Building a firm meditation practice can really transform your unhelpful habits, behavioural patterns and relationships. It can literally make your body, mind and life, in general, a much better place to exist.
The type of meditation that can really help to transform your life is one where you spend time aside from your mind. It's a reflective exercise where attention is payed to the breath so that you observe your mental patterns, rather than simply being them.
Mindfulness meditation as a practice
This type of meditation is often called mindfulness. It's different to other relaxation methods, such as guided creative visualisation or hypnosis, where there is an aim or an experience of intending to lift up and out of yourself. This is incredibly useful for the purpose of relaxing, or in the case of hypnosis, for working on changing, an already identified negative habit.
However, these techniques may not offer, true transformational change within us, without the addition of a meditation practice. This is often because it can lead to escapist tendencies or avoidance of truly being with, and seeing the mental constructs which are keeping us stuck in the same cycles of behaviour. Of course, becoming more present and awake to the moment doesn't have to arrive solely out of meditation. Many people can come to this in other ways, through shock, life trauma or just an evolving entry into an alert being state. However meditation for many, remains a useful tool to become steadily more free from the mental suffering.
Outside of the meditation practice, the ability to be in the present moment can increase, and there is an ability to develop more space in your daily life. This can lead to being less reactive and more control over emotions and unhelpful mental constructs. It takes time to transform old patterns and at times of heightened life stresses, the meditation practice can be increased to assist with remaining as centred as possible. We all fall off the line from time to time, or even day to day, and to accept that we have become taken over by an unconscious pattern or an old wound can be the start to getting free of it again. In fact the more presence we develop, often the more challenging material arises because we are literally aware enough to start being conscious of patterns which have previously been held in the unconscious. These thought constructs, defences or emotional patterns may have been with us for years, but we've managed to keep them at bay through distraction or identification with a personality construct which gives a false sense of containment and security.
It is a continual process of coming back to the deeper self, of freeing ourselves from the sickness of the mind once again. Sustaining wakefulness takes commitment and discipline and can feel most nourishing.
Some shared experience from my practice
My own meditation practice consists of a 20 minute morning meditation and a 20 minute evening meditation, often with a guided meditation on headphones in the mid-afternoon. I do this because I noticed a, ball-rolling type effect happening in my day and I needed more than just a morning and early evening meditation, especially when I'm involved in a lot of concentrated tasks like computer work, which I do a lot of. I try to be in the moment as each aspect of my day unfolds, because otherwise we can have the tendency to only click in to be present during meditation, which isn't the point. However there are times I'm freer and other times when I have to work really hard to be unaffected and brought into unnecessary discomfort by the programmes and perceptions of my mind. That's part of my journey at present and I have to accept this rather than lay more judgement at my door.
Rewards of increased space and calm
In the grand scheme of things a meditation practice is the starting point to being more awake and consciously aware throughout your day and your life. It bleeds out from the practice to offer more embodiment and presence as you interact with others and make decisions etc. It can be easier to be present in meditation, when not doing or in nature, but can we get to a point of being present also when we have our sleeves rolled up and in the midst of activity, and things that would seek to pull the balance from under us? It's a great arena for spiritual practice that's for sure, so don't shy away from bringing all your moments to awakened alertness.
My life has continued to transform since I have committed to a regular daily practice. This is because I continue to observe my conditioned self, the ego. Once connected to the deeper self you create bigger and bigger space so that you are not so reactive and coming from the ego centre all of the time. You are offered free choice to make different decisions rather than follow the same instinctual path that you have always done. It's a process of course, but with discipline you can gain the greatest rewards.
These rewards aren't material or based on some financial, or physically tangible but are far superior to anything this earth life could ever offer you. It's a road to liberation of spirit and the end to suffering. I don't mean you won't feel pain, loss or limitation, these are certainties of life I'm afraid, instead you won't be so defined by them. You ll be awarded the grace to move through them with a connection to the flow and to the non-formless which will always be available to you. In a sense you can move beyond fear, because fear always concerns fear for the self or others and is about security. When you know that death, uncertainty and endings are part of this world, you accept the truth and you have faced your fears and you are free.
The mind often has an aim to sabotage the present moment by drawing us to future or past. This is what causes a prison like effect. Being in the moment can cause anxiety for a lot of people because there is vulnerability, there is no certainty, but this is the truth.
Quality rather than quantity
Make your practice realistic and achievable and build on it. You may have to work around your work day, kids etc so chose times of day you can know you have a slot of alone time.
In addition to an uninterrupted space, add something peaceful to your meditation area. I have a cushioned chair where I can hear the sea, crystals and candles and a Ganesh statue to remind me that I can move through the self-imposed blocks of my conditioning along with physical and material obstacles. Equally the Buddha symbol reminds me to be in peace and let go off all that is ultimately not real. These things won't matter when I no longer exist and so I remember that they don't have to entrap me now either.
Rather than your allotted time in meditation, it is the quality of awareness that you experience. If you find you're just not coming to wakefulness on one occasion, accept this and try something else to ground you in the now. This could be listening to a song or sitting in a garden. Play around with things and understand that the mind gets attached and used to things which can quickly take the wakefulness out of them. So feel into what you need, rather than follow a script.
Enjoy the freedom of being with your deeper unencumbered self. I find it to be a vital practice for life, and getting away from the ego self is a rewarding little death each time. This keeps us connected to the eternal rather than the fading external.