Mindfulness. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, I’m sure you’ve seen that word around somewhere. You may have heard people rant and rave about how they meditate or the benefits they’ve received from being mindful, but what does that even mean and how does one do it? Until fairly recently, I was someone who didn’t quite understand the hype behind meditation. I wanted to be someone who was committed to the practice, and I wanted to have that peace that everyone said mediation gives, but every time I tried to mediate, I felt anything but peace. Instead I felt restless and my mind would wander, and then I’d get frustrated with myself for my lack of focus.
Not coincidentally, I was also a person who struggled with prayer. For me, prayer was very formulaic. There was no power behind my prayers. No belief infusing them. I only did it because I felt that I had to do it, as a way to give back to God. The act of praying was so strenuous because I couldn’t focus that I seldom did it, which caused a great deal of guilt within me.
Looking back knowing what I know now I wonder, why did I ever think I had to pray? I really thought I was doing God, the God of the entire universe, a favor? That he would be upset if I didn’t pray? That I would be punished for my lack of commitment?
It’s a bit amusing now, but it wasn’t funny at the time. I was extremely frustrated to say the least. I wanted to pray. I wanted a deeper connection, I wanted to be happy and anxiety-free, but the harder I tried, the further out of my reach these things seemed to be.
When you think of the word God, what comes to your mind?
I hate to admit it, but I used to imagine God how he is often stereotypically portrayed; an old man with a long beard dressed in all white, living in the clouds, watching me with pen in hand, making note of my every move… the often confusing thing about that image though was that this man was somehow also my father? To be honest, I didn’t always get that fatherly vibe when thinking of God, but if I had to, I would’ve likened him to a father that has good intentions and cares for his children, but he isn’t easy to get close to. I knew God was my father and I was grateful for him. I knew that he was the one providing for all my needs- but I was always hesitant to ask him for anything else. Not that I didn’t think he was capable of providing, it was more of — did he actually want to? I didn’t get the sense that he did.
Needless to say, prayer wasn’t enjoyable and it didn’t bring me the peace I knew that it should. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the image I created of God was exactly what was blocking any sort of channel I had for hearing his voice or gaining His peace ‘that surpasses understanding’. I was failing to see God as the ultimate source of power and love in the universe, and even more so as my ultimate and unlimited source of power and love. My prayer time wasn’t a two-way conversation with God as it should’ve been. In fact, it wasn’t a conversation at all. A conversation consists of at least two people communicating, meaning both are giving and receiving information. When I did manage to pray I was giving God plenty of information, but I rarely ever quieted my mind enough to receive insight and wisdom back from him.
Another thing I carried that hindered my progress within my spiritual journey and connection to God was the false belief that I couldn’t believe in God and meditate or become spiritually enlightened. I truly believed that these things were sinful. Sometime in my life I picked up the notion from society, church, and people around me that suffering was necessary in order to be close to God. At times happiness seemed sinful or selfish to me. So meditation as a means to peace and enlightenment wasn’t a possibility for me because I didn’t want to have to give up my belief in God. It’s quite ridiculous I know, but unfortunately sometimes the church and other believers make people feel that they must choose God or happiness, they can’t have both.
Little did I know that prayer in itself is actually a form of meditation. Meditation consists of quieting the mind in order to release negativity and receive guidance. This guidance comes from the universe or God, whatever you prefer to call it. Since prayer is simply the act of conversing with God, prayer and meditation go hand in hand.
A lot of people’s trouble with connecting to God comes from being too attached to the term ‘God’. We think of that old man high in the clouds, who is doing nothing but watching our every move and condemning us for our mistakes that I described earlier. When we think of God in this way, we make him out to be more of a superior human, rather than a God. This then leads to thinking God is subject to feeling anything but love toward us, but that isn’t possible because God is the epitome of love. God isn’t something that we can even create an image of. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways are higher than our ways. Why should we, mere humans, be able to understand everything about God? As preacher and author Francis Chan stated,
“Not being able to fully understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending. What a stunted, insignificant God that would be!”
-Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Just like with God, we often create a false image of love. We tend to only think of love as the romantic love between two partners, the one that can easily turn to hate over time. In actuality that isn’t love at all. That feeling is subject to change, and true love cannot change because God cannot change. True love is God in action. It is something we most certainly can have, however, we must choose love, rather than wait around to feel it. When we choose love, we are choosing to see God in that situation, person, or event. We choose to respond to all situations, pleasant or not, with love.
