Welcome to "The Art of Transformation: Using Meditation to Calm your Mind and Change your Life" Series. This is Part 1 of a 5 part mini-training series designed to outline the 4 stages of transformation and give you some simple, powerful tools to navigate each stage. And ultimately I've designed it to help you shift from feeling stuck, to feeling empowered in creating deep change in love, work, health, or any other aspect of your life (without having to constantly rely on friends, psychics, and therapists for advice).
In this article I'll briefly list the 4 stages of transformation through meditation, and then go into more depth about the first stage "heal your mind". Let's dive in!
The 4 Stages of Transformation
- Stage 1: Heal Your Mind
- Stage 2: Look Deeply
- Stage 3: Gain Understanding
- Stage 4: Transform
- Bonus: The Key to a Successful Practice
Stage 1: Heal Your Mind
"Great things can not be accomplished until we have achieved inner stability not disturbed by ambiguous situations."
-A Guide to the I Ching, Carol K. Anthony
Your mind is your greatest asset, simply because it's responsible for your decision making ability. So keeping your mind strong and healthy is of utmost importance to making good decisions, that ultimately lead you to the circumstances and life you desire. And since we often take action based on our emotions (the advertising industry relies on this fact), being able to manage your emotions is equally important to making good decisions (and is also reliant on a healthy mind).
So If you're stuck in a undesirable pattern or circumstance in a relationship, for example, at the most basic level, it's because you're making choices that don't support the relationship you truly desire (whether you consciously realize it or not). So in order to transform a stuck love life, you must first heal your mind and manage your emotions, so you make better decisions in your love life. Make sense? There's a bit more to this which we'll get into in the next training. For now, let's just keep it simple and say in most cases:
A healthy mind = emotional resilience >> thoughtful decisions >> desirable circumstances
An unhealthy mind = emotional turbulence >> reactive decisions >> stuck, undesirable circumstances
I think there's a lot of confusion around what constitutes a healthy mind, so let's quickly clarify that. A healthy mind is one that is CLEAR and CALM. An unhealthy mind, is a one that's chaotic- constantly distracted from the present moment, obsessing over the past, or worrying about the future. A chaotic mind, leads to chaotic emotions.
A healthy mind allows you to:
- feel calm and grounded (even when faced with difficulty)
- make better decisions that support your ideal love, work, health, etc. circumstances
- come up with creative solutions to problems
- receive messages from your spirit (intuition) and the universe
- be more mindful (slow down and observe thought and emotion tendencies and reactions as they're happening)
So while a healthy mind is one that is clear and calm, most of us in modern society are burdened with an unhealthy mind. Our fast paced, over stimulated society, and the pressure put on us to keep up, has caused an epidemic of compromised minds.
And sadly, it's not yet common practice to be taught the tools to maintain a healthy, balanced mind, even though it's more necessary than ever now. Without proper re-training of the mind, many of us will stay in a state of perpetual mental distraction and overwhelm, constantly feeling like our dreams are just out of reach.
Linda Stone, a former Apple executive, called this epidemic mind state "Continuous Partial Attention (CPA)". She says,
"CPA involves an artificial sense of constant crisis, of living in a 24/7, always-on world. It contributes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, overstimulated, and unfulfilled. It compromises our ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively."
So how do we counteract this epidemic that's keeping many of us in constant mental and emotional overwhelm, and derailing our lives?
You've probably guessed that the answer is meditation! I once read on a tea bag, "Meditation is the medicine for the mind", and I wholeheartedly agree. But there are a couple things that the tea bag left out.
Two facts that are important to keep in mind for a successful meditation practice:
- There are many types of meditation, each best for a specific purpose.
- There's a root skill that's necessary for any type of meditation. That root skill is called "concentration", and it's something many great meditation teachers speak about.
Before I teach you a concentration technique to begin calming your mind, I want to remind you:
Healing your mind is not about stopping thoughts or avoiding undesirable emotions. It's simply about using your mind more efficiently and intentionally, to create more joy and fulfillment in your life.
A healthy mind focuses on the present task or moment so you can approach it skillfully, with all your resources. It reflects on the past to search for clues around what habits you need to shift, so you can be more aligned with your desired circumstances. It projects into the future when you need to plan, set goals, or visualize your dreams. It healthy mind is powerful!
The Concentration Meditation Technique
"First we need to stop the invasion of feelings and thoughts, which deplete our strength in meditation, and cultivate the capacity, the power, of concentration. Concentration is the first practice of meditation."
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Many people think that they're great multi-taskers, but the truth is, the mind actually works most efficiently when it's focused on one task at a time.
"Concentration meditation" is a very basic meditation technique that will help your mind maintain focus on the task or moment at hand, and allow distractions to pass by, without pulling you in.
This is an important skill both on the cushion (during any meditation), and off the cushion (in life).
Concentration is a skill that you should have some level of proficiency with, before you move on to other meditation techniques. If you skip it, you'll likely notice lots of frustration with your practice and perhaps even thoughts that meditation isn't for you.
The truth is, meditation is a natural ability that everyone is capable of.
If it feels especially hard to calm your mind and focus, and you're constantly distracted by thoughts or feelings that take you out of the present moment (or if you feel meditation isn't for you because of this) this technique is especially important for you. DO NOT underestimate the power of concentration!
So let's get started!
When I went to my first meditation retreat (10 days long!), we spent the first 3 days just doing a simple concentration meditation technique before we moved onto a slightly more advanced technique. There are many types of "concentration meditation" techniques, but my favorite is the one I learned at my retreat, a "simple breath meditation". Below is a step by step process.
***Note that the intention of this meditation is NOT to avoid distracting thoughts, emotions, etc. In fact, step 5 and 6 which ask you to notice when your mind has wandered and then gently bring it back to the breath, are the key pieces to strengthening your mind. Each time you bring your wandering mind back to the breath, you are strengthening your ability to focus and concentrate your mind (ie. healing your mind), bringing you 1 step closer to transforming your life!
Here are some guided versions to try out (clickable links):
- 5 minute "breath meditation" concentration technique (you tube video)
- 10 minute "breath meditation" concentration technique (you tube video)
- Insight Timer (free iphone/android app)
- download the free app
- go to "Guided Meditations" >> "Featured" tab >> scroll down to "Breath Meditation" by Sharon Salzberg (10 min)
- hint 1: once you're on that meditation page, you can scroll down and click to "add to favorites"
- hint 2: you can also use the app as a timer for unguided "concentration meditations" once you get comfortable with the technique. (it has nice chimes!)
"Once you develop even a little concentration- which happens after a relatively short period of meditation- you find it enhances all other methods of spiritual practice."
As your concentration and focus grow on the cushion, you'll also notice yourself naturally becoming more mindful (or focused on the present moment) in your everyday life. As you continue your practice, you'll experience more peace and many things in your life may start to shift naturally.
In Part 2, we'll discuss stage 2 of transformation through meditation, "Looking Deeply".
You'll be especially interested in this stage for those stubborn patterns or situations in love, work, health, etc that you can't seem to shift no matter how hard you try!
Until then, I recommend practicing one of the above "concentration meditation" techniques at least 5-10 minutes a day. You get bonus points if you do it twice a day :)
I'd love to know, How did you feel after doing the "concentration meditation" technique? (comment below)