There are many ways to meditate. In most of our blogposts, we’re focusing on concentration meditation; usually concentrating on the breath. But concentration meditation is just one way to meditate. And while for many people it is the form of meditating that they start with (check out these 5 meditation techniques for beginners), it doesn’t hurt to try and explore some different forms. There is also observation meditation, for example. Recently, I was talking to a guy who has been meditating for years and he offered some very valuable insights about this form of meditation.
Observation meditation and separating the experience
I have massive ADD so concentrating is always a challenge for me. My friend explained how the ability to focus is like training a muscle; the more often you do it, the better you get at it. And the easier it becomes. There are various ways to practice this, and concentration meditation is just one way. When we started talking about other forms of meditation, he mentioned something that really struck me.
He suggested to focus on the moment, and then try to separate the experience into different parts.
Let’s say you’re taking a walk through the woods. Once you feel relaxed, simply observe the present moment. While you’re observing, you’re basically going to ‘organize’ what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and thinking. A moment of living in the present consists of a wide range of elements that come together in your personal experience; by separating them you may get a better sense of all the different aspects of that moment. Start with what you see. The forest floor, the trees, the leaves, the sky. Then observe the auditory stimuli. Your own footsteps, the birds, the wind, the rustling leaves. Now, what do you smell? And what do you taste? After observing the sensory stimuli, check in on your physical state. How do you feel? And finally, there is your emotional/mental state. What are you thinking? If there any thoughts arising that have nothing to do with your present moment, that’s totally okay. Simply observe the fact that those thoughts are there, and then come back to the present. It can help to mentally ‘point out’ everything you’re observing.
If it feels overwhelming, you can try and remove the visual stimuli by simply closing your eyes (only recommended when you’re sitting). If you have some noise cancelling headphones, you can even eliminate auditory stimuli and see how that feels. If you like a challenge, try doing this when you’re in the company of other people.
You know how they say that goals are easier to achieve when you break them up into multiple smaller goals? I think it’s the same with observation meditation. There can be so many stimuli in a single moment – separating them may help to stay in the present longer, and make the experience as a whole easier to process.