This Unknown Meditation Technique Is Perfect For Skeptics
Many people whom I work with often talk about meditation and their frustration with it. I’m an academic, so most of the time, I work with people who are often highly intellectual in nature. Among them, some also know I’m a Spákona, or a healer in the Norse-Gaelic tradition. They know I’m discreet, so they’ll come to me about certain spiritual issues that they feel self-conscious talking about them with anyone else.
Many academics or those known for their intellect, elevate intellect and hardcore academic prowess (often known popularly as being “left-brained”); but then they balk at notions of the mystical or the spiritual unknown. Such things are often considered anathema to anyone with, supposedly, a keen, rational mind. In such moments I often point to J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, hardcore academics/intellectuals and university professors who also had a distinctly mystical side; enough to have written the Lord of the Rings sagas and the Chronicles of Narnia, respectively. No one accused either of having anything less than a keen, rational mind enough to be revered professors at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
This kind of bias or prejudice notwithstanding, one of the most common complaints I hear from these friends is that they can’t sleep, are thinking far too much, or have some kind of issue they can’t solve, whether it’s regarding a project, something personal, or something they want, but so far haven’t been able to crack in the light of day. A couple have seen it as a friendly challenge to say, “Okay, Spákona, do your thing. What am I supposed to do?” They usually hate what I’ll say next, as though I were prescribing some bizarre practice when what I am actually telling them is: “Meditate”.
Why the notion of meditation as such a strange or apparently misbegotten suggestion still floors me, as it is as natural as breathing. But for many I know, it is thinking that supposedly renders the best answers, not the absence of thought. This is counter-intuitive to those for whom thinking is the most elevated quality, and I can understand that. But Einstein himself was once to have said regarding the definition of insanity, which to many has now become a true cliche: it is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The Simplest Meditation
In this case, if taking a walk doesn’t help, or some other activity to quiet the mind won’t do (Winston Churchill painted, for instance) that is supposedly more innocuous and less “woo-woo,” what I’ll suggest is that they try one of the easiest, simplest of meditations: concentrating on a candle flame.
The directions are also simple. First, the easiest of preparations:
- Be somewhere you can be alone and undisturbed for at least 5 to 10 minutes at first;
- Turn off or silence your phone or any electronics that might be a disturbance;
- Dim or turn off any lights, especially at night;
- Light a candle.
Now for the meditation part:
- Concentrate on the flame.
- Be aware of your breathing as you look at the light. Try to slow your breaths down as you slowly inhale and exhale.
- Watch the flame and its swaying, flickering, and movement without averting your gaze from it.
- You may feel your vision constrict, with your peripheral vision becoming hazy (this is normal).
- If you feel a thought coming, just accept it and let it go. There should be no judgment about a thought invading the silence. Accept that it just is.
- Keep concentrating on the flame and its light, breathing in and out slowly until it almost feels as though you and the flame are one.
I suggest trying to do this for at least 5 to 10 minutes at first, at least once a day for a week. Like any repetitive exercise, it becomes automatic; it also affects the chemistry and even physical constructs within the brain, never mind mood, acuity, and other benefits. Most people can spare 5 to 10 minutes, and like with any discipline, the more you do it, the more adept you will become at getting into the flow of it. For this is the whole purpose; meditation and “flow” (referring to the theory suggested by Csikszentmihalyi) are inherently connected.
For those whom I work with who feel “weird” not thinking, this is exactly the point. And once I point out some of the more scientific aspects, it perhaps becomes not just acceptable; but now with further information, it makes logical sense to do. This truly simple meditation practice also has another side to it: to focus on “light” can also act as a rather profound metaphor–suggesting opening the mind to possibilities that perhaps enable a kind of enlightenment. Sometimes it is just a matter of being able to speak a particular kind of language to those who need just such a scaffold. And even for those who meditate regularly, or have an intense kind of spiritual practice, when something becomes stale or frustrating, or you start to level judgment at yourself for all of a sudden not feeling certain, expected benefits, this is the practice I always suggest going back to. It gets down to the basics while offering something (and, pun intended) illuminating.
For anyone, the simplest practice can sometimes be the most profound, for the intellectual, empath, and anyone in-between.
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