So many of us are frustrated and struggle with prayer and meditation because we create these false images of God. Thinking of God in any other way except as an all-knowing, all-powerful force of love sets us up for failure. We cannot connect with God if we do not know and recognize him completely.
We also struggle with prayer and meditation when we do it as a means to try and get something that we want, rather than doing it as a way to commune with God and receive his love. Whenever we try to control situations and manipulate outcomes, we are only getting in the way of the natural flow of the universe, which always brings out the best outcomes on its own. When we try to take over, we sabotage everything. We end up blocking miracles that would otherwise occur on their own.
Look at a flower. Do you see it TRYING to grow, TRYING to bloom? Of course not. It just does. It knows it’s intention, which is to grow and bloom, but it doesn’t worry about getting there. The same goes for a tree, or any other plant or creation of God’s. The clouds in the sky don’t try to rain. The sun doesn’t try to shine. We let those things function just as they are and we think nothing of it. It sounds silly thinking of those things trying to do what they are made to do. Plants, animals, and the natural elements don’t worry about meeting deadlines or avoiding storms. They just live out their purpose. So why can’t we trust our bodies and lives to do the same? Meaning, instead of trying to force things to happen in our lives, why don’t we just set an intention, and trust it to come to pass? If we do this, then we will no longer feel the need to set time frames because we know we will bloom at the exact right moment, or as the bible says, “In God’s timing”.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life“
-Matthew 6:26-34, New International Version (NIV)
The same God that created plants, animals, the earth, the sun, the entire universe, the God that gives them life and being, created you and me, and is living within us, giving us being, this very moment.
So if we all have this power within us, why do so few of us in this world know it and access it daily?
It all boils down to the fact that the majority of us live under control of the mind. When the mind controls us, we will not live a life led by the holy spirit. Another term often used for the mind is ego. The ego is very strong, as it usually lives years and years without being discovered, if ever. The ego gets its strength from feeling special by singling itself out in some way. It lives for attention from us. So whatever form that attention we give comes through, the ego will take it; whether it be depression, self-pity, anxiety, doubtful thinking, pride, drama, fights, feeling superior or inferior to others, the list could go on and on. The point is, the ego feeds itself and gets its strength through our suffering.
The ego is constantly talking to us as we go about our day through analyzing, predicting, judging, fighting, dreading, and comparing. The disconnect from God happens when we believe that we are our ego, which is our thoughts and the feelings produced by them. We believe there is no “me” if our ego is gone. If our egos die, if our thoughts die, then who would we be? Who is left?
The ego obviously doesn’t want to die, so it fights to keep the cycle going by continuously sending negative thoughts. The incessant chattering away of the ego blocks your communion with God and keeps you trapped in an unhappy, stress-filled life. The ego tries to get you to believe that without it you cannot survive. It makes you believe that it can figure things out for you and protect you through all of its worrying, dreading, and trying to make things happen. It makes you believe your negative thinking isn’t wrong, it’s necessary. But in reality, the only thing it really does is block you from God, because you cannot have the fullness of God, love, joy and peace in the same place where fear, doubt, anger, hatred, and despair reside. Until you are willing to let go of the negative thoughts and emotions, which can only be done by killing the ego, you will not experience enlightenment.
So how do you kill the ego? You kill the ego by observing it, because when you observe it you begin to realize it is not you. When you no longer identify with the ego, you gain the ability to instantly recognize the thoughts it sends as lies, and then you can easily refute those thoughts. When you do this habitually, the ego begins to die. This is what is referred to in the bible as “dying to self”; but contrary to what many believe it’s just the ego that dies, not the true ‘you’.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
-John 5:24, New International Version (NIV)
So you might be wondering, what does meditation and being present in the now have to do with all of this?
Every negative thought or feeling we have stems from not being present in the current moment. These negative thoughts are either caused by too much past, which leads to depression, or too much future, which leads to anxiety. Meditation allows you to remove your mind from time, and puts you into the present moment, the now. This is so important, because as Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now,
“Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
The Now is all that exists. If you aren’t living in the present, you are living a false reality. Living this way is a guaranteed way to lead a miserable life.
Another great point Eckhart Tolle makes in The Power of Now is when he asks,
“What problem do you have at this moment? Not in an hour or tomorrow, but what problem do you have now?”
Ask yourself that. Can you think of one right this very moment?
