Last weekend I went on my first meditation retreat and since then many of my friends and family have asked me about my experience, what meditation really is, why and how I got into it. So I’d like to share my understanding of meditation and clarify some of the misperceptions about the practice, that I myself had before going on the retreat.

First, let me start by saying that I hardly meditated before the retreat, and my only experience involved some brief evening sessions using Headspace. It mostly helped me sleep better, so when my friend told me about this Introductory Meditation Weekend retreat outside London, I decided that now was as good as any other time to try it out. And I’m glad I did. I genuinely enjoyed every aspect of it, from drinking warm tea while taking in the morning sunrise, reading by the fireplace, sitting and eating in silence (occasionally) in a communal setting alongside my fellow humans, to meditations sessions of various durations.

And if I can go from a few minutes of meditating to almost an hour sitting still I’m sure you can too. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean my mind was equally still throughout the session, but we’ll get to that later.

OK, right. So what is meditation anyways? Well, its worth mentioning that there are two kinds of meditation practices. One is called Vipassana also referred to as Mindfulness, and the other one Metta Bhavana or Loving-Kindness.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation is just the ability to notice what we pay attention to with clarity and prioritise accordingly. Everyone, to a certain extent, gets distracted by small insignificant things. So why not pay attention to the things that make you a better person instead?

How often do you find yourself lost in a thought or task with no recollection of how you got there? Or how often do negative thoughts and feelings arise out of nowhere and get the best of you?

This happens to all of us and it’s how most of us live our lives but with more practice, you become mindful of what you allocate your attention to in more intentional way, allowing you to be fully present in the moment. And that’s a beautiful thing not just for yourself, but those around you too.

At the same time, mindfulness can help weaken your link with negative neurotic states known as hindrances. These include craving, ill-will/irritation, restlessness/anxiety, dullness/tiredness and doubt.

The key is to recognise the hindrances you are experiencing, and become aware of the fact that you have no control over them. When your lack of control over these hindrances ceases to be problem, in a certain sense, is liberating and somehow gets you back in control.

Put it this way — you are the bright blue sky and the hindrances are the clouds, noticing that as they have arisen, they too will pass away.

Loving-Kindness

Unlike mindfulness, with loving-kindness there is a goal with this practice, and as the name alludes to, is to extend love and kindness for one self, for others and to make the state of mind as vivid as possible.

It’s a practice where you consciously adopt another pattern of thinking, one in which you reframe your current situation in a more positive light. You do this by removing your ego from the picture, by removing yourself from the centre of your experience, and by remembering that you and every other human being is on a relentless pursuit to maximise their own happiness and minimise their suffering.

So through this practice, your focus is to wish yourself and all other humans to experience as much well being as possible and in connecting with that wish, you can change your default attitude in social encounters with others.

To meditate or not?

In my opinion, meditation is mind training and so I think you should train your mind as much as possible, because the hindrances I mentioned earlier will always be there, coming and going. In that lens, meditation offers you an opportunity to improve how you respond to the world around you.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this…

The quality of your mind, determines the quality of your life.