For many years, I have been a morning journaler. I started the habit when I first discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in 1997. Since then, few mornings have passed without my scribbling down some thoughts and ramblings in my journal.
Around that same time, I began to hear a lot about meditation. My main exposure to it was at the Unity church I attended. Most of the time, just listening to those soothing words and easing into the three or four minutes of silence that followed could calm me like nothing else. At other times, my mind was a boomerang with thoughts zooming out and back, in and out, all around. It was exhausting.
Many of my friends had a meditation practice. They did it at home and highly recommended it. I would go for a visit and see their zafu sitting sweetly beside their altar which was adorned with sacred objects of every description.
The spiritual heart of me connected on a deep level to all that, but I really didn’t quite ‘get it.” It was intriguing, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t for me. I still had a little stuff around all that, and maybe you do, too. So …
… let me point out a few misconceptions about meditation:
- It is NOT necessarily connected with any religion. In the simplest terms, it is a method of calming the mind by focusing on the breath; something we all have. And yes, you can take it much deeper.
- There is not a right or wrong way to do it. Sit. Lie down. Walk. Chant. Use a guided meditation. Use a mantra. It’s all up to you.
- You don’t need any special equipment. Not even a timer.
- It is not woo-woo. Well, I guess it could be, but if sitting in silence just following your breath, maybe listening to the sounds around you, and coming out the other side feeling calm and peaceful is woo-woo, then I’ll take it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way.
Fast forward about fifteen years. My life was somewhat of a stressed out mess with a demanding job and a mom who was aging and in need of help. Often. My blood pressure was inching upward, and I needed some help too.
It was time to give it a try. Now I didn’t have a fancy meditation cushion or an altar, but I had a comfy chair, a soft blanket to wrap around my shoulders, and a great little iPhone app called Insight Timer to tick off the minutes and ring a nice bell when my time was complete.
I really didn’t know what I was doing, so I just used what I remembered from those early days. Sit comfortably, back straight, feet on the floor, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths to get centered, and focus on your breath. In. Out. In. Out. Repeat.
My mind was pretty much a ping pong match that morning with thoughts bouncing everywhere, but I made it through five — count ’em, F.I.V.E. — minutes. Yay me!
Was my life changed that day? Nah, not so much. But the next day, you know what? I was right back there with my butt in the comfy chair, with my blankey, my timer, and (thank God!) my breath. And then the next day and the day after that.
I stayed with it. I kept going. I began to look forward to it.
That was over three years ago, and I must tell you: meditation has changed my life. After a couple of weeks or so, I began to feel a bit calmer throughout my day. I began to look at situations that had previously driven me over the edge in a whole new calmer light. My thinking processes became clearer. These have only increased with time and practice.
Truly, it is a win-win even on those days when I have a tough time corraling the wild stallions in my mind. Yes, I said have, because they still show up sometimes. And I continue. It’s a part of my daily life now. Every morning. First thing.
If I miss it, I miss it.
So, you think you might want to start meditation, but don’t know if you can or even should try it? You’re not alone. Interestingly enough, meditation seems to be going mainstream. Harvard University is conducting research on meditation, and the results are encouraging. People are checking it out.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Here are 9 tips to get you started:
1. If at all possible, do your meditation first thing in the morning, otherwise you may never take time to fit it in. I find the RPM method works best for me: Rise, Pee, Meditate. Thank you, davidji.
2. Find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed. A door that closes is beneficial.
3. You can set a timer, if you have one. Start with a just a few minutes: 2, 3, 5. It’s a start. You are doing something good for yourself.
4. Close your eyes or not. Some people find a point to focus on with eyes turned downward, only partially closed.
5. Take a couple of slow deep breaths to get started.
6. Continue to pay attention to your in-breath and out-breath. Just breathe. Keep going.
7. When, not if, your mind drifts away, gently acknowledge that thought and come back to your breath. Sometimes it helps to use a mantra to keep your focus. Any word or a phrase will do just fine. “Peace.” “Be still.” “Breathing in, Breathing out.”
8. When you finish, take a couple more slow deep breaths, and sit quietly.
9. Pat yourself on the back! You did it. You just meditated.
Something to remember: please be gentle with yourself. Meditation is a practice so you will always be learning. Give your mind time to adapt to something new. It will. Don’t give up.
I leave you with a few resources.
Three or four times a year, Deepak Chopra and Oprah (did you see how that rhymed?) do a 21-Day Meditation Challenge. Fifteen minutes a day for 21 days. I sign up every time it comes around and always enjoy it. The next on starts on March 16.
davidji is a meditation instructor who has a website that is loaded with helpful information. You’ll find a multitude of tips, free guided meditations, and other goodies. He also has a great book, The Secrets of Meditation, which covers pretty much everything you could ever want to know about meditation.
Another helpful book is Soul-Centered by another fine meditation instructor, Sarah McLean. This one is really easy to read, and Sarah’s sweet, gentle personality shines all the way through. The book is dynamite, and she has an info-packed website as well.
And of course, the internet is LOADED with all kinds of info about meditation. Check it out and give it a try.
So have I convinced you to give meditation a try?
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Meditation has truly changed my life. (I can give references. LOL) I hope you’ll decide to sit a spell. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about it, and I would love to hear about your experience as a beginner or a seasoned ‘sitter.’ Comments welcome below.
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Yoga Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net