Six years ago, I was part of a retreat in the beautiful Ohrid region in Macedonia, with many enlightening souls and two wise, Thai monks who were there to guide us through our first journey towards meditation. Some participants had practiced meditation and yoga before, but there were others, just like me, who were practically beginners. And we were all so utterly excited. With a breathtaking landscape surrounding us, and the monks guiding us with the proper mantras, what could possibly go wrong?
We were delusional to believe that we would sit and close our eyes, and the mind would empty itself spontaneously with the blink of an eye. But we seemed to have forgotten about the existence of ‘jumping monkeys.’ That’s what the monk called our thoughts and non-stop minds. While meditating together with us, he kept repeating that we should acknowledge the presence of the jumping monkeys, who try to ruin our peace, instead of trying immediately to push them away.
He advised us to accept them and try to calm them with the passing of time. Apparently, they had gotten so much used to the hectic dynamics inside our heads that it was to be expected that they would refuse to leave.
Although I still practice meditation, it was frustrating for me, especially in the beginning, not to be able to sit still for a long time. It continues to be a problem to this day, and I have seen people surrender to the fact that they consider their jumping monkeys to be simply untamable.
This happens because our expectations are set really high, once we decide to give meditation a try. It’s also because we lack proper knowledge of the terminology related to the process of meditation. So, for the sake of coming to a clear grasp of the long path towards inner peace, let us first explain the definitions of the most important terms we encounter along the way.
According to Deane H. Shapiro Jr., a professor emeritus of Psychiatry & Human Behavior and a psychology author, meditation refers to the family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought.
In other words, this means that through meditating, we’re not really trying to empty our minds. Instead, we want to focus only on observing our thoughts, with no judgments, expectations, or intentions. This way, we can get a sense of comprehending our thought patterns and distinguish the healthy ones from the unhealthy ones.
Affirmations & Mantras
Although they may be taken as the same thing, affirmations and mantras are different from one another. Positive affirmations are used together with mantras during meditation. However, they can also be used separately, even if you don’t really meditate. Positive affirmations have been recognized as a new, modern way of psychotherapy by neuroscientists. They believed that repeating affirmations can alter our thought patterns, and help us towards achieving our goals.
Mantras, on the other hand have a more mystical and spiritual weight. We recognize them as whole words or sounds that are repeated in Sanskrit or other languages, for instance, the powerful ‘OM.’
Mantras are specifically related to meditation, aiming to increase our focus and make the meditation process more powerful. They’re designed to make room for inner peace while clearing out unwanted thoughts.
Mantras are chanted or sung, in the form of prayers and incantations. They’re considered sacred formulas taught from the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures. Written in early Sanskrit, mantras contain hymns, philosophy, and guidance on ritual for the priests of the Vedic religion. Both affirmations and mantras consist of repetition, and both can benefit our psyches. Regardless, people say that the energy they get from mantras is overwhelmingly more moving.
Mindfulness is often seen more like a destination rather than a process. Speaking from personal experience, I know that we can become obsessed with constantly checking ourselves if we have achieved mindfulness? But this ‘skill’ is not, in fact, related to 30 minutes of pure meditation.
Headspace, one of the most famous meditation apps out there, defines mindfulness as follows:
“Mindfulness is the ability to be present, to rest in the here and now, fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment.”
Which means that we can be completely mindful while playing the piano. We can be mindful and grateful for the warm vibes we get from the people who surround us at specific moments. Or we can be mindful by simply staring at the way trees move along with the wind. Mindful signifies presence. However, the problem is that most of the time we’re constantly driven from the past – on one side of the rope – and from the future on the other.
Do meditation and mindfulness work the same for everyone?
Before you practice either of them, you need to understand the core distinction between meditation and mindfulness. It is basically the same formula that we follow when trying to follow a better nutritional path for ourselves. We are bio-individual, unique persons with our own brain structures, experiences, and background histories in our lives.
Depending on all these diverse backgrounds, there is no mindfulness technique that fits all. One which everyone can use to eliminate negative attributions. What has, instead proven to be very efficient so far, is patience.
Practitioners say that their thinking patterns change with the passing of time. Through being still and patient, these patterns become increasingly prone to tranquility. People have experienced major shifts in their lives. And only by taking the time to understand the being that lives underneath our consciousness. People then begin to notice improvements in problem-solving, decrease in anxiety, and increase in focus. These and many other positive impacts can follow with a tiny bit of self-discipline.
All of these can indeed happen gradually; however, experts say that we should first learn to honor what feels most nourishing to our minds on an individual level. Until then, try to seize that positive prana and figure out what works best for your persona!
Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney