Question from an un-trained meditator - October 19, 2010
Dear Dr. Kelly:
With regards to meditation,
I’ve done some meditating mainly through theatre coursework and a bit on my own time, but I’ve never had any meditation-specific training, and I have a few questions.
Are you supposed to let your mind wander, or try to focus on something specific, or something non-specific?
If I feel like I’m falling asleep does that mean I’m in a trance, or that I’m actually falling asleep, and if so, what can I do about it? I don’t feel that getting up to shake it out would be very conducive, but neither would falling asleep!
Is there a way to know when I’m done meditating, or do I just go for a set time and force myself to do it for that long?
Thank you for your time!
An un-trained meditator
Dear un-trained meditator:
It is great that you have been introduced to meditation through theatre coursework. Mindfulness training can be very useful for actors. The problems that you mention are common for beginners. You can learn to deal with them so your meditation can be more satisfactory and useful for you.
Meditation begins by focusing the mind on something. Usually we start with the breath because it is always available. Concentrate enough on the breathing that you can feel the breath in and out. When you notice that your mind has wandered, then bring your attention back to the breathing. Breath Counting Meditation is a good practice for beginners such as yourself. I suggest that you try this meditation once or twice a day. It will help you to develop your concentration. Check back next week for another meditation download so you can progress, refining the technique.
It is difficult to know if you are falling asleep or going into a trance. Both are possible. We can go into a trance state if we lose awareness of our body and surroundings. Some types of meditation cultivate a trance state, but for mindfulness meditation we don’t do this. If you feel like you are getting too sleepy or that you are spacing out, try the following: sit up straighter, become more aware of the sensations in your body and of sounds in the room, and open your eyes a bit to let in some light. If you are always sleepy when you meditate it probably means that you are chronically sleep deprived. Try getting more sleep at night. Some people who are chronically tired have sleep apnea and they should talk to a physician about getting it assessed and treated.
Meditation practice involves personal training in concentration. Patience and kind discipline are required. It is good to set the length of your meditation before you begin. You could use a timer or check a clock. The Breath Counting Meditation that we have available as a free download runs for about 12 minutes. Give it a try and do your best to stay with the practice for the 12 minutes.
Good luck with your practice! Please write again if you have any other questions.