I have a theory on why meditation widens perspective.
Because meditation quietens the mind, it destabilizes the ego, which relies on your mind being a) chaotic and b) unobserved. Anything that destabilizes the ego necessarily widens perspective, because a stabilized ego left alone in the dark to flourish by definition has a narrow perspective that is admittedly unique from person to person but despite the uniqueness, there is a persistent theme: negativity, division, condemnation. And condemnation is another way to say narrow-mindedness. Widening your perspective is something that leaves narrow-mindedness in the past.
So how do you meditate?
There are lots of different ways to do it. First, there are two general categories: seated meditation and moving meditation. If you’ve tried a version of seated meditation, but you just fall asleep, or you just can’t physically bear to be that still for that long, maybe try moving meditation. If moving around is too much, try seated meditation.
Here’s an overview:
Silent Meditation comes in a variety of forms including a wonderful version from the Zen Buddhist tradition, a wonderful version from the Hindu tradition, and others. The basic gist: empty your mind, follow your breath. Start in a comfortable seated position with good posture, stop thinking and concentrate on the gentle inhale and exhale. Start for a few minutes, work up to twenty minutes a day, twice a day. (Did you know: tradition has it that both kung fu and yoga were created to strengthen the body so that religious folks could sit in meditation for hours at a time!)
Chanting/Singing Meditation comes in a variety of forms as well. The Hindu tradition brings us single syllable chants like ‘Ohm’, where the knowledge of the spiritual meaning of what is being chanted deepens the practice of focusing on the chant itself, the breath control, and the silence afterwards. Most religions have a tradition of chanting, but everybody sings. Singing some or all the verses of a hymn that you know you agree with clears the mind and is also a form of meditation. (Did you know: research is now discovering that chanting and singing stimulates the Vagus Nerve in beneficial ways, and different than just talking. But you can get the same effect from humming, too!)
Guided Meditation usually involves some visualization and another person leading you into the quietness of mind, and then bringing you back out again. Many different traditions offer this as well, and if you’ve never tried Yoga Nidra, go google it, because it’s worthwhile. You may have encountered a guided meditation at the end of a yoga class, or a contemplative prayer service at your house of worship. I’ve got a few on my youtube channel, and I love featuring them in fiction. Of course, if you’re practiced, it doesn’t need to be someone else guiding you, but there is usually a specific focus to your thoughts that changes throughout the meditation, and all other thoughts are let go of.
Qigong is the grandmother of Tai Chi, and as I like to think of it, ‘healing kung fu’. One is meant to enter into a quiet meditative state before one begins, and then do all the exercises and simple movements in that quiet, meditative state. Not every qigong teacher might teach this way, but hey – qigong was created by monks. You can’t tell me they didn’t do it in a quiet, meditative state. You can learn more from my own teacher, here.
Yoga is another one that you can choose to do in a quiet, meditative state, or not. It’s easy: learn new stances during a separate learning session, and let your practice session be things you already know well. And during a practice session, right at the beginning, close your eyes and stand in the mountain pose. Quieten your breathing. Relax your body. Find the places of quiet stillness inside of you and smile at it, or them. Then take that smiling stillness into the rest of your practice. When you’re done, rest in corpse pose and feel the gratitude well up within you from that smiling stillness and help guide you out of your meditation.
Walking in Nature/Tree Bathing is maybe the one we do most often and give ourselves the least amount of credit for. This is when we take a walk that isn’t about the walk. We can go slowly, stop often, and not end up going very far at all. (Often, this occurs with a dog!) It’s not about speed, though if we have endurance maybe we just spend the whole day this way (that’s fine, too!). This involves the same sort of internal zen state as qigong and yoga that I’ve described above: quieten the thoughts, breathe easily and deeply, feel yourself relax and purposefully stop thinking about things. Just exist along with nature. If things occur to you, gently let them go. They’ll come back when you’re not meditating. If you’re having trouble letting go of thoughts, focus on what you’re seeing, what you’re smelling, what you’re feeling. Just stare at a tree, or a leaf, or a flower, or the water, or the rock, letting your eyes go soft and gentle.
Mindfulness Meditation is maybe the most versatile meditation of them all! Once you’re practiced at it, you can do mindfulness meditation all day long, your entire waking hours. This is the one that reminds me of the Christian instruction, ‘pray, without ceasing’. In mindfulness meditation you are fully present to what you are doing. (Ah! So simple!) A popular one is to practice it while eating, but other good ones happen while doing a routine chore, like the dishes, or the laundry, and a very good one is to practice mindfulness meditation while someone is speaking to you.
For eating, it might look like this:
- Before you pick up your utensil, look at your food.
- Smell your food.
- Take a moment to appreciate your food.
- Think about your next bite.
- Identify what your next bite will be.
- Pick up your utensil and take a single bite, putting your utensil back down again.
- Chew thoroughly – at least a twenty count.
- Taste the food while you do this; can you taste the second burst of flavor that happens just after when you might normally swallow your mouthful?
- Swallow thoroughly and entirely empty your mouth.
- After you’re finished, take a deep breath and appreciate the bite you’ve just enjoyed.
- Ask yourself if you are still hungry.
- If you are still hungry, then begin the process again, from the top.
That’s how you bring mindfulness to eating, but the process is the same no matter what you’re doing: be present. Focus on what is with all your senses, and allow it to take up space in your life, be appreciative, don’t rush.
This is the final blogpost in the series on Widening Perspective. You can find the other posts here: reading books, compassion, gratitude, religious community, forgiveness.