First of all, let’s just define “what is meditation?”. According to Merriam-Webster, it is to ‘engage in mental exercise (such as concentrating on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness’.
(Sigh) That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
Ok, I know I need to meditate, and I try but why is this seemingly simple thing so difficult? My mind is a constant blur of activity, it seems that I can think about 100 different things in a span of what feels like a few seconds. So, trying to quiet it, is a large task.
Recently, I shared that I had some small issues with anxiety (okay, big issue!). I realize that part of my problem is that I need to sort out the things that are necessary to worry about and shelf the things that should be of no concern. I also have to STOP imagining the worst (read my Anxiety Girl post) where if, for example, one of my sons doesn’t immediately answer my text, that does not mean they are dead in a ditch or abducted by aliens (I could give Stephen King a run for his creative money).
So, part of dealing with my anxiety is learning to calm my mind and quiet my thoughts, which is HOW meditation works. Well, that sounds easy.
Trying on my own: I will just find a quiet place and think about nothing more than the peace, quiet and my breathing.
So, I head to my room (quiet place) to try to quiet my mind. I figure the distractions will be less if I remove myself from what I feel are the distractions (except that my mind is along, the biggest distractor of them all). But, I am going to give this my best effort. I resist grabbing my Magnolia Journal (remember this is supposed to be distraction free), as I sit on my floor cross legged (this is what I see all people do that mediate). Ok, so far so good….I am in position and so I start to quiet my mind and breathe deep. Hey, this is easy (who says this is hard?)….quietness, breathing……just me and my breathing….I am one with the earth…..just focusing on my breathing….I wonder what we should have for supper, tacos? No had that last night. Darek seems so unsettled right now. I wonder if Darien is having fun in California? Work is usually so fun for me but right now it’s so stressful. I wonder what new movies are coming out? Bruce has chemo tomorrow, I hope that he’s mentally doing okay. I need some new summer sandals…… Oh wait, where was I? Oh yes, I was finding my Zen.
This is usually how meditation goes for me. Each time I try to quiet my thoughts, it is like trying to wrangle in a herd of sheep.
I try to quiet my mind and wrangle in the sheep (my thoughts) but my meditation session usually ends with me feeling frustrated.
The practice of trying to calm my mind is definitely a work in progress, but one that I feel is important.
Then, HOW do I meditate?
First, it is imperative to know that meditation is a PRACTICE, which means that we have to, yes, practice it. In our fast paced society today, this is often the problem as we generally do not think that we can take the time to meditate. However, meditation can be healing and in finding a practice that works for you, it can be liberating. Here are some helpful tips.
Step 1: Find a mantra. What is a mantra? A mantra is a word, sound, or phrase repeated to aid in your concentration while meditating. A mantra can have the ability to help you focus and concentrate, so for people like me that are making there grocery list (not on paper, in my mind of course, and then I forget half of it when I’m at the store) while meditating, this mantra word or phrase can help bring you back to the present.
There was a time in my life when I had this mastered. I remember when my husband and I first started dating (I am the oldest girl, he the youngest child) he would be over and my younger siblings would literally be hanging on every limb of mine, and I could tune them out and watch TV. He, meanwhile, would be going crazy with the chaos.
However, as I have aged, I can no longer do that. But, I was inspired by that memory, so I sat down in my living room trying to channel that same calm and resolve of my youth, and started to focus. A word, what word could I use? I need to repaint the walls in here…maybe a greener shade of grey….and I think that I would like to go more in the direction of blues and yellows in here… Where was I? Oh yes, a word…’inspiration’? Speaking of inspirational, this would make for a good blog post…. And my mantra session ended with me spending more time writing this post in my head and the direction the post would go, then finding my mantra word. I needed more help.
Step 2: Find something to HELP ME guide my focus (or mantra). Where to begin? I went to my best research assistant, Google. I googled, ‘Best Mantra Apps 2018‘ (because that’s not distracting, our phone) but I figure, we always have our phones on us and so we can plug into this mantra thing on the go; at work, in a parking lot, in line at Costco.
