The roots of my struggle with meditation run deep. Every time I attempted to meditate, the stillness and calm was bombarded by the never-ending adulting To-Do list on autorepeat in my mind. My type A, get-it-right-the-first-time personality wanted not only to learn how to meditate, but master it. I wanted to be the World Champion Meditator. (Because that’s a thing…) The funny thing about meditation is, the harder you try to do it perfectly, the harder it is. Meditation can especially be a white whale for control freaks like me. I developed a sort-of meditation stage-fright. Telling my mind to be still felt like trying to hush a room full of Kindergarteners hyped up on Mountain Dew. I have this major affliction that if I can’t do something well, I’d rather not do it. Each time I would sit down to meditate, I would fail. Thoughts screamed in my brain and the last thing I felt was inner peace. I stopped wanting to try.
Meditation has been around for centuries. You can take classes on meditation, read books, listen to podcasts, and, yes, there’s an app for that. Oxford defines meditation as “the practice of focusing your mind in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm.” Simple enough, right? But how?
You are what you think. Negative subconscious thoughts or paradigms give way to negative attitudes and those negative attitudes get married and have little baby negative attitudes. Meditation is a wonderful way to reset your daily intentions and turn that brain frown upside down. (Subtract 2 points from article quality for cheesiness). Meditation also has positive physiologic effects including anxiety reduction, lowered blood pressure, and improved sleep quality. Mental health providers encourage meditation to help treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Scientists suggest it improves brain plasticity. It literally rewires your brain circuits to improve your physical and mental health. Cool. It’s like a facelift for your gray matter.
In my research, I kept coming across the term “mindfulness.” Mind-full-ness. I think they meant mind-empty-ness. My brain was anything but empty. Things changed when a friend suggested listening to a guided imagery meditation. For the first time I felt my brain relax and let go. As the soothing voice of the narrator guided my thoughts through a forest and down a gentle stream, I could feel my brain emptying of the constant background noise. The peace I felt afterwards was indescribable. Days later, I tried again, only to fail (or so I thought). I then set out on a journey to learn how to meditate. I had to break down the failure. Who was judging this as a fail? I was. Who was I trying to impress with my outstanding meditation skills? Me. Who would be missing out if I never learned to meditate? I would. I put a gag on the internal judge and decided to be kinder to myself. Instead of saying that failure is not an option, I took failure off the table. Learning what I want and need from the practice led me to the biggest breakthrough in my meditation journey. The opposite of a cracked-out hamster doing an Iron Man on his tiny wheel after slamming a case of Red Bull. I began to realize the encouraging fact that I had been meditating all my life. One familiar example is the twilight between wakefulness and sleep. Those sacred few moments lying in bed when the brain begins to let go of the day’s events and become still. As meditation became less unknown, I recognized it all over the place. Each time I would close my eyes and open my mind to my senses I would encounter a brief meditation… walking outside on a warm spring day as the sun warmed my pale winter skin… the smell of knockout roses in the front yard filling my nostrils. I began to savor these moments. Life gives us gifts of moments like these throughout the day. These strong mind-body connections fuel the soul.
Now it’s your turn. Close your eyes. (Ok, peak long enough to keep reading). Take a deep breath in. Now a lazy, full-release exhale. Don’t judge your breath. Don’t judge your thoughts. Acknowledge them. Accept them. For every negative attitude, replace it with a positive attitude. Or 2. Or 20. Ok, don’t be an over achiever. As your mind wanders, gently acknowledge the thought and re-center your focus on your breath. Deep breath in, and allow your exhale to fully release. The beauty of meditation is that you can’t fail. Meditation is your time. If your brain is flooded with thoughts and emotions, come back to the present moment and concentrate on your breath. When I meditate, I picture a blue sky. Each cloud that floats by is an individual thought. I acknowledge the cloud as it floats into view and then as it floats out the periphery. If you enjoy this short exercise, try a guided meditation that will teach you how to train your mind to let those negative thoughts and emotions pass through your mind without attaching to them or help you work through trauma or paralyzing fears and emotions.
I still stumble and pick myself back up on my meditation journey. Life is hectic and somedays the thoughts in my head are really, really loud. The more I practice meditation and mindfulness, the easier it becomes to put the kindergarteners and hamsters down for a nap.