Meditation is that silent journey within. It is one of the most fulfilling practices I've added to my morning routine in the last 10 years. I've tried a few different types and found some more effective than others. In this post I'll detail some of the techniques available and insert my own experience with them as appropriate.
To get lost is to learn the way..
~ African proverb
Meditation is a deep dive into all things YOU. It is a personal experience that can be as strictly or loosely defined as you wish It to be. If you think about it, doesn't it makes sense that each of us would feel free to find what's best for us? The main thing is to start somewhere. If it works out, do it again. If it doesn't adjust, and try again. As my grandfather Frederick Douglass Gayden used to say, "life is a series of adjustments." A part of the process is trial and error. There are a variety of approaches to try, however, remember that you are the captain of your ship. You can set sail when you want, how you want, and where you want. You have the first and last word on how it goes. Americans are so accustomed to being socialized to belive that there's a "right" or "wrong" way of doing everything. It is different for meditation. It is tailor made to suit you for best success. Since you are involved in its design and evolution, statistics show that you will have a higher likelihood of success and longevity of its use.
How to Stop Thinking During Meditation
Though it can be a bit tricky at first, you will be able to stop your inner chatterbox if you don't try too hard or beat yourself up when you do start over-thinking anyway. Experienced meditators know that thinking or overthinking is a natural part of the journey. The reason some people aren't able to stop thinking is because they haven't found that approach that causes them to get into the "zone." If you're a musician and you're trying to meditate without music, for example, this may be the worst way to start. This is why I can't over-emphasize the need for you to make this your own. If the scent of mangoes takes you into the zone, then you may need to get a candle scented with mango to burn. There are plenty to choose from Haley's Common Scents, a Black child owned business we have on our platform at Afriware Books, Co. Whatever it is that gets you to a feeling of calm or stable-mindedness, make that a part of your routine without the need to explain it to anyone.
Types of Meditation
Let's try this together..
That's it, really. Do this slowly, without interruption. It truly doesn't have to be hard and complicated nor complex. It just has to be whatever causes you to get into the "zone." That's a term used often in the Black community. When Michael Jordan would make a straight set of 3 point baskets, people would say, "he's in the zone." When Denzel Washington portrayed Malcolm X in the Spike Lee film, we said, "he's in the zone." Or when you "zone" out while listening to Alice Coltrane's "Journey to Satchidanada" or some other music that seems to make time slow down, you are in a meditative state. So, by now I hope you are realizing that you have already meditated or were aware of people who meditate without even recognizing it as such.
Though there are many technical terms that have been used to describe meditation, I think it's more practical to divide it into two main types of meditation:
Guided meditation utilizes the words and timing of an acquaintance/instructor to walk through a set of words and phrases designed to calm the mind/body. There are some instructors who will take you through a deep breathing exercise just to get your mind off of your day-to-day routine. Through the entire session, they may just announce "breathe in," "breathe out." That's it. Also, the instructor can suggest focus on a specific body part or use words that are calming like, "relax your shoulders, relax your arms, relax your eyelids," for example.
Meditating on your own or "solo" is done in an isolated location. You can review and reflect silently on words that focus on being calm. Some imagine how the body feels when they they are relaxed. If you have a keen imagination, this will work well for you. If laying out on a beach is relaxing to you, imagine being there with the sun beaming down, warm climate, waves crashing in the background, with a gentle breeze. Create what you like. If being on top of a mountain looking across a beautiful scene, breathing in fresh air at that altitude does it for you, imagine that. Think of every detail and most of all take note of the feelings it stirs up in you.
Meditation shouldn't be rocket science nor should we hyper-analyze and debate over whose technique is better. You are the ultimate judge and jury of this. Your goal should be to find what works for you whether or not it fits into any particularly accepted label. My goal here is to keep this post to the bare bones raw description in hopes that more will feel comfortable to try meditation. The goal isn't to gain "followers" as if any one author is the only person who "knows the way." The goal is to invite all to put their toe in the water and see how it goes. I'm convinced there are so many different "types" of meditation offered because people have been convinced they can get it "wrong", based on someone else's opinion.
As long as you have carved out a period in your day to get still, you're well on your way. It is easy to over-intellectualize the practice, when it is meant to just be a reprieve from your daily outer stimulated mental acrobatics. The intent is to slow down and sooth the contents of the mind to float as if meaningless clouds that pass through the sky leaving you unbothered. Cares, worries, doubts and fears are all thrown by the wayside. They are irrelevant in your personal space of pure suspended wonder.
Sometimes we have to "reverse-engineer" things to figure out the best way to approach them. Let's examine and study the life of Dr. George Washington Carver. He often spoke about walking in the woods and talking to the plants. Please read my other blog called, "Who Was The Peanut Man" for more information on his inspirational life. Though there are many books written about Carver, there's one in particular that focuses on his spiritual life called, "The Man Who Talks With the Flowers - The Life Story of Dr. George Washington Carver," by Glenn Clark. It is worth its weight in gold just for the few paragraphs that quote him directly. He is asked the question, "how do you talk to the plants." This multi-genius who discovered hundreds of applications for the peanut, sweet potato, beans and much more had to have a special connection or process to receive his inspiration. I've combed through many a book myself in search of what fascinates me the most about him. I was so happy to find the answer shared in part here:
"How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is that silent, small force. It isn't the outer physical contact. No, it isn't that. The infinite is not confind in the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies...
"There are certain things, often very little things, like the little peanut, the little piece of clay, the little flower that cause you to look within - then it is that you see into the soul of things."
And every morning as a child, Carver was reported to have gone out in the woods to talk to the plants and not return until nightfall as he says in his own words, "Day after day I spent in the woods in order to collect my floral beauties and put them in my little garden I had hidden in brush not far from the house..." George Washington Carver In His Own Words edited by Gary R. Kremer. This gardening and caring for plants served as his meditation causing him to go within. Each of us must determine what causes us to go within, or to get in the "zone."
10 Ways Black People Meditate
All are valid ways to meditate. If you have reached a meditative state, you will notice what other's describe when they are in the "zone." It is described as losing a sense of time. I like the way Nnedi Okorafor describes this phenomenon in her work, "Binti - The Trilogy." The main character Binti travels to outer space and uses a technique called "treeing" to meditate and calm her temper down. While in this state she solves mathematical equations. Okorafor is a masterful storyteller and I highly recommend any of her books if interested in pre-colonial African-based thought, practices in futuristic settings.
How Long Should I Meditate
I believe strongly in starting small and building up from there. Just three minutes can work wonders once you've settled into your technique. You can start by sitting quietly. Make sure distractions are down to a minimum by turning down your cell phone, or getting away from the crowd. Focus on your breathing and before you know it, the time is up. I've tried three minutes to one hour. The time that works best for me is half an hour though sometimes I've had some great power sessions with a concentrated three minutes. Sample it all and walk away with a knowing based on your own personal experience what works best for you. There's a great read on the scientific benefits of meditation by Dean Radin called, " SuperNormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities." He is a scientist who has measured psychic, clairvoyant and other psychic abilities that can result from yogic or meditative practices.
Here are some great titles that discuss meditation from a Black perspective:
How Do I Start Meditation
Keep this simple. Grab a stopwatch or set the alarm on your phone for three minutes. Sit in a comfortable chair quietly. Breathe, relax, repeat. Start first thing in the morning, just before bed or, some even will take a meditation break from work. Whatever suits you. You can't get it wrong because you're learning along the way and have the rest of your life to try it out. Please check out some of the books mentioned in this article for more info. I enjoy books that inspire self reflection. Some of my favorites are:
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