What does it mean to be Zen? In Western culture these days, embracing our spiritual side seems to be a trend rather than a lifestyle. As a society that thrives on staying busy, it is easy to see how integrating the world of meditation into your life can seem impossible. It seems impossible to be able to sit still, to “clear your mind”, and to give your brain a break. What does “clearing your mind” even mean? As much as that sounds like a lovely thing to do, how can we keep our minds from constantly thinking?
During the Middle Ages, meditation came about in Western culture as a way to practice religion—in other words, as a form of prayer. In modern Western culture, meditation still exists as a form of religious observation, but it has also been promoted as a way to explore one's spirituality and manage mental stresses. There is no one "right" way to meditate. The beauty of meditation is that there is no perfect place to do it, nor does it have any strict rules. There are many ways that you can achieve a meditative mind, but the overall gist of meditation is easy—all you have to do is relax. Yes, just relax.
Honestly, I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried meditating. I downloaded an app on my phone that has guided meditation: all you need to do is lie on your bed with your earphones in and listen to what it says. The first time I did it, it seemed weird—I felt like I wasn’t doing it the right way, even though I knew there wasn’t a “right” way to do it. I kept feeling like my mind (which was supposed to be taking a break) wouldn’t stop racing between things I had to do, conversations I'd had that day, and the noise of the airplane that was soaring above my roof. But after I completed this 30-minute meditation session, I realized I felt refreshed. Even though I felt like I wasn’t doing it right, I also felt as though I had given my mind a bit of a vacation from what I’m used to. I realized that I had never really given my mind that detachment from constantly buzzing. After that, I decided to do some reading on the benefits of meditation and was blown away by how long I'd gone without giving my mind the break that it needs. I learned that, much like our bodies, our minds need some rest as well. Sleeping is your body’s way of helping to rest and recharge your body and mind, but resting your mind while still conscious is a practice that offers unbelievable mental health benefits.
Meditation doesn't just allow your mind and thoughts to come to a peaceful standstill—if you practice it regularly, meditation can also greatly help diminish stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Meditation allows us to grasp control of our present and forces us to focus on the moment we’re in, rather than on the worries of our past and future. Meditative breathing techniques can also help you sleep, manage stress, and overall become more in tune with your spiritual side.
I encourage you to try it out, even if you are a bit skeptical. There are hundreds of apps to choose from and YouTube videos to watch—even a single yoga session can allow you to get a taste of the practice of meditation. We all know we need to take care of our physical bodies, but we forget that our minds need to be taken care of as well. Giving ourselves time to be fully present can help make our busy day-to-day lives more peaceful and allow us to appreciate life’s moments as they happen.
This article was originally published on October 26, 2016.
Cover Image by Emma Kaufman and Jodeci Zimmerman