When I was asked to review the book Practical Meditation by meditation teacher, Giovanni Dienstmann I was wary because I wanted to make sure it aligned with my approach to meditation and one that I thought would be useful for everyone. Meditation has been on trend the last few years, but the methods, goals and practices vary widely and can range from deeply spiritual practices, to practical mindfulness and reflection techniques. I’m glad to say that this book falls into the latter category and offers some benefit for all that are looking to improve their emotional and mental health.
As I was so impressed by his work, I have asked Giovanni Dienstmann to share some of his knowledge around what meditation is and how to use meditation to manage your emotions. So without further ado, please welcome Giovanni.
What is meditation?
Meditation was originally created to overcome suffering, find a deeper meaning in life, and connect to a higher reality. Today, it is also used to find personal growth, improve performance, and achieve optimal health and wellbeing.
Meditation is an exercise for your mind – a type of contemplative practice. This exercise takes different shapes depending on the style of meditation that you are practising but, in general, it involves:
Relaxing your body, slowing your breath, and calming your mind. Stillness. Traditionally, meditation involves stilling the body, either in a seated or lying-down position. However, some techniques are more dynamic, such as Kinhin (walking meditation).
Whether you keep your eyes open or closed, meditation turns your attention inwards, towards yourself, rather than towards the external world.
In meditation, you become a witness to your mental and emotional states, and let go of thoughts, feelings, and distractions.
Most practices involve focusing the attention on a single object, such as a candle flame or your breath (concentration), while others focus the attention on noticing whatever shows up in your consciousness in the present moment (observation).
By nature, certain techniques incorporate a spiritual element – their goal is to help the practitioner to experience altered states of consciousness and realities beyond the material world. However, most meditations can be practised in a secular way, so you don’t need to believe or follow any particular religion or philosophy. This secular approach is the one followed in this book.
Meditation is about your personal journey.
Above all, meditation is a way to understand, exercise, and explore your mind. This makes it a deeply personal experience. As each chapter in this book guides you on your journey of self-exploration, you may find it useful to keep a journal about your experiences.
You can use it as a space to:
- REFLECT on your experiences and feelings.
- REINVIGORATE your practice by referring to your aims when you lack motivation.
- REMIND yourself how far you have come. Remember that there is no final destination in your journey: as you learn more and advance in your practice, you will find more opportunities for personal growth and development.
Meditation improves emotional health.
Meditation can give you the tools to navigate and manage your emotional world. Our emotions are involuntary responses to situations, so they often feel out of control. Meditation gives you the tools to be less reactive, resulting in the ability to live by design rather than default.
How often do you find yourself making a silly mistake, or reacting emotionally to something only to regret it immediately afterwards? This results from living in automatic mode, our default setting, which comes with many costs: shame, bad decisions, and lost opportunities. We might not always know the best thing to do in every situation, but more often than not we know exactly what we should or shouldn’t have done – we just didn’t have enough time, in real life, to figure things out and act from a better place. Emotions have an important part to play in this too: we can’t stop them from coming up, but we can change how we react to them. With the skills we learn through meditation, we can save ourselves a lot of suffering.
How to Use Meditation to Manage your Emotions
Awareness, relaxation and focus.
By developing greater awareness, meditation helps you become conscious of your emotional states and feelings. This enables you to observe emotions as they are, without judgment and without creating unnecessary stories about them in your mind. You also start to notice your behaviour more, and recognize when your triggers are being fired, not only when the damage is already done.
Relaxing the body and mind in meditation gives you a sense of calm that you can carry into life outside your practice, while keeping your attention on your meditation object sharpens your powers of focus. As a result, situations that would cause you to jump to conclusions, or to say and do things out of reflex, are now less likely to do so, and you are able to notice when your mind drifts into negative patterns of thought or feeling. You can also use these three skills to help uncomfortable or unhelpful emotions subside, or to heighten positive emotions.
The mantra of non-reactivity.
Together, these skills give you less reactivity and more pause, or “non-reactivity”, in day-to-day life. When faced with a trigger, this pause is usually enough for your fight-or-flight response to cool down and for your rational brain to kick in, giving you more options for how to react. To deal with powerful emotions, you can also follow the steps in the diagram from my book below.
Further thoughts from the editor about Dienstmann’s book ‘Practical Meditation’
Thank you Giovanni! I hope you enjoyed and benefited from his insight and practical advice as much as I did. I found this book really helpful and it has re-motivated me to try and incorporate meditation more regularly in to my week.
When I practice meditation and look to manage my emotions, I also like to also incorporate a spiritual element. It is a time that I spend with God, reflecting on his goodness or meditating on the truth of a particular bible passage (often through meditative colouring in).
The great thing about Giovanni’s book is I didn’t feel like it was excluding the inclusion of those elements, or pushing me to incorporate other conflicting spiritual elements – it was just practical tips that could be applied and helpful to all. A great book if you want to be equipped with some practical tools to see growth in your emotional wellbeing and concentration.