Full disclaimer: I am not a meditation teacher or pro by any definition.
But I have been meditating for over a decade, pretty much daily, sometimes for 4-6 hours a day. Before the pandemic, I facilitated beginner level meditation and yoga practices through Isha Foundation for community groups, schools and companies, and post-pandemic I run weekly meditation webinars for corporations across North America.
My fam labelled me a hardcore yogini for probably most of that decade. It helped that I shaved my head at the Isha Yoga Center on one visit as part of a full moon ceremony offering. After my Mum introduced me and a couple other family members to Inner Engineering, Isha's flagship program, I took it to heart and volunteered with them, changed my diet, developed new interests and even met my husband at a gathering in London.
At the start, if someone could be "bad" at meditation, I was. Although I was athletic, I was not flexible, and my strong will got in the way of sitting for 21 minutes to learn their basic meditation practice called Shambhavi Mahamudra. My body would literally shake trying to maintain the posture and I would be out of alignment even though mentally, I thought I was looking the part. I guess you could say Malcolm Gladwell's 10 000 hour rule was needed for me to tell you what I've learned about meditation.
It cannot actually be "done". The verb to meditate is deceptive because it is not an action, although you can definitely set the conditions - ambiance - for it to happen.
Maybe you've heard this analogy already, of the cars passing on the highway, and how in meditation you stand on the sidewalk and watch the cars, a.k.a. your thoughts, pass by, without interfering with them. For many years when I "tried to meditate", I would stand in the middle of that highway, desperately attempting to marshal the cars, until I was plowed over by one of them. The tension would build in my body as I "tried" to "force" meditation. When I would meditate in a group setting (although one must not compare oneself) occasionally I'd look at the other people who seemed so effortless with their faces practically melting off, and I wondered why this was NOT working for ME!
What I learned is that it takes time. Every day if you set aside 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes to meditate, your life will align with it and your mind will settle, because it's become a priority.
Otherwise, it'll jump around like a monkey (you may have heard that analogy too!).
I can say it is not about sitting and waiting for something to happen. Because nothing will happen and that is not some trick! It is, though, about sitting and waiting. Being able to wait and listen, in general, are wonderful preparation for meditation. For example, recognizing your impulses as they arise, and not instantly satisfying the itch by grabbing your phone or a choc bar every time you want to. Instead, when that need comes up just pause for a minute and see how comfortable you are with waiting. That time will grow and you'll become more patient and joyful, I promise! Give it 6 months or so.
The other quality I named is listening, not just with your ears but your whole body, to the sounds and vibrations around you. Practice listening to your most talkative friend or relative, and let them blab at you. Focus on them totally, grasp every word without clueing out. Also observe them as a human and what their needs and qualities are. You will become more receptive if you can really listen and wait, and this can prime your mind for meditation. It'll also put your existence into perspective, which will quieten your mind. If you think you are bigger than the Earth itself you won't be able to meditate...Sometimes it takes an astronaut (the humble, the brilliant, Carl Sagan) to bring us to that realization:
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. [...] The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. [...] Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Part of keeping our lives in perspective is being aware that we are finite beings and we will eventually die like every other creature. And the matter that makes up our body will feed many other organisms as it decomposes and be recycled into other lifeforms. This might sound DISGUSTING but it is the reality and if we ignore it we are out of touch with a fundamental truth. Whereas, if we become more familiar with this truth, our life will be a lot simpler and we'll feel more at ease. Sadhguru, the founder of Isha Foundation, says sleep is a good area to start because we are "simulating death, or at least acting dead". Try this at night: as you lie in bed, about to doze off, watch your breath and thoughts and see if you can observe what happens as you transition into sleep. It takes some practice and I cannot do this every night, but even if you do it once, the quality of your life will subtly change. You can also bring awareness to the moment you wake up.
Now, onto the act which is not an act! You can meditate in any position, or walking, dancing, or cooking...It's not about the outward activity necessarily. But if you want to succeed, start low and slow, and set the ambiance. Do this by committing a length of time like 10 minutes, at whatever consistency, like 2x a week, to sit undisturbed. Turn off your phone, light some incense/a candle, wear comfortable, loose clothing and adjust the lighting to your liking. You can play one of the guided meditations below to start. Over time you may enjoy just sitting and watching your breath, or feeling the sensations of your body and the air on your skin.
Just remember to stand on the sidewalk not the mental highway!
Red Kite Guided Meditations (paid) with Shona Curley for specific aspects of your physiology like your Limbic and Immune Systems
Modern Ancestor Membership (paid) with Lee Mae Spence, guiding you through Indigenous informed, mostly deep breathing exercises
Apps are a convenient way to access the meds. (no, you might not need those meds anymore) if you become regular. Headspace, Insight Timer and Sadhguru App are all pretty decent.
Would love to hear about your go-to meditations! Promise I'll give them a try if you send them to me.