If you’re anything like I was six months ago, when you think about meditation you picture people sitting on plush pillows humming the “Ohhhhmmm” us non-meditators assume is a derivative of some secret language we are not yet entitled to know. You think they know something you don’t about life, peace, serenity and calmness. You might be jealous of the spiritually-saavy who post, tweet and talk about how meditation has changed their life. You sit and wonder why you can’t clear your mind for shit, because every time you try to black out the clouds of thoughts in your head you keep picturing your friends, your bank statement or your chores. You’re just not a meditator, you suppose. You give up. I get it, because that was me.
I was raised a logical, headstrong female. Any obstacles, I was taught, I could conquer on my own with the innate gifts I’d been given. However, to calm my worries and nerves happened to be something I was definitely not blessed with. If one could run on anxiety I’d be full steam ahead on any given day. After beginning (and loving) therapy for about a year, my therapist finally asked me if I’d like to try some guided, mindful meditation. I LOL’ed in my head over how ridiculous and New Age that sounded, but everything else we’d done in our sessions had improved my life dramatically, so I thought I’d give it a try. Needless to say it was 10 minutes of me pretending I escaped to the magical land of peacefulness we think we’re supposed to somehow snap to immediately during meditation. I wasn’t fooling anyone. She asked me what I thought and I was honest, “Meditation’s just not for me.” She asked me why and I replied, “I just can’t get to that quiet place you’re supposed to get to. My brain doesn’t work that way.” To which she laughed a bit and said, “No one’s does. That’s not what meditation is about…” What I’ve learned since that moment has flipped the switch completely and changed my daily quality of life. I’ve learned what it really means to meditate.
Meditation Isn’t About Zoning Out.
By the way celebrities and spiritual junkies talk about it, meditation seems like the ultimate drug. To be able to close your eyes and just get away sounds like utter bliss. However, the act of meditation is not as much about zoning out as it is a practice of extreme focus. To put it in perspective, meditation is lifting weights for the brain, small work each day that ultimately allows you the strength to control your daily thoughts better on an unconscious level and ease your mind overall.
Picture a giant old trunk, stuffed at the back of your closet. You haven’t moved it for years because it’s just too heavy. You try to push it, pull it and lift it to no avail. So you leave it be, chocking it up to, “I just can’t do it.” But over the next year, you start to lift weights and work out. Your muscles become stronger and your body becomes more capable. Before you know it, you’re able to lift the trunk with ease because you’ve put in a small amount of effort in daily to strengthen yourself. You obviously didn’t spend a year working out for the sole purpose of lifting the trunk, rather for the overall betterment of your health. But as a result of the work, you were able to do something that you previously thought was not possible. That’s how the practice of meditation is. The more you work at it, the better you become and more you will see its benefits reflected in even the smallest ways.
It Takes Work, But You Should Start Slowly.
As you begin to meditate, you will be unsuccessful if you spend the time focusing on the end game, thinking, “I need to get to the quiet, calm place.” You should start out simply by focusing on something tangible to ground you in the moment. Take a breath and really pay attention to how the air feels going through your nose, down your throat and into your lungs. You might find yourself thinking, “This is silly,” and that’s totally okay. In fact, anything you think during meditation is okay. Simply acknowledge the thought and refocus. That act is like lifting a weight. You are training your brain to focus on what you want to think about in the same way you train your muscle to lift something heavy. It is hard, almost impossible at first, but the more you practice the easier it will become. Eventually, you will get to a place where your brain is automatically focusing on the things in life you want it to. This is the “magic” meditators speak of. Their daily stress and anxiety levels are lowered, not because life is suddenly easier, but because it has become more autonomous for them to focus on the positive and be connected with their self. It allows them time to sit with themselves in the present, if even for only a minute or two during the day, instead of worrying about the past or the future.
You Are Already Meditating Every Day.
So the idea of meditation still doesn’t appeal to you? What if I were to say you are already doing it in ways you may not recognize as meditation? The moment you sink into the tub and let out the “Ahhh” of relaxation. When your favorite song comes on and you spend three minutes lost in the music. The taste of that first sip of tea or coffee you just have to have in the morning. Staring at your dog or your child and feeling nothing in that second but joy and love. Those hours you spend drowning in a book, a film or a TV show. All of those things are small, daily acts of mindful meditation. In those times, you are lost in the present moment through sensory or mental awareness. You are completely focused on the now. You are clear-headed and completely open to receiving whatever that moment has to give you. And that is really what meditation is all about. If sitting for a while and actively “trying” to meditate doesn’t sound like something for you, start by just cherishing those activities more consciously. You might find that the benefits of that alone make you want to dive into meditation a little more thoroughly.
Mediation Is What You Make It.
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. The biggest hindrance to beginners during meditation is the thought that they are not doing it correctly or aren’t feeling how they are supposed to feel. While there are countless resources to access regarding it, meditation in its most effective form is not always about following the guidelines set by others. In fact, the most important part of meditation is figuring out what works for you. Where and how you do it is up to you, and what you get out of it is directly proportional to what you put into it. If it sounds too New Age to call it meditation, that’s fine too. Call it your me time, your self-care, your break from the world.
Don’t be kept from trying meditation simply because you have preconceived notions about what it all means. As with any activity, there are the pros and the hobbyists. There might be individuals out there who say you should do it a certain way or think you’d benefit from a rigorous amount of practice and direct guidance, but I happen to believe that centering yourself in the moment can be achieved differently for everyone. Try some things, see what works, but most of all, allow “what is” to just be and truly value the time you have with yourself. If you are doing that, you’re meditating.