January is certainly a popular month for meditation retreats. Who among us hasn’t resolved to give meditation a try, or to step up our daily practice? I did my first retreat in January five years ago. It’s often a bit of a low month for me: there’s the inevitable Christmas letdown, long dark mornings, and still no sign of spring. A ten day Vipassana retreat is like a clock winding. I emerge calm, confident and full of gratitude. It’s a powerful tool for dealing with life’s challenges.
But you don’t have to do a ten day silent retreat to experience the benefits of meditation. I have a couple of friends who spend their New Year’s day completely off the grid: no phone, computer unplugged, some even leave the lights turned off. Their aim is to spend the day completely silent, and to remain meditative and self aware. This might involve several short meditation sittings, walking meditation, long walks outside, or all of the above. There are wonderful guided meditation talks you can have ready on your Ipod (I know I said “off the grid”, but hey, these are the times we live in) if the idea of just sitting in silence is daunting. If the famous “lotus position” is uncomfortable for you, sit in a chair. It’s still meditation, even if you don’t look like someone who works at Lululemon while you’re doing it.
The important thing is to eliminate opportunities for distraction, and to spend as much time in your body as possible. Simple vegetarian (or light, easy to digest) meals are prepared ahead of time, so that very little time is spent cooking. There is plenty of hot herbal tea ready and stored in a thermos. You might find yourself feeling pretty sleepy, but it’s better to try and stay away from caffeine. My fave Buddhist teachers always say that it’s important to be gentle with yourself and listen to your body, so if you find yourself sleeping for part of the day, it’s probably what your body needed. You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon on your first attempt at running (or second, or third…) so don’t worry if you find yourself flipping on the telly after a few hours. Meditation is challenging. Keep trying!
I chose the photo for this post, because I want to stress that meditation can be done anywhere, and at any time. I like to do something called Metta, or loving kindness meditation when I’m on the Skytrain. Metta is all about radiating kindness and compassion to everyone around you. You can use a little chant if you like (May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings feel love.) or perhaps a visualization of positive energy building up inside you and shooting out to those around you. Scoff if you want, but I guarantee you’ll feel much happier after a transit ride doing Metta, than a trip spent grumbling about the “guy on his cell”, or the “girl with too much perfume.” Although, okay-too much perfume really is annoying.
Here is a link to some great guided meditation talks. Good luck!