The ego is always telling us that we have a problem, that we have something to worry about. It may even try to convince us that our worrying is just planning ahead, but that is a lie. You can plan ahead without living there, meaning not worrying about the outcome. Every so-called problem is always future-based, and is tainted by the lenses and experiences of the past. Simply put, it isn’t real! What can worrying possibly do to change or prevent something that isn’t even real? If you live to see tomorrow, tomorrow will no longer be tomorrow, it will be ‘now’. As of right now, tomorrow isn’t real yet. If you find yourself worrying about tomorrow, ask yourself if there is anything you can do now, and if so, do it, but if you cannot do something until tomorrow, which doesn’t exist yet, why worry? Nothing can be done if it can’t be done now, so your worrying about any point in the future is always in vain.
So honestly ask yourself, “What problem do I have right now?” That question alone puts you into the now. It makes you present. It usually shows you that you really don’t have a problem. All we ever have is right now. When you stop fighting what is happening now, meaning you accept your current situation just as it is with no resistance, you will live in a continual state of peace.
This isn’t to say that we don’t ever change or strive to grow into a better person, or that we stop setting goals. Quite the opposite. Once we get rid of the ego, we then have space to hear from God exactly what needs to be done for change or growth. We gain the ability to clearly hear God’s ‘still, small voice’ that directs us on the right path for your life.
If you are anything like I was, you may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but it’s easier said than done. How do you actually apply this? How do you stop the constant thoughts the ego sends? I’ve tried to stop but it keeps coming back. What am I doing wrong?”
Well first of all, let me say that the moment you realize you aren’t being mindful, or that you are thinking negative thoughts and shouldn’t be, that in itself is being mindful! However, it is very easy to start condemning yourself for not doing better right after this realization, and if you do this then you will quickly stop being present. Eckhart Tolle says that kind of scenario (judging yourself for not being mindful enough) is actually the ego sneaking in through the back door. So the moment you catch yourself letting your mind wander or thinking negatively, just observe the thoughts that come. Don’t judge them, or get frustrated with yourself for having them, because that only keeps the cycle of the ego going. Just listen to them, let them be. If you are feeling negative emotions, like anger or sadness, allow yourself to feel them fully. Don’t deny the feelings, don’t push them away. Witness them, forgive yourself and love yourself through them. You will then see that you are not your thoughts, because how can you be your thoughts and observe them at the same time?
When this shift of thinking occurs, you experience a radical transformation within. You will likely still have negative thoughts come to you for a period of time because complete transformation typically doesn’t happen instantaneously. The difference is that now you have the knowledge of knowing you aren’t your thoughts. You can easily bring yourself back into this awareness, and thus, back into peace.
“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”
-Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
From then on, you can go to this place of presence and stillness, and if negative thoughts come, you can observe them, remind yourself that they are not truth, and watch them float away as quickly as they came.
You can find stillness and meditation anywhere, but in the beginning of your practice it may be easier for you to go to a quiet place in your home or any other place where you can easily minimize distractions. Going for a walk or sitting still in nature is also a wonderful way to be mindful. Nature can help you practice mindfulness because it allows you to observe how other life forms go about their lives still and unworried, yet strong and resilient, regardless of their outside circumstances. We can learn so much from nature if we just take the time to watch and listen.
If I cannot get outside, I personally like to go to my bedroom, turn down the lights, light a candle or diffuse some essential oils, sit on my yoga mat and meditate. Bubble baths or bath bombs with candles lit are also another one of my favorite ways to meditate. Meditations can be guided (there’s tons of free guided meditations on YouTube!) or unguided. If you are going for an unguided meditation, you can just sit in silence and focus on your breath, or observe any thoughts that come and then practice releasing them. When you begin witnessing the ego’s thoughts it will leave because once recognized, the ego has no emotions to feed off of. Once the ego leaves, you will then reach a state of no-mind, or just simply ‘being’. It is an incredibly aware, present and peaceful state, almost indescribable, but when you reach it you just know. All I can say is that in order to truly understand what I am talking about you must try it for yourself.
I know that those who want to get started with meditation may be hesitant at first — I certainly was. I am still at the beginning of my journey but I have finally come to a place where I enjoy it and am reaping the mind, body, and soul benefits from it. If you want to know more, I highly recommend any books or teachings by Gabby Bernstein, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, or Deepak Chopra. If you have experience or tips you’d like to share, or if you have any book recommendations on spiritual growth, please let me know! I hope you all have a wonderful week! 🙂