Meditation and Me:
I’ll be honest, meditation and I haven’t always been the best of friends. When I did it in my 20s, more often than not, it actually made me feel horrible!…physically restricted and emotionally icky. Sometimes I felt so disconnected at the end of the session that my spirit seemed to thud back into myself, like a hungover person flopping into a chair. This, of course, was all user-error, but the impression stuck with me so that I avoided meditating through most of my 30s.
Of course meanwhile, I was becoming a fully-fledged member of this technologically-driven, fast-paced, information-saturated society. I worked at a career, earned my Master’s Degree, bought a house, gave into iPhones, signed up for social media, and started #adulting in the modern era. In fact, by the end of my 30s, I was emotionally reactive, technology addicted, and spiritually disconnected. Not because modern living guarantees you’ll end up like this, but because I hadn’t maintained the tools that would keep my mind, spirit and soul in balance with this modern world. I knew I needed to find some thing to get me grounded fast, and despite those early impressions, I instinctively turned to meditation as one of the tools I needed most.
So, for the past five months I have been practicing meditation again…practicing being the keyword. It’s still very much the beginning of a new relationship, but here is what I’ve learned so far and some tips that may help you in your practice.
5 Things I’ve Learned from Meditation…So Far
1. Technology can actually help with meditation
Even though part of the reason I’m meditating is to escape the traps of the modern world, as I’ve discovered, technology can actually help with meditation. In fact, I think it was an Instagram ad that first introduced me to the Calm app. I downloaded the free version and tried “7 Days of Calm”, which started with three-minute guided sessions and ended with 11-minute sessions, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve upgraded and been using it ever since. (Read why Apple named Calm their App of the Year in December 2017). What using Calm taught me is that, at this point in my meditation practice, I need guided sessions. I need that calming voice helping me to know what to do with my mind and body, how to handle distractions, even just how to breathe. This is where I went wrong in my 20s, thinking I could just sit down cross-legged and know what to do.
There are lots of new mindfulness apps out there, and also guided meditations on YouTube. Give them a try if you’re feeling unsure how to do meditation or feeling “icky” with your current practice.
2. What equanimity means and feels like
For having two degrees in English there are a lot of words I don’t know. Considering how reactive I’d become by my late 30s, it’s no surprise to me that “equanimity” was not a word in my vocabulary. Equanimity, according to Dictionary.com is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Now I used to pride myself on getting calmer and quieter when situations got crazier and louder, and to a large degree, I’m still like that. But I had become more reactive to the little things…the irritating work email, the person standing in front of me demanding something, a thoughtless comment by a loved one…and I didn’t like this about myself. When I started meditating anew, I was just looking for some internal peace and quiet; I didn’t anticipate the other benefits, such as equanimity. I wouldn’t have even gone in search of the word if not for the fact that I did start to find myself being more even-tempered and non-reactive when faced with those same irritating, demanding, hurtful situations.
You might start meditating for one purpose and find you’re reaping a completely different benefit. Keep yourself open to this possibility and enjoy the surprise of it.
3. When and how often you meditate make a difference
It’s gotten to the point that I can now tell the difference in my attitude and day if I don’t meditate. I’m still not great at meditating every day and, in fact, when preparing to launch this site I got so wrapped up in my to-do list I stopped meditating for a couple weeks…and sure felt the difference! The truth is, I absolutely need to meditate daily. It sets me up for a successful day, success being measured by smiling more; being present in my tasks; noticing the little things – like clouds in the sky, birds in the trees, flowers along the side of road; and, of course, being more equanimous. And it might go without saying, but in order to be set up for success in my day my meditation session needs to happen in the morning, before I walk out my front door and interact with the world.
If you’re new at meditating, work up to doing it every day and don’t beat yourself up when you miss a session. And try experimenting with when meditation works best for you…at the beginning of the day to set you up for success, mid-day to stay spritually on track, or the end of the day to calm and recenter.
4. There are all kinds of meditation practices
Another thing I was doing wrong in my 20s was thinking that meditation was simply sitting down, breathing, and not thinking of anything. Then being hard on yourself when you inevitably did think of something. As I’ve been learning, there are actually many kinds of meditation practices. Depending on which meditation practice you’re doing, your intent might be to actually focus on something or someone specific (like meta meditation to help with forgiveness) or your body, as you become aware of and check in with every part of it. Or, yes, your intent might be to gently, lovingly empty your mind and focus on your breathing. Once I better understood this, meditation not only became a wonderful tool for quiet, calm, and equanimity, but also a wonderful adventure and exploration.
Learn about the different types of meditation practices available to you. Find out what you respond to and also enjoy this period of exploration.
5. I’m more inspired and turned on to life than I realized
During most meditation sessions my mind will wander at some point…some days, more often than not. It usually happens on the inhale. I’ll suddenly find my mind picturing or thinking of something that gets me inspired and excited. Of course, I will try to use the techniques I’ve learned to gently bring my focus back to my breath, but instead of feeling like a failure, as I did in my 20s, I’m actually proud at where I see my thoughts going to. Because in those blissful moments of meditation, when my mind wanders as it’s inevitably going to, at least it’s not to worries or anxieties but to things that get me excited about life…places I want to travel, stories I want to write, posts I want to share, people I want to see. And that’s kind of nice to know…that at my core, in my most grounded moments, I’m actually excited about life and filled with love.
We’re not perfect and very few of us are going to meditate perfectly. Instead of beating yourself up about it, see if there’s a positive takeaway or insight in that.
Meditation and You:
Even though I’m already learning and changing from my new meditation practice, I am under no illusion that I am anything but a total novice. I hope that in sharing my journey it will inspire other novices to keep at it and share their journey as well. I want to hear what it’s like for you and what you’ve learned. I also want to hear from those of you who have been meditating for months or years! What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? What changes have you seen in your life that you credit to meditation? And so on.
Breathing in and out, imperfectly,