The Dalai Lama was sitting on a raised platform, already deep in meditation. I slipped off my shoes, sat cross-legged at a slight angle on the floor to avoid my toes being pointed in his direction, closed my eyes and started to focus on my breathing.

All my meditation insecurities immediately started to kick in. After a few minutes, I heard his deep, distinctive baritone voice: "Any questions?" I looked up and saw his smiling face, starting to break into his characteristic head-bobbing laugh.

"This is hard for me," I said. "Me, too!" he exclaimed. "After doing daily for 60 years, it is still hard."

It was at once surprising and reassuring to hear him say this. The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet, also has trouble meditating.

This is how Sanjay Gupta began to explain his experience meditating with the Dalai Lama. With the statement that even for him, the person who epitomizes the practice of meditation, it’s not always easy. “Oh my goodness,” I thought when I read this article. “If it’s hard for the Dalai Lama, it’s time for me to stop being so hard on myself and getting frustrated for not being a “perfect” meditator (whatever that is and as if that even exists). Instead, I determined to never ever beat myself up when my daily meditations become a bit rambling and disjointed and to work on tools to draw myself back in when my mind wants to take off on a tangent. Guess what - the acts of giving myself permission to be imperfect and of taking the pressure off, made my meditation practice smoother, more enjoyable, more relaxing and more successful.

If you’ve been keeping up with my articles, you know that I am a strong advocate of mindfulness - that is, being aware and in the moment with oneself and one’s environment. It is this mindfulness that is the first step to successful meditation. Mindfulness can be achieved in any moment. It doesn’t require any special circumstance. It can happen at the checkout line, in a meeting, when you brush your teeth or when you are with yourself. In the previous articles I talk about the connection between mindfulness and meditation. I also talked about mindfulness exercises so that you can train yourself to begin the practice of meditation. What’s next? It’s breathing - breathing mindfully is what will help you with being mindful and it will be a great way to get your meditation practice started.

The act of breathing in and out and focusing on each breath is the bedrock of meditation. All you want to do here is be aware of your breath. For the moment, you aren’t worrying about what you’re feeling or experiencing, just that you are breathing. At first, you will find yourself thinking about each breath. But what I want you to do is experience the feeling of breathing with all of your other senses. It will be a while before you can actually focus on an entire breath. If you are like most people who live in the modern world, you mind is on speed dial and it goes into a million different directions all at once – all the time.

When your mind wanders, you’ll know. You’ll find that you’re thinking about your next task, a phone call you forgot or going to the grocery store. No problem. Acknowledge whatever it is that captured your attention, then refocus, get back to your breathing and refocus yet again. Sometimes, if I’m having trouble I count my breaths and I deliberately breathe at a pace that I control: inhale 1-2-3- then exhale 1-2-3-4-5 (longer exhales are helpful for me, but your ideal pace may be different.) For some people it is helpful to chant a mantra, a tone. I have been chanting a Sanskrit tone for twenty-five years. If that appeals to you, you can try breathing first and then chanting om (a Sanskrit symbol for Hindi deities) or hu or ani-hu. Hu is Sanskrit for the Supreme God and ani stands for empathy.

As I’m writing this post for you, I’m tempted to go on and on to help and guide you in your meditative practice, but something is telling me that because meditation is so personal, it’s best if I give you these basics and step back so that you can try the steps of being mindful and breathing and accepting that whatever you do on your own is your personal road to success.

The thing about meditation is that it’s for you and you alone. It’s a great tool for success in your daily life. It’s a pathway to mental and physical health. It can help you reach your personal goals, whether large or small, mundane or grand. Do you want to lose weight? Mindful meditation can help you. Do you want to be a kinder gentler soul? Mindful meditation can help you with that as well.

Lots of research has been done about this and you can find a great deal about it online. If you are interested in learning how to become more mindful and or consider meditation, and want me to help
you, please contact me. The joy that we can achieve together will be immeasurable.