What meditation gives me is the decadence of a sweet pause in the midst of all that emotion and worry.When I was a kid, I thought my mom was a weirdo. She was a dynamic hippie, feminist type who marched proudly for the ERA and refused to shave her armpits. I was into whatever she wasn’t into. She was into Buddha; I was into God. She was into Body Talk; I was into modern medicine. She was into homemade yogurt and raw chicken livers; I was into Doritos. You get the idea.
Another of her hobbies I deemed eccentric was meditation. She would sit all pretzel-legged and quiet, and I would roll my eyes in teenage revulsion. In the meantime, I was a wound-up, anxiety-ridden kid on a quest for perfection in all areas of my life. Meditation would’ve been like a vacation to the one of those overwater bungalows in Bora Bora, but I wasn’t there yet.
I started experimenting with meditation a mere six months ago, just shy of my 40th birthday. At first, as expected, my mind wiggled and jiggled like an unruly puppy. Sitting quietly turned into a perfect opportunity to mentally run down my never ending to-do list. Thankfully, I keep at it, gradually becoming better at reining in my mind and letting the mushrooming thoughts float by. My five-year-old daughter even joined me occasionally. (Here’s a tip: meditating with a five-year old is the opposite of relaxing. Cute, but not relaxing).
A few weeks in, I began to notice I felt a little different. It wasn’t a massive difference, but I felt more calm and more able to control my reactions to stressful situations. Then, the newness of sitting still wore off, and I drifted away from meditating for a month or so. Thankfully, I felt a pull to come back to it and experimented with some guided meditations. You Tube is a treasure trove of some awesome and weird guided meditations. Mentally, I went to several beautiful gardens narrated by deep, soothing Australian baritones. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW-GcRr3zuQ.
Ultimately, the guided meditations weren’t for me because I felt distracted by the music, the talking, and the buzzing bees in all those lush gardens. I began to just sit quietly for 10 minutes a day, usually in the evenings after the rush of after school activities, homework, and dinner. It was a way of letting the dust settle from the day and letting my mind stop vibrating. I just focused on breathing and keeping my body relaxed, especially my shoulders which tend to be hunched permanently at my ears.
Now, after a few months of meditating regularly, I crave the release of meditation. I crave that quiet that washes over me and makes me feel like I’m floating above myself. Better yet, that same sense of calm I find when meditating taps me on the shoulder throughout the day, reminding me that I have the ability and the choice to relax at any given moment.
I am a natural worrier and can easily be overcome by my nail-biting, nightmare-inducing thoughts. What meditation gives me is the decadence of a sweet pause in the midst of all that emotion and worry. Instead of letting my heart race and my mind go wild, I pause before a tough call with a colleague or client to take a deep breath and let my shoulders fall (up at the ears again!). Instead of a knee-jerk, attack-dog reaction, I pause and breathe before escalating tense words with my husband or children. Because of my meditation practice, I can more readily take myself to a calm place and prevent my body from circling the drain into Panic Land.
When I tell people I meditate, they often ask, “How do you know how to do it?” I know that there are meditation gurus who have dedicated their lives to studying meditation (and growing really long beards), but for me, there is no right and wrong way to do meditation. It is simply just sitting quietly and breathing. Yes, your mind is going to wander, but just gently bring it back to breathing and relaxing your body. It’s that easy.
This simple practice has amazing benefits. Meditation reduces stress and anxiety, bolsters your immune system, lowers blood pressure, helps you sleep better, and improves your memory and cognitive functioning. Recent studies have shown that meditation actually changes your brain by creating new connections between neurons and thickening certain areas of the brain. There is even evidence it slows the process of aging by lengthening your chromosomes. All this from simply sitting down and tuning out. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wray-herbert/meditation-research_b_780525.html; http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/24/meditation-ageing-shamatha-project.
I hate to admit it, but it turns out my mom was on to something, at least in regards to meditation. However, I draw the line at gulping down raw chicken livers. Homemade yogurt might be tasty though…
LOVE YOU, MOM!