On meditation and mindfulness
*****First published February 18, 2019*****
The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. - Thich Nhat Hanh
I meditated for the first time about 12 years ago.
A co-worker gave me the advice, "Sit. Breathe. Clear your mind." Easy, right?
When I got home later, I got out a big pillow, sat myself down, closed my eyes, and started taking deep breaths. What felt like an hour or so later, I found myself bawling. Turned out about 5 minutes had gone by, and I was having trouble with the whole "clear your mind" thing. First, I wondered if my breathing was steady enough. Should I count my breaths? Oh, now my foot is itchy. What were we planning for dinner? Did I need to run out and pick anything up from the supermarket? For someone who is a bit of a perfectionist and suffers from anxiety, this was not working out how I imagined. Wasn't this supposed to help calm me and make me more peaceful?
When I let my friend know what happened, she told me that was normal. That we (as a society) don't take the time to slow down and stop.... so when we are faced with those moments, it can be terrifying. Okay, great. That explains the emotional reaction, but I didn't know if I could stop my thinking enough to do this again. Maybe meditation wasn't for me.
Instead I took walks around my neighborhood, silently saying a mantra to myself. With each footfall, I let go of any anger or worries I had; I let them melt away into the ground. I would go out on my back deck and watch the leaves rustle in the breeze. I would go to the park and sit on the bench, close my eyes, and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I felt alive.
A few years later, I decided to go to massage school. I was working full time, so I opted to go part time, which would take me a year to complete. We had classes two night a week (and the occasional weekend). Every class started with a 10 minute guided meditation. I was very nervous the first time we sat, but I soon realized that it was much easier for me to "clear my mind" when I had guided imagery to focus on. I didn't need to pay attention to my thoughts - I could pay attention to someone else's.
Those twice weekly guided meditations became something I looked forward to. When I finally graduated from school, I missed them terribly. So I started finding recordings online that I could download, and eventually, an app. (Isn't technology great?)
The app was a turning point for me. Not only did it have daily meditations, but it had meditations for anxiety, self esteem, gratitude, the morning commute (no closing your eyes on that one, please!). I didn't need to sit for hours at a time, I could get in a 10 minute meditation, and feel great. In listening to the guidance from these, I discovered what my challenge was that first time I sat. The goal isn't to CLEAR your mind - it's simply to be conscious of when you are not in the moment.
I realized that all those times that I went for a walk or sat at the park in the sun - those were times that I was truly present and living. My entire being was focused on what was happening at that precise moment. And I learned that THAT was what mindfulness was. So I became patient with myself... and I meditated.
Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. I still don't like slowing down and stopping, so some weeks I don't practice as often as I like. And I have days where my mind distracts the hell out of me.
But I still sit.
And I am better equipped to enjoy the moment.