.
Clarification is intentionally bringing to light what’s actually important to you, and examining why it’s important to you. It involves getting clear about your thoughts, true feelings, intentions and goals, values and virtues, and so forth.
Sorting and ordering involves the organization of mental information with the intention of effectively and efficiently applying it. It involves actively distinguishing and managing the contents of your mind, incorporating important new information into your present models and beliefs, and establishing how to optimally apply your knowledge.
The practice of self-organization is, to put basically, the intentional organizing of your mind. It is filtering out unimportant contents, identifying and defining valuable new contents, and understanding why the various contents of your mind are important to you. It involves determining how information is meaningful in the context of your own life and thus how it should be stored, managed, and prioritized in both your thinking and doing.
This is also known as positive visualization. It involves imagining in vivid detail the things you want to do and how you’re going to do them.
This practice involves 2 phases of vivid imagining (or visualizing): 1) vividly imagining yourself successfully doing the specific actions involved in attaining your desired outcomes, 2) vividly imagining yourself having achieved your desired outcomes – what that state of achievement actually looks like and how it feels.
Another aspect of this practice involves deepening your belief in yourself, and deepening your trust in the process of life, by vividly imagining yourself in a harmony with everything. It involves deeply and vividly imagining a loving relationship with others and with life itself.
BONUS PRACTICE #1:
This is a variation of basic meditation that involves concentrated intention. Loving-kindness meditation involves thinking, whereas basic meditation involves non-thinking. This practice involves gently generating and embracing thoughts of lovingness & kindness.
Loving-kindness primarily entails “well-wishing”: genuinely and intently hoping that others are living well.
BONUS PRACTICE #2:
Loose Stillness Practice:
This is a variation of basic physical meditation that involves simply being loosely still. It involves an intentional physical state of non-movement and non-tension.
This practice allows you to establish the physical calm that basic meditation produces, but it doesn’t require an accompanying mental state of non-thinking: you can be actively processing information while keeping your body loosely still.
This practice not only creates and sustains calm but it also conserves energy, especially when combined with steady breathing. And you can practice being loosely still pretty much all the time. (Even during physical activity you can implement loose stillness in between the necessary movements of the activity.)
All of these practices can be immensely beneficial. They all involve the centering of attention, to some extent, and can increase relaxation, just like meditation.
It’s ideal to consistently and consciously engage all of these practices on a daily basis, to some degree, including a formal meditation practice if possible. But if formal meditation just isn’t practical for you, and if any one of these practices serves you better, then simply focus on engaging the practice that works best for you.