25 Jul Mindful Meditation
Today, sort of piggy-backing off of my last blog where I was talking about the thirteen in Thailand who were stuck in a cave for two weeks (that were rescued), I want to talk about meditation and how it’s impacted my life.
I was mesmerized as I read the story of the boys and coach who were trapped in a cave for two weeks and learned that they believed one of the things that pulled them through the ordeal and helped them to survive was meditation. Not only did it help them to keep calm, to evaluate and identify their emotional states, but also to help them preserve oxygen.
When I was young (very young), I remember over-hearing conversations about meditation – how it was a “New-Age” practice that was similar to hypnotism – something that could open your mind to suggestion, demons, and the Devil. I remember hearing about the Beatles and Transcendental Meditation – and how we were all going to hell in a handbasket.
When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I remember someone once suggesting I try meditation to “calm” my “A.D.D.” I think I made an honest attempt at it once – feeling like a failure, agitated, bored, and overall irritated (and fidgety), I thought the practice just wasn’t for me. At the time, I also rebelled against anything that felt regimented or structured – or that took a whole lot of self-discipline. I was in an unconscious state of being and only sought immediate gratification and pleasure.
2010 – 2013 marks a period of time in my life where everything seemed to come undone and I became unraveled at my core. In 2014, convinced I was having a full nervous breakdown, I sought professional help. I’ve written a lot about this period of time in my life as it was when I began experiencing my full awakening so I apologize if any of this sounds repetitive.
I was very blessed with a Psychiatrist who stated at our first meeting that her only goal was to teach me ways to deal and cope – and to get off any medication she needed to prescribe at the time due to my fragile mental health state. I walked out of her office that day with not just prescriptions for Lexapro, Lamictal, Temazepam (Restoril), and Klonopin (Clonazepam) – but also with a referral to a “meditation class” that evening.
As I arrived for the meditation class, I was full of dread. All I had to go off of was my one and only attempt that had left me feeling completely inadequate. Part of me was also feeling hopeful as I was definitely walking a much different path in life than I was before, so I was very open to at least giving it a try. After all, my Psychiatrist had convinced me that meditation would “completely change and transform” my life.
Also, because it was a “class” vs. me just “winging it” I thought that maybe I would learn something that would make it a far different and better experience. This is what I hoped for, at least.
The instructor started off by having us do some breathing exercises that were easy enough at first but became more and more challenging as time went on. He then had us lie down and work our way from head to toe, focusing on each body part and muscle – clenching and then relaxing – releasing all tension. I remember the awareness that came with this simple exercise: how often I was holding my breath, how shallow my breathing would become, or how much tension I was holding in weird places (who knew that jaw and butt-cheek clenching were a thing?!)
From there he had us sit in an upright position – focusing on how erect our spines were –and briefly talked about making sure our *chakras were in alignment. He said we should imagine balancing a pencil on the top of our heads or pretend a string was pulling our spines upward toward heaven.
*More on chakras – next blog
As he then walked us through several ways people meditate (some focus on breath, some prefer guided meditations, some focus on mantras or use mala beads, etc.) he had us identify which seemed to work best for us. As I was used to focusing on my breath to blank out my mind at night as an attempt to conquer my insomnia (wait, have I been meditating all along?!) – focusing on my breath seemed to come easy enough for me and was the form of meditation I chose to work with (and have ever since).
However, it didn’t take long for the feelings of frustration and inadequacy to take hold. “My God – do people really have this many thoughts in a matter of just seconds? Why can’t I get quiet? OMG JUST SHUT UP ALREADY…”
And then the fidgeting began: My ankle hurts, my leg is going to sleep, one hip seems to be sitting higher than the other, sniff, sniff, cough – Oh I need to pop my back, need to unkink my neck, my eyebrow itches…
“And when you fall out of meditation, bring your attention back to your breath and refocus on letting go of all tension in the body. Do not become attached to your thoughts – the idea is not that you aren’t going to think. It’s a matter of noticing where your thoughts go. This is called Mindful Meditation. It’s been two minutes and we’re going to try for three more,” the instructor said.
