How and Why to meditate
My relationship with meditation has many chapters at this point. It has been on my mind for over a decade. First as something I was told to do by doctors to help with my mental health. And while I agreed and understood it to be an important thing to do, I didn't do it.
I began to read countless numbers of self-help books and noticed a common denominator in the messaging was meditation. I learned there are many different ways to engage in meditation and decided it was something I needed to give a good try.
I started with a 30 day challenge, as I thought I needed the accountability, motivation, and sense of fun that comes with a short stint of a daily challenge. I set my aim on 10 minutes a day, as it seemed like a low number and an easy target. The first few days went great. I would sit out on my balcony, enjoying the fresh air. My back would ache after a couple of minutes, but I was determined. A solid five days of meditation and I felt great! And then, I missed the sixth day, and then the seventh day, and the eighth day. Suddenly ten minutes felt like a huge barrier and I lost my steam.
No problem though. I celebrated my few days of success and went back to the drawing board. I had learned a beautiful lesson in writing my book Be The Change. I set the bar low by stating I would write for ten minutes a day, and that made it possible for me to commit every day to at least ten minutes. So perhaps, I thought, I needed to set the bar lower for my meditation goal. I landed on 30 seconds a day. I knew I would always meditate if it was just a mere 30 seconds. So off I went once again. This time, it worked. Two solid months of 30 second meditations. The beauty that came from this was that I learned to crave the feeling meditation afforded me. And while I would start each day with 30 seconds of meditation, it soon trickled in throughout my day. I had a few moments in my car before a meeting; meditate for 30 seconds. I am out walking and falling in live with the rhythm of nature; sit down and meditate for 30 seconds. I am feeling anxious and wound up for no apparent reason; drop what I am doing and meditate for 30 seconds. Honestly, I felt POWERFUL! I felt like I had more control in my mind and body then ever before.
After two months of this beautiful practice, I decided it was time to increase my goal and would now meditate for 6 minutes each morning. I did that for one week, and then fell for the allure of the bigger-better game. I increased my goal to ten minutes for that week ahead. I managed to get in two meditations. And then, for some reason, I increased my goal to 20 minutes, and completely stopped meditating all together. Interesting ;).
The battle within me amped up. I noticed my mood and energy levels began to fluctuate a lot more. I noticed my need for control in my food, body image, and surroundings elevated. My mind slowly downsized from feeling in tune with the expansive flow of life and collective consciousness, back down to being consumed by surface level disturbances. I had touched the jewel of a daily meditation practice, and then found myself back in the prison of my own body and mind. Interesting experience indeed.
Since then, my meditation practice has been inconsistent at best. I have reverted back to my 30 second commitment, and am in the practice of embracing where I am and relearning the art of making meditation a daily habit. Part of my process is to write about it. Writing is my favorite integrative exercise, as I land on exactly the reminders and the pathway I need to feel supported and accountable to the things I desire in life.
What I hear from many people in their own struggle with meditation is a lack of understanding of how to engage in it as a practice. Like most things we know are important in life, we can easily land on the WHY, yet it is the HOW that we get tripped up on.
Why is meditation a worth while pursuit?
- It trains your mind to find the calm in the storm
- It pushes the "reset" button
- It builds your relationship with your Witness state (behind your mindchatter)
- It strengthens your ability to PAUSE after your impulsive Reactions so you have space and awareness to choose a thoughtful Response and deliberate direction
- It supports your expansive, heart-warming, compassionate filled, and fuel-inducing perspective that everything is connected
Let's talk the HOW....
First of all, if you have dabbled in meditation and have uttered the words "I just can't get my mind to calm down, meditation doesn't work for me." Guess what? If you tried to meditate, then you did meditate! You do not need to have a quiet mind in order to have had a successful meditation experience. You noticed your mind wouldn't calm down? That's meditation. Noticing. Awareness. Observation.
Yes of course meditation feels better when you experience a moment - or more - of quiet, and expansive space, and it takes time to build that muscle.
If you are intrigued and would like to practice, here are some steps to follow....
1. Create a comfortable space
Whether you sit, lay down, stand proudly in alignment, or move slowly and mindfully, the first step is creating a sense of safety and comfort so that your mind has a chance of finding the calm depths within.
2. Posture matters
Sit up tall. Take a few moments to assess your posture and ensure you have lots of space for full breaths. Slouched posture not only triggers your fight or flight response, it also prevents full breaths, and can be the cause of aches and pains, which will pull you from your experience. Sit against a wall or on a chair as you build you postural muscles.
Your breath is the gateway to your inner-environment. Full long breaths that invite in presence as you allow your breath to become the most interesting thing inside of you. Notice your breath as if you have never noticed it before. This supports your ability to get out of your thinking mind, and into feeling your body. Imagine your diaphragm as a balloon, and feel your front, sides, and back inflate with each inhale, and then surrender to the moment as it is with each exhale. Breathe in a way that in intentional, but not aggressive.
4. Choose a focus with you inner gaze
With your eyes closed, focus your gaze at the backs of your eye-lids. And then imagine your head is a bus, and while at first it is as though you are in the front seat, staring directly out the windshield, allow yourself to take a few steps back to the backseat. Still able to see everything as before, but also the ability to see the space in between you and your thoughts, your emotions, and your reactions.
5. Choose a focus with a mantra
I do not always engage in mantra, and I find it to be quite supportive in times when my mind feels more erratic or I am aware of a negative loop in my mind that needs to be rewired. Repetition is a convincing argument. And I am better able to stay in the moment and on purpose when I have a short phrase or one empowering word that I am focused on as my anchor.
Another tool I opt to use is the power of visualization. I imagine myself floating beneath the ocean's surface or above the clouds in the sky. I imagine my body is growing and expanding, touching everything around me and becoming connected to everything in the universe. I will also at times visualize my day and how I want to feel and show up from moment to moment. Planting seeds in my psyche in terms of my chosen energy and direction, making it more likely that I will remember these powerful feelings and intentions as I go about my day.
7. Space in between things
In the end, my goal with meditation is to feel aligned with the space in between things. The expansive space in between my thoughts, my breath, my emotional pendulum swing. This supports me in finding my status quo, my baseline, my higher-purpose and reservoir of energy as I know there is a lot I cannot control in life, and the best way to navigate is to improvise in the moment with an open heart and open mind. And every time I start my day aligned with that expansive space in between things, I am quick to notice when my thoughts hone in on something that does not serve me. I am able to step back into expansiveness with one deep mindful breath, and back into the flow of life, as the imperfectly perfect bountiful experience that it is.
Most importantly, keep in mind that this is a practice. As I shared in my own story and relationship with meditation, it has been a bumpy road, and that is okay! We learn by doing. We learn by trying things on and reflecting on what works and what doesn't. And what works for me will not necessarily be the jewels and nuggets of wisdom you need. Use my experience as a platform to start, and then get into your own pursuit of trial and error. When you fall in love with practice, you fall in love with life.