Meditation in an overstimulated world
In today’s world, with the constant pressure to multitask demanding careers and personal lives and the overwhelming tech torrent of information and communications, sitting down and being quiet and still can seem daunting—to some, even impossible. But for the exact same reasons, it’s more important than ever.
The hard part for beginners is, how do you stop the onslaught of overstimulation? How do you begin to meditate?
It’s never been easy, not for thousands of years, says Swami Pranananda, who has been leading the Meditation Teacher Training program at the Temple of Kriya Yoga for more than 15 years. “The difference today is that virtually everyone—even in Third World countries—is attached to a device now, and that device is highly responsible for creating a splintering of consciousness,” she explains. “It’s a problem. In the past you didn’t know everything everyone was thinking, but with Twitter, you do.”
Follow your intuition
Despite these challenges, you have something crucial on your side: the innate ability to meditate. In fact, whether you realize or not, you already do it and have been your whole life, says Gary Wager, who teaches meditation at the Temple.
“Think back to when you were a kid and you were totally into something and you couldn’t even hear your mom calling you to dinner,” he says. In his own personal life, Wager, who was raised Catholic, would look at and ponder the symbols he saw in church, which he later learned were universal symbols. These types of meditative experiences were your first forays into this practice.
But you’re not a kid anymore; rather, a busy adult. Who’s got time to meditate? If you’re not sure about giving it a try, consider this: Pranananda, a former senior executive at a Fortune 500 company, knows firsthand that meditation will make you better at all the other things you’re working so hard to do.
“For starters, most things don’t need to be done right at this moment. Much of that pressure is actually self-created,” she says. “Second, you are able to accomplish far more when your mind and body are properly rested.”
But the main reason to meditate is because it is the way to happiness. “You have the capacity for happiness, for joy, for bliss,” she says. If you’re struggling to even begin, it may be because you’re struggling with the notion that you are entitled to be happy. “You have that right in this incarnation,” she says. Wager agrees: “The point of meditation is get back to namaste,” which means “I see the divine in you,” but, he explains, “You have to see it in yourself to be able to recognize it in others.”
Pranananda suggests beginners start with a technology fast—get off social media and turn off your phone for a set period every day. “It doesn’t mean disconnecting altogether,” she says, “but make small changes.”
Then, dedicate some time every day to simply being present to whatever it is you’re doing, and make sure it’s just one thing—not five or 15 things. Next, set aside time to not do anything at all, be silent and close your eyes, and “watch what happens to your mind!” Pranananda says.
Find good books to read on meditation to learn the basics. There is a series of books on meditation written by Goswami Kriyananda, including Beginners Guide to Meditation, Intermediate Guide to Meditation, and Advanced Guide to Meditation , which are easy to understand and useful to read repeatedly over the course of your life. There are also many audio teachings on meditation on KriyaU.com, and the Temple has audio recordings of guided meditations from Goswami Kriyananda.
Take a breath
With this kind of simple preparation, you might be ready for meditation. Meditation begins with concentration on one thing, Pranananda says.
“I like to say I teach concentration, not meditation,” Wager says. “I teach people how to get back to a feeling state that you have naturally.” A feeling state is different than emotion, which is laden with personal history, he explains.
Expending the effort to concentrate, bringing your energy into a single focus, moves you then into meditation, which is effortless. “It is and should always be a joyful experience,” Pranananda says.
In the beginning, meditation should only be done for very short periods of time—a few minutes at the most. Simply pay attention to your breath. Become aware of the inhalation, become aware of the exhalation, become aware of the hold. If your mind becomes distracted, gently bring it back to your breath. After a few minutes, bring your awareness back to the room. Hold the state of feeling you were having while watching your breath and take that feeling with you into the day. Repeat the practice several times throughout the day. Make a commitment to turning the practice into a daily habit.
Repeating a mantra, which can be found in all religious traditions, can be helpful in focusing since some form of chanting might already be familiar to you.
The length of time in meditation will likely increase as your practice deepens. But remember always that it’s not the length of time that matters, it’s the effortless concentration of the mind.
Join the crowd
“You don't have to depend upon another leading you to meditation. You can learn to meditate on your own through practice,” Pranananda says. But there’s much to be gained from meditating with a group. It can be a motivation and an inspiration to practice, and the support can help beginners reduce anxieties, calm concerns, and ease into meditating for longer periods.
Pranananda explains that group dynamics of meditative environments have a basis in science: that you become like the things you’re around and that vibrations lift other vibrations.
All are welcome to group meditation at the Temple, regardless of level of experience. The Temple has many teachers who have practiced meditation for decades and who are trained to lead and teach meditation. There is a free Wednesday evening meditation group.
Ultimately, as a beginner, remember that there’s no need to overthink meditation—in fact, that’s counterproductive. “It’s not complicated. Turning inward will make you happy,” says Pranananda. And you might as well be aware of what you’re already doing and making it a practice because, Wager says, “your whole life is a meditation.”