“It’s only been two minutes?! Are you f*cking kidding me? The idea isn’t to obtain silence? I wish you would have said that in the first place. Ok just observe your thoughts but don’t get attached to them. How do you even do that? I mean I’m the one thinking and having these thoughts. What am I supposed to do? Somehow split and be in two places at once? I don’t see how that can be helpful to my mental health. She came in with PTSD, Major Depression, and Anxiety – she left with Dissociative Identity Disorder…
Ok, this isn’t working. Let’s go through and relax each body part again. Oh sh*t, I wonder if I made that appointment for next week? What am I making for dinner? Do I need to go to the grocery store? Did I respond to that text message…”
Mind drifts onto a memory from the past week…
“Ok, and when you’re ready, go ahead and come back into your body very slowly – first wiggling your fingers and your toes…and when you’re ready go ahead and open your eyes slowly…how was that?”
As everyone around the room smiled relaxed and dreamily – nodding their heads and murmuring about how wonderful their experience was, I was boldly staring at them all in utter confusion and disgust. Steadying myself and wondering how I should respond seemed meaningless as I suddenly blurted out, “That was awful. My mind wouldn’t shut up – I couldn’t step back and observe. I feel like I was being tortured being made to just sit here while my mind made a five page to-do list…”
Needless to say, that while it was a one-time class for beginners, I attended the class no less than eight times.
AND IT STILL TOOK ME ANOTHER SIX MONTHS OF MEDITATING DAILY BEFORE I EVER EXPERIENCED WHAT THAT SILENCE AND INNER PEACE EVERYONE WAS ALWAYS RAVING ABOUT WAS – AND IT ONLY LASTED SECONDS.
But, I stuck with it and returned to meditation each morning.
Every. Single. Day.
Two years after attending that first class, I was off all medications and found an inner peace and happiness that I’m not sure I had EVER experienced before. ..
Four years later, this is still a daily morning practice for me that has grown and evolved. I finally understand what being an observer looks and feels like. I’ve come to almost crave the tingly sensations and absolute silence that washes over my body like a cool cleansing bath of energy – until my body and surroundings completely fall away – leaving me in a liquid stream of consciousness and absolute bliss…
While I initially began this practice as a way and means to reduce or handle stress better– I’ve found it has so many other wonderful benefits like lowering blood pressure, reducing cortisol levels, gaining presence, becoming mindful of my thoughts and energy, ridding myself of things I’ve been carrying that don’t even belong to me (being an empath), becoming aware of attachments and doing chord cutting…
However, one of my absolute favorite benefits (that I don’t remember anyone ever telling me about) has been tuning in and really getting to know Mary. Not the perception of me that I used to view from the lens and perception of others – finding my self-worth in their opinions and judgments. Not the Mary I wanted to become. Not the Mary I hoped others could see. Not the Mary I thought I should be…
But getting to know who She (I) am in the here and now and at any given moment and in various environments and situations. Over the years I’ve come to not just like this Mary person – but have fallen in love with her. I’ve learned to listen to my wants, my needs, my desires. I notice now where discomfort and fear resides in my body. I listen to my gut instincts and have come to trust my internal guidance system; to love and honor my intuition…
Before meditation – I wasn’t even AWARE of how little I trusted and honored myself. And if we can’t trust ourselves – how in the hell are we really ever going to trust anyone else?! The answer? We can’t.
Recently, I started a course on honing your psychic skills and really opening your psychic centers. The first class was all about meditation and as I watched others struggling in the way I once did – I couldn’t help but want to shout – JUST KEEP GOING! Because once you hit that sweet spot of delicious quiet introspection – there’s no going back!
