Meditation for the Non-Spiritual Types

As I opened my eyes after the most recent meditation session, I realised that everyone can and should practice mindfulness meditation. In that moment of clarity, I felt I was able to spell out how meditation can make sense to a non-spiritual person like how I was when I first started. This post is a result of that, and so I’d like to share my thoughts on this.

Before I dive into that, I want to share my own experience in meditation. If you’d rather just jump to that, scroll to the last section of this post.

It has just dawned on me recently that each year in my three years of teaching yoga represents a different state in my journey in meditation. The first year was marked by uncertainty and doubt about how to go about meditating. No amount of reading and experimenting with techniques was bringing me closer to my idea of a “good meditation,” and I was quick to brush it off as something I was not ready for.

The second year saw my interest in meditation being rekindled. It was by chance that I found this sitting meditation technique that I was finally able to get into without struggling too much with visualisation skills and the likes. According to the wonderful teacher (Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu) in the video, there was no “spiritual mumbo-jumbo” to deal with. That turned out to be a big plus for me at that point in time, because it proved to be the most practical technique that was easy for me to follow and experience. I have always been a science student, so even as I was wading deeper into the philosophical realms of yoga, I still found much of the spiritual ramblings in meditation hard to accept or digest (I know, the die-hard skeptic in me.) The sitting meditation technique was really a turning point for me to be able to get a glimpse of what meditation and mindfulness were really about. I’m forever indebted to this, and so I take it upon myself to tell this to everyone whenever the opportunity arises.

Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Little did I know, even with only one meditation technique up my sleeve, I was taking baby steps towards reaping the spiritual benefits of meditation. In a Jobs-esque way of “connecting the dots,” I now realise that just sticking religiously to meditation would yield benefits in time to come. This third year, I have the good fortune to re-learn a range of meditation techniques with a group of new teacher trainees, and each meditation experience felt so much richer and more powerful than my first year. It suddenly felt like everything just “clicks.”

Mindfulness meditation without the spiritual mumbo-jumbo

1. Understand what mindfulness meditation is

Much like the anger management technique of counting to ten before you speak, I find that if you cannot understand the spiritual underpinnings in meditation, you can simply use mindfulness as a way to create a space for the mind to retreat into before its reactive thoughts are turned into reactive actions.

2. Take the moment to sit, stand or walk

Pick a technique that makes sense to you. It can be any technique, as long as it is one that requires you to get out of your normal routine and forces you to be in a particular action, be it sitting, standing or walking, for a period of time. I find that this creates a different frame of mind and also a tangible point of focus to concentrate on. For me, sitting and focusing on the breath work perfectly, especially if sitting in a full lotus pose. This particular pose signals to my mind that “I’m going to be here for a while, and I’m not going anywhere.” Tell yourself you will spend time with your mind, watching it, understanding it.

3. Make it long

When you first start meditating, just sitting down for five minutes doing nothing except watching your breath can be very mind-numbing and boring. Yet, this is the only way to go. Start slow and start with just five minutes, and work your way up to a longer period of time, like fifteen minutes, then half an hour, and so on. However, you definitely have to go beyond that five minutes to feel any significant effects of meditation. You have to work beyond that initial wave of doubt, discomfort (mostly physical) and denial, and that takes time. The way I see it, it is a form of dulling the mind to a point when you can dissociate reactive thoughts from your mind, step back and watch these thoughts from a distance like you would examine a piece of crystal between your fingers. As you sit with your mind and your thoughts for a while, you may find your initial emotions changing and becoming clearer.

Moving on from here, I have hopes for taking my meditation practice further, to a point where I can ultimately teach and guide others on their paths to meditation, to share the joy that I have experienced and are still experiencing through the grace of other teachers that have guided me.