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Stephan Bodian on Meditating
Stephan Bodian has been teaching meditation for 35 years and is the author of Meditation for Dummies, which has sold more than 150,000 copies worldwide. His new book is Wake Up Now: A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening. He began practicing Zen meditation in 1970 and was ordained as a Zen monk in 1974. He has studied with a number of well-known spiritual teachers and is the former editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal magazine. Bodian offers his wisdom on the first 30 days of meditating.
Was there a particular moment in your life that inspired you to pursue meditation?
A really bad acid trip in college. I’m serious. I thought I was dying, and when I came out of it I realized that I was done exploring the mind through drugs. Remember I was a child of the ’60s.
I went to a Zen center in New York City and knew I’d come home. I wasn’t a great meditator at first. It took me a long time to get comfortable, to settle into my body, but I realized that this is what I wanted to do.
Why should someone be bothered to try meditating?
Studies using brain-imaging technology show that meditation, even for a short time, will substantially and measurably increase your happiness—also known as subjective well-being—and your enjoyment of life. There are also health benefits such as lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, enhanced immunity and increased longevity.
What is the most important thing to do in the first 30 days of practice?
Relax. We are so geared to “doing” in our culture and we have such an orientation to being successful that we bring the same mindset to meditation. Meditation is about shifting from “doing” to “being.” Most people don’t know how to do that and it takes a while to make the shift.
What are the top three tips you can give people who are interested in beginning meditation?
First, the point of meditation is not to stop the mind. The point of meditation is to be present, to cultivate awareness. Second, stop looking for results. Let go of the judging mind and just do it. Third, stick with it. Keep going, even if it’s not fun or seems boring. If you miss a day, don’t be discouraged. Keep your energy up for it. And, stay with one approach. Don’t dabble or jump from technique to technique. Once you've chosen an approach, stick with it for a couple of months before you consider changing.
What misconceptions keep people from exploring meditation?
In some circles, people still believe meditation is New Age or “woo-woo.” In Texas, where I live now, some even think it’s the work of the devil. Meditation doesn’t bring immediate gratification [like people think it will], and it can be boring to your mind. People tend to give up before they reap the rewards. But, like running a marathon, you need to build muscle by practicing. You need to do the grunt work. For many that’s not exciting. They’d rather turn on the TV, listen to the radio or chat with friends. These are the main things that hold people back.
For those who want to take their first journey into meditation, what are the typical experiences they can expect?
You’ll almost certainly find that you can’t “do it right,” the way you think you are supposed to do it. Just remember that that’s not the point. The point is to keep coming back to the practice. If you are following your breath, you can expect to lose track of it again and again and again. Just keep coming back to the breath without judgment and without discouragement. You may also find that it is hard to sit still for 10 or 15 minutes, which I recommend as the minimum amount of time.
You may get restless or sleepy. When you sit still you become more aware of how busy your mind always is. You may also experience rushes of energy, flashing lights, distracting images or a number of other different experiences. They are not dangerous in any way—positive or negative, just set them aside and keep going.
How can people overcome the obstacles that may come up during meditation?
The language I use is: accept, allow, relax, let be and welcome. These are the words that describe the attitude of meditation. I think women are better at this than men. They have more receptive energy. Men have a harder time learning how to be receptive. But the key is not about “overcoming” these states. It’s about welcoming whatever arises. If you find yourself getting upset or concerned, just relax, take a breath, and remind yourself that everything is OK and nothing about [meditating] is dangerous or harmful. It’s a beneficial practice.
How can someone start meditating today?
Find a clear description of a technique and put it into practice. For example, you can focus your attention on the sensations of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to the breath. Keep the directions in front of you so you feel confident about what to do. Find a time in the day—perhaps first thing in the morning or when you come home from work—when you can move into a quiet spot and a comfortable position, and then just do it.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I go to the silence beneath all beliefs.
The best thing about change is...
...that it never stops.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Starting to meditate.
For more information on Stephan Bodian, visit www.stephanbodian.org.