Tips for Meditation
Sit for just five minutes. This will seem ridiculously easy, to just meditate for five minutes. That’s perfect. Start with just five minutes a day for a week. If that goes well, increase by another two minutes and do that for a week. If all goes well, by increasing just a little at a time, you’ll be meditating for 10 minutes (at a minimum) before you know it. But start small first.
Do it first thing each morning. It’s easy to say, “I’ll meditate every day,” but then forget to do it. Instead, set a reminder for every morning when you get up, and put a note that says “meditate” somewhere where you’ll see it.
Don’t get caught up in the how — just do. Most people worry about where to sit, how to sit, what cushion to use … this is all nice, but it’s not that important to get started. Start just by sitting on a chair, or on your couch. Or on your bed. If you’re comfortable on the ground, sit cross-legged. It’s just for five minutes at first anyway, so just sit. Later you can worry about optimizing it so you’ll be comfortable for longer, but in the beginning it doesn’t matter much, just sit somewhere quiet and comfortable.
Check in with how you’re feeling. As you first settle into your meditation session, simply check to see how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? What is the quality of your mind? Busy? Tired? Anxious? See whatever you’re bringing to this meditation session as completely OK.
Count your breaths. Now that you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breath. Just place the attention on your breath as it comes in, and follow it through your nose all the way down to your lungs. Try counting “one” as you take in the first breath, then “two” as you breathe out. Repeat this to the count of 10, and then start again at one.
Come back when you wander. Your mind will wander. This is an almost absolute certainty. There’s no problem with that. When you notice your mind wandering, smile, and simply gently return to your breath. Count “one” again, and start over. You might feel a little frustration, but it’s perfectly OK to not stay focused, we all do it. This is the practice, and you won’t be good at it for a little while.
Develop a loving attitude. When you notice thoughts and feelings arising during meditation, as they will, look at them with a friendly attitude. See them as friends, not intruders or enemies. They are a part of you, though not all of you. Be friendly and not harsh. There is no judgement here. No right or wrong/good or bad. It’s simply information.
Don’t worry too much that you’re doing it wrong. You will worry you’re doing it wrong. That’s OK, we all do. You’re not doing it wrong. There’s no perfect way to do it, just be happy you’re doing it.
Don’t worry about clearing the mind. Lots of people think meditation is about clearing your mind, or stopping all thoughts. It’s not. This can sometimes happen, but it’s not the “goal” of meditation. If you have thoughts, that’s normal. We all do. Our brains are thought factories, and we can’t just shut them down. Instead, just try to practice focusing your attention, and practice some more when your mind wanders.
Stay with whatever arises. When thoughts or feelings arise, and they will, you might try staying with them awhile. Yes, I know I said to return to the breath, but after you practice that for a week, you might also try staying with a thought or feeling that arises. We tend to want to avoid feelings like frustration, anger, anxiety … but an amazingly useful meditation practice is to stay with the feeling for a while. Just stay, and be curious.
Get to know yourself. This practice isn’t just about focusing your attention; it’s about learning how your mind works. What’s going on inside there? It’s murky, but by watching your mind wander, get frustrated, avoid difficult feelings … you can start to understand yourself.
Become friends with yourself. As you get to know yourself, do it with a friendly attitude instead of one of criticism. You’re getting to know a friend. Smile and give yourself love.
Do a body scan. Another thing you can do, once you become a little better at following your breath, is focus your attention on one body part at a time. Start at the soles of your feet — how do those feel? Slowly move to your toes, the tops of your feet, your ankles, all the way to the top of your head. I often do chakra meditations where I envision roots grounding me and focusing on each color as I breathe and move up my chakra ladder.
Notice the light, sounds, energy. Another place to put your attention, again, after you’ve practice with your breath for at least a week, is the light all around you. Just keep your eyes on one spot, and notice the light in the room you’re in. Another day, just focus on noticing sounds. Another day, try to notice the energy in the room all around you (including light and sounds).
Last but not least – KEEP GOING!