When we asked people awhile back for some suggestions for topics they’d like to see covered on the blog, someone suggested meditation as a thing they’d like to hear us say more about.
I first started to meditate back in 1991, when I was still a graduate student, and I’ve had a fairly consistent meditation practice since then (with various levels of dedication but it’s always a thing in my life regardless). The book I learned with was called The Joy Within by Joan Goldstein and Manuela Soares.
It is an excellent starter book that helps you build from very short periods of meditation (under 2 minutes) to longer periods up to 30 minutes over a four week period. It takes you through different focusing techniques, some involving breathing, others involving sounds, still others taking attention to mental images. The authors suggest keeping a journal and jotting down your experience after each meditation. The journal helps the new practitioner to become aware of which of the techniques yield a better experience. By the time I finished the book I was meditating daily.
I keep a copy of the book on hand for old times sake, not that I’ve ever really picked it back up again since those early days. Between then and now I have journeyed into many different forms of meditation. I’ve sat in silence for hours at a time, in chairs, on cushions, on meditation benches. I’ve used the sound of the ocean to carry me into that space of meditation where thoughts fade into the background. From breath to mindfulness, from body scans to visualizing my thoughts disappearing like leaves floating down a river or papers burning in a fire, from walking meditation to following the sound of cars to imagining a white light glowing from the centre of my body — I’ve tried so many different forms of meditation and not exhausted the full possibilities yet.
I’ve enjoyed meditating alone and in groups. And sometimes, when it feels challenging, I use guided meditations. And here’s where my favourite app, the Insight Timer, comes in. I swear this is the best free app you can find anywhere. This app includes a timer that has the sound of different meditation bells and bowls. It also enables you to be part of a global community of others who meditate. Whenever you use it, the app tells you how many other people were meditating at the same time. It shows you a map of where in the world those folks are. You can become their friend or just send them messages saying “thank you for meditating with me.” That’s all cool and good.
But the real value of this app is the thousands of guided meditations that it makes available to its users. The guided meditations are of varying quality, but users can and do write reviews of them, so you can see the ratings out of 5 stars and read user comments. The app also divides the guided meditations into playlists. So for example, back in the winter when I was having difficulty sleeping, I explored the “sleep” playlist and found Jennifer Piercy’s “Healing Darkness” and “Yoga Nidra for Sleep” guided meditations. There are literally over 5000 sleep meditations alone. You can bookmark your favourites and request that, for any playlist you like, you be sent a notification when new content comes along.
Other playlists include: Relax, Stress, Chakras, First Time, Emotional Balance, Gratitude, Sond Healing, Movement, Inner Peace, Chanting and Mantras, Self-Love, Morning, Breathe, Music, Ambient Music, Acceptance, Recovery, even Mindful Eating meditations. The app also includes different languages, podcasts, and special sections for kids and for pregnancy and parenting. There’s a Mindfulness section and a 365 Days section where they post one new meditation each day. It’s a great way to try different methods and see what you like. Most of the daily meditations published on “365 Days” are under 15 minutes so it’s good for beginners.
I’m sure there must be other meditation apps out there but with all that the Insight Timer has to offer (and for free) I don’t see any reason to try anything else. The timer itself, the meditation community, and the rich selection of guided meditation offer more than enough to the beginner or the experienced practitioner.
When I meditate daily I feel more able to handle the stresses of life. Meditation helps me gain perspective, not just on my inner life (though it certainly does that) but somehow on everything. Taking the time to sit quietly no matter what is going on is, in my view, as much a way to honor and respect myself as taking the time to workout, go running, do some yoga, or swim a few laps.
What about you? Is meditation a part of your life? If so, what has your experience with it been? Is it something you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t yet found the time? If so, why not get The Joy Within or download the Insight Timer and give it a whirl?