I went with the first one listed, The Mindfulness App. Their story? Essentially they created an app that would remind us to meditate, as this is the greatest struggle people have, to remember to do it. They use a strategy based on a Swedish cartoon where Bamse, is the world’s strongest bear and his friend Shellman, who is an extremely wise tortoise. Shellman carries everything with him in his shell including a food-and-sleep-clock that tells him exactly when to do everything (including sleep and eat), even if it’s in the middle of an adventure. So, the Mindfulness App was created with a reminder function for specific days and times for meditation. The idea is that mindfulness can be easily done in the midst of a busy life. (This has a premium after a free trial.)
I’ve also heard good things about Headspace, Calm and Buddhify. These all have a yearly premium after a free trial.
With the help of the app, it is easier. Also, I realized that I do not have to rid my brain of thoughts (because climbing Mt Everest felt an easier task than ridding MY brain of thought) but instead let your thoughts come and go without becoming emotionally attached to the thought. So for example, as I stand in line at Costco instead of watching every person in line ahead of me and being irritated by the fact that I am waiting in a LONG, forever line. I can simply observe the people around me, let my thoughts come and go and not be emotionally attached. Simply acknowledge the thought and move on to the next thought while staying in the moment. You have your phone, and the app and if you simply carry a set of ear phones you can plug into this state of mind anywhere.
Step 4. Being Mindful(-ish, still working on it).
After a few days with the mantra and meditation, I did start to notice some mild changes.
We have a new charting system where I work. It’s a big deal. Such a big deal that the liquor stores in our town had their best quarter ever. Yes, it has been stressful.
I found that with the help of meditation I was able to sort of “check out” at work for a few minutes a shift while on my lunch break. Instead of participating in the perpetual crabbing about our new system, I simply sat in silence and just observed my surroundings (while sniffing my Lavender Essential Oil). I was able to think about the things that I was grateful for like; I DO have a great job and I am ABLE to do things for my children and family that many people cannot, etc. I let my thoughts come and go without marrying the thought.
Another time, as I sat on my front porch practicing mindfulness, I could focus more clearly on my surroundings. The birds around me. The wind chimes chiming. The neighbors in the garden across the street. Children down the street laughing. Previously, I would try to do this only to easily be distracted by the things that I felt I SHOULD be doing; laundry, chores, grocery shopping etc.
At the end of it all, I found that I still need a lot of practice. If you can grade being mindful on a scale, with 0 being super easy and 10 being very difficult, I am still at about a 7.9 (seemed slightly better than saying 8) -I have a way to go in my practice.
A couple of years ago, Time magazine put out a Mindfulness edition that I pull out from time to time as well and remind myself that this practice really does help us to be healthier and more happy. You can find these type of magazines in stores and at book stores almost daily. It is really a new science and the latest revolution in healthy living.
I have posted about Adriene (my personal yoga instructor) previously but I turned Adriene on this morning (via youtube) and I did find that I was much more able to focus on her. I find that I have to shut my office door (it is OKAY to do that) and just have it be Adriene and I for 20 minutes. I also found that I could let my thought in but then I could oberve it there and let it go. I also was not so hard on myself when I became distracted and simply just redirected myself back to the yoga session.
That is one of the reasons I love yoga. I move my body (but I choose how much and how difficult the class) and with Adriene’s help, I learn to focus on the movement and on my breathing. Here is a great, short and simple head and neck stretch while focusing on breathing and being mindful with Adriene.
I thought maybe a Meditation Challenge may help all of us find our Mindfulness. So for the month of June, let’s take time EACH day (yes, I did say every day) to meditate. I think we start with the goal of 5 minutes for the first week, then move to 10 minutes for week 2, then 15 minutes for week 3 and finally 20 minutes a day our final week. Think we can do it? Yeah right, who am I kidding?
Truly the first step is just making US a priority and taking a few minutes of our day to practice this important healthy habit.
If we get to 20 minutes, GREAT! If by the end of the month I’ve managed to wrangle in a few (like 3) of my 100 sheep (thoughts) and can focus for 5 minutes, I will call that an accomplishment.
I will check in with you all daily.
I would LOVE to hear any ideas or thoughts you have and some great mindful tips that you may have. Please leave me your thoughts in the comments below so I can post any ideas you may have throughout the month!
Here’s to a Mindful June!