"Your post on the difference between mindfulness and meditation really cleared up what they are. Having said that, I find lots of different - and conflicting - instructions on the Internet. Can you explain what I should be doing in simple terms?"
When it comes to meditating, there are a lot of misconceptions. Not to mention confusing and conflicting information. We can clear it up for you!
Meditating isn't something mystical. You don't have to adopt a new philosophy or religion. And, it's not about wearing robes, sitting in an uncomfortable position, or listening to "guided" instructions.
You can sit in an uncomfortable position if you want. But, all you really need is a straight back. A straight back promotes alertness - so use a chair, the couch (don't slouch!), or sit on the floor with your back against the wall.
Set a timer for 5 minutes (start small, add more later). Take a few deep breaths, and then let it flow naturally. Don't try to control it.
Focus your attention on your breath as it enters and exits your nostrils (or, as your stomach rises and falls) - this is called your anchor.
At some point, you will notice your attention has wandered and you'll become aware of thoughts. You will probably be flooded with them! They might be about work, a situation you’re worried about, that guy that cut you off in traffic, something stupid you said or did, how annoyed you are at your friend’s post on Facebook…the possibilities are endless!
When you notice your attention has wandered and you're aware of thoughts, simply return it to your anchor.
That’s the objective. It’s not to control thoughts or stop your mind from producing them. It’s to become aware of them, and return your attention to your anchor.
Notice and return, over and over again (you're developing a skill).
A consistent meditation practice delivers numerous benefits backed by scientific studies. In simple terms, however, it helps distance you from the non-stop mental noise that leads to problems such as stress, anxiety, self-doubt, a short temper, lack of focus...and on and on.
It helps you break out of the habit of being lost in thought: dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, fantasizing about an alternate reality (ie, thinking about something other than right here and now).
It helps you reverse the conditioned behavior (and habitual actions/reactions) that leads to the struggles in your life.
That's it. Sit straight. Your breath is your anchor - focus your attention on it. When you become aware of (notice) thoughts, return your attention to your anchor.
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