Meditation for Beginners
By: Bonny Osterhage
Lack of concentration, forgetfulness, anxiety and brain fog… many women experience these issues as they get older. Add decreasing hormone levels, factor in everyday stress, and throw in a global pandemic and you’ve got a real recipe for disaster.
Your mind is a powerful tool. Learning to control it can help you deal with many of these issues brought on my both aging and external circumstances. One of the most beneficial ways to do that? Meditation!
According to Shastri Betsy Pond of the Shambala Meditation Center in San Antonio, Texas, meditation has been used throughout history in times of crisis.
“It brings the mind and body to the present moment so that we can see what is actually happening instead of being awash in fears and assumptions,” she explains. “We can respond to what’s happening rather than what we are afraid will happen and make clearer decisions.”
“How can I meditate when I can’t ever concentrate,” you ask? First, you may want to look at your definition of meditation. There are several misconceptions around the practice, the most common one being that you have to “empty” your brain.
“That’s a lobotomy, not meditation,” laughs Pond, who adds that noticing when your mind drifts to other thoughts during meditation can actually be a good thing.
“You should smile because that is your awareness letting you know that your mind is drifting. At that point, you are already back.”
Another misconception is that you must sit in an empty, silent room with your eyes closed. While a quiet space is a good idea for beginners, Pond actually prefers an eyes open meditative practice that supports ones ability to meditate in any given situation.
“We have to be present in life the way that it is,” she explains. “You don’t want to become confused and think that the only way you can achieve a meditative state is with your eyes closed, because that isn’t always an option.”
Finally, there is the idea that there is something “wrong” with the way that you think, or that there is something about you that needs “fixing.” Pond reassures us that nothing is further from the truth.
“It’s not about fixing yourself, it’s about being with yourself,” she says. “It is using the mind to discover how connected we already are to ourselves and others, and it reveals our capacity to make decisions we can live with.”
Ready to get started? Here are several tips for beginners:
- Start simple: Think about why you want to meditate. Are you too anxious? Are you seeking calm or peace? When you understand why you are doing it, you get a deeper sense about why it is helpful.
- Find a place and time: Find a quiet, secure place to sit, and start with just 5-10 minutes a day, almost every day.
- Focus on your breathing: When your mind starts to wander, ask yourself, “where is the breath?” Let your mind rest in the sensation of your body breathing.
- Have a resource or support group: There are hundreds of books available on mediation as well as apps that can guide you through a practice. Online support groups are available as well. Find what resonates with you.
- Don’t give up: The more you meditate, the better you become. Give it time and be patient with yourself, respecting your mind and body. Remember you are creating a daily healthy habit, like brushing your teeth.
Becoming skilled at meditation will allow you to tap into your mind’s natural ability to be strong and stable. It will stay where you place it in any given situation without your thoughts racing off into the “what ifs.” Stick with it and stay open to what you may learn about yourself and the world around you.
“If we can be receptive and stay curious, what can arise is our genuine humanity and sanity,” says Pond. “We have everything we need in every moment of every day in our lives. We just need to stop constantly looking for it elsewhere.”
Shastri Betsy Pond is a senior teacher whose involvement with Shambhala began in 1990 when she began looking for meditation teachings and found a small group that met in a boxcar in San Antonio. Her 35 years as a psychotherapist provided extensive experience as a clinician, leading groups and providing talks and teachings in professional and educational settings. These experiences became a strong basis for bringing the Shambhala teachings into real life. Betsy is a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and in 2010 was invited to fill the role of Shastri in San Antonio. Betsy teaches meditation and leads programs on the inherent goodness and sanity, wisdom and decency of humanity and society as presented in the Shambhala Buddhist teachings.