I have always seen my thoughts as my enemy. When they swirl around my mind they often bring anxiety, shame, embarrassment, jealousy, and sorrow. As hard as I try, I cannot stop them. They are a force I cannot overpower. Turns out, the key is to not overpower them at all.
I began looking into meditation in the fall of 2016 during a period of change and transition. I had recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, current events in the country were making me feel extremely tense (you can glean what events those were), and my new job required a levelheadedness I had never known how to attain. If I was going to successfully transition into this new reality, I could no longer ignore my restless mind and anxiety.
I was aware of meditation, but skeptical. I grew up in a home that treated meditation as something kooky. I am also a control freak so the thought of letting go was frightening. However, meditation had always interested me. Was it really possible for me to find peace in this overactive mind that never gives me rest?
I decided to look into what really meditation is and I quickly realized my preconceived notions were incorrect. Mediation is not kooky. It is a scientifically proven way to change the way the brain functions. It makes you calmer and less reactive. Plus, it is adaptable to my needs. Sign me up.
I began with guided meditations. I found a free app (there are many good ones out there) and began to listen to guided meditations when I commuted to work on the bus in the morning. Fairly quickly, I found that the meditations provided a wonderful rest for my mind as it was able to focus on the words and instructions being provided. With time, I found myself less reactive to events that occurred throughout the day. I became more aware of the presence of emotions, including anxiety, and I had tools for processing the emotions constructively. After a year of guided mediation, I took the plunge and started to meditate with just a timer and no guidance. The transition was difficult, but worth it. Each meditation session teaches me a lesson about my mind, and I continue to find joy that I never imagined would exist for me.
Lessons meditation has taught me
- Thoughts are not the enemy. Thoughts are a natural part of how our brains work. There is no need to fight against them. Instead, you can let them move in and out of your mind without grasping onto them and letting them take you down difficult paths. I like to think of my thoughts as trains and that I am sitting in a train station watching my thoughts roll in and out. I watch them go by, but I stay resting in the station and don’t get on a thought train.
- Thoughts do not indicate reality. They are simply a manifestation of the mind.
- Thoughts and emotions are not good or bad. They simply exist and are natural.
- It is better to feel emotions and pain completely than to push them aside. Once you feel the emotion and/or pain and recognize how it is affecting you mentally and physically, you can decide if there is an action you want to take, and then let it go. For example, if I am feeling lonely, I can recognize the emotion and how it is impacting me mentally and physically (I often feel loneliness in my chest), then I can decide if I want to take an action like calling a loved one to connect, and then I let the emotion fade in its own time. No need to push it away or cling to it. Just let it be.
- There is a center of me beyond the thoughts in my mind and any physical discomfort I may be feeling. There is a place at my core for joy to be cultivated and nourished.
- Taking a moment to breath and calm the mind before making a decision makes a huge difference.
My meditation practice
- I try to meditate for ten minutes every morning. I sit on my mediation cushion with my legs crossed comfortably and my hands in my lap. I work to focus my concentration first on any sounds around me and then on my breath moving in and out of my body. When my mind wanders (which is often) I calmly acknowledge that I have been thinking and return my concentration to my breath. One of the most important things I learned about meditation is to not worry about how often your mind wanders. What you are working towards is recognizing that it has been wandering and then returning to your point of focus. Repeating this process helps us recognize when we have been taken away by a thought. This skill is helpful even when we are not meditating.
- Recently, I have begun adding a short three to five minute guided meditation at the end of my runs or HIIT workouts. I lie in shavasana pose: on my back with my legs slightly away from my body with my feet pointed out and my arms slightly away from my body with my palms up. I am finding this is a wonderful release for my body after the hard work, a reminder to nurture and honor my body, and a great way to transition into the rest of my day.
- Some nights before bed, I will do a guided yoga nidra meditation. These meditations invite you to feel individual locations in your body one at a time. Yoga nidra helps my mind slow down and connect to my body as it begins its well deserved rest.
Find the meditation practice that is right for you
There are many different kinds of meditation. Some are spiritually focused, some are secular, some work to cultivate attentive relaxation, some work on processing emotion and pain. You can find one that works for you.
You do not need to sit on a mediation cushion. You can meditate in any position that suites you, including standing up.
You can meditate for whatever length of time and during whatever time of day is best for you. There are benefits to even one conscious breath.
Meditation is a lifelong practice. There are times when it comes easily and the benefits are evident, other times it is very difficult and the benefits are hard to see. This is okay. Practicing meditation is very much about the journey.
Meditation is one of the wellness practices I do strongly encourage you to try. There is a lot of scientific research that show the benefits, and I have seen in my own life the impact it can have. The best part, you can do it for free and you can do it anywhere!
Meditation will not necessarily change your whole life, but it will make some things a bit easier. I’m all for that!