I first tried to meditate when I was 19.
I sat in my college dorm room, in as much of a lotus position as I could manage, and gazed at a candle flame. Then I closed my eyes, counted the beats of my in and out breath and attempted to empty my mind for the next 20 minutes.
That worked out really well. Not!
Yakkety yakkety yak went my monkey mind. What should I eat? What should I do later? Remember that time when….. And oh, I forgot to tell…
No matter how I tried to get back to that candle flame, my brain chattered on. And on. And on.
Clearly I was a loser and a failure. I couldn’t even empty my mind for 20 minutes. Hell, I couldn’t even shut it up for 20 seconds!
It wasn’t my first encounter with the concept of meditation. A high school friend – who I admired very much for her smarts and her sense of adventure – had enrolled in a Transcendental Meditation (TM) course. (Yes, it was the ‘70s.) She meditated for 20 minutes twice daily with her secret mantra and let the rest of us know how superior she was for doing so.
Wow. Twenty minutes twice a day. Even at 17 when I had lots of time to waste that sounded like a lot of time to spend meditating. But the seed was planted.
Fast forward 30 years or so, and despite many, many attempts I still haven’t established a regular meditation practice.
It’s not that I haven’t been offered the tools, the inspiration, and a number of alternative methods to meditative bliss. I’ve been blessed to have access to books, teachers and even group meditation classes and retreats – although I did not make it a priority to attend many of them.
I have enjoyed guided meditations in group settings, but I could never get myself to maintain the practice at home for longer than a few days.
I submit the usual plethora of excuses: raising kids, running a business, too many interruptions, constant house guests, no time, yada yada yada. Who knows what the real reasons are? I suspect it’s just another form of self-sabotage.
Whatever. That’s an old story and I’m ready to write a new one. (Or maybe breathe a new one?)
Because it keeps coming at me from all sides. Everywhere I look, I see another testimonial to the benefits of a regular meditation. And now I use the term “meditation” quite loosely. No longer do I think I have to sit in lotus position and beat myself up if my mind does not empty completely.
My latest obsession is the A Year With Myself Adventure Kit. I’m loving the words of wisdom from the amazing assortment of teachers, healers and coaches that are contributing to this project. And almost all of them talk about the value of meditation, or just spending those quiet minutes each day looking within.
I understand now that the point is just to take that time to be quiet and still. To just be.
(Could it be that that’s what I’ve been resisting all this time? The challenge of just being, instead of constantly doing?)
In the past months I’ve stumbled upon post after post about the benefits of meditation – some written by long-time practitioners and many more by blogging colleagues who have more recently discovered the practice – and who have made giant leaps in their own personal growth.
These people are reporting that they are discovering that a regular meditation practice makes a huge difference in their lives. They find renewed inspiration for their writing or their art, can remember and focus more clearly, find relief from stress and anxiety, and (I love this one!) it helps to slow down that illusory thing we call time.
I’m ready for some of that!
I’m sorry to say I didn’t bookmark these posts – otherwise I’d send some ‘ link love’ out to these folks who have collectively given me the nudge to ‘just do it,’ to use a corporate cliché.
But I did bookmark them in my mind. The important take-away is this: Start out small. Five or ten minutes per day of quiet time focusing inward is sufficient to get a practice going. And this: Don’t fuss about taming the monkey mind.
Just gently draw your focus back to breathing (or mantra, or whatever) when you realize your mind has danced off onto a tangent. Okay, I’ve known that for a while now – but it’s always nice to get reinforcement, and reassurance that I’m not the only one who wrestles with an overly chatty brain.
December was a rough time to get a new practice going. House guests in the beginning of the month, followed by our 3-week road trip made it difficult to stick to a new habit.
But now I’m home, I’m blowing the excuses to the winds and ready to commit. With some public accountability this time. Just 10 minutes a day to start. I’m making a commitment to do this each and every day for one month.
My hope is that the habit will be well established at the end of 30 days and I will embrace the practice, perhaps even extending the time period to longer than 10 minutes.
Just as she did, I created a little ritual around my new meditation habit.
I light a candle and smudge myself with some sage. Then I set the timer for the 10 minutes, close my eyes and turn inward. I tried using an affirmation as a mantra but found that often sent me off on those mental tangents. So now I’m just focusing on the deep breathing – counting a long breath in and a long breath out. Sometimes I use a visualization I learned long ago – sending down my grounding cord and drawing up the vital earth energies.
When the timer rings, I pick my three Angel Cards for the day.
Setting up my meditation as a short morning ritual like this has already made an incredible difference in my days – even though I’ve only been doing in consecutively for about five days. I’ve used Angel Cards for years, and I love them – but I really notice that when I choose the cards after taking this time to focus within that Angel’s words for the day seem even more relevant and motivating.
I like to write a page in my journal after I pick the cards – on any subject, but often inspired by the angels’ messages for that day.
I know it sounds like not such a big deal. To stick to a 10-minute practice every single day for 30 days. But for me this represents a huge shift. As an extrovert personality type, I rarely make time to shut out all the external cacophony and listen to my own inner self.
I’d love to hear from some of you regular meditators who might be reading this. How you handle sticking with your practice when life gets a little topsy turvy and you are out of your regular routines? Do you have a special spot where you meditate, or are you able to do it wherever? And what about meditating while traveling – perhaps sleeping in someone’s living room with zero privacy? What about family members who don’t get it and want to interrupt? How do you handle situations like houseguests who want your attention first thing in the morning?
Let me know your thoughts and tips in the comments – or shoot me an email at sarah(at)wellnessthenaturalway.com