By Robyn Beckman
I learned two years ago that National Meditation Month is actually a “thing”! So, let’s celebrate it by giving it an honest try (or try it again if you tried before and felt like you “couldn’t do it” or that you “failed” or “it wasn’t for me”).
There are many different forms of meditations one can practice and my main meditation practices are Mindfulness, Insight and Loving-Kindness.
In this post, I will share with you my introduction to meditation, my initial resistance to even trying it and how it has radically changed my life over the past 7.5 years and continues to transform me.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in my late 40’s. That felt radical (even though it pretty much explained my entire life) and I carried a lot of shame around it and didn’t tell anyone. I also didn’t learn much about its forces, behaviors, mindsets or treatment. I just carried on my life – mostly unhappy. Eventually, my emotional life was filled with escalating social anxiety, depression, anger outbursts and ruined relationships in my personal and professional life. So, I went to see a counselor who works with people who have ADHD. He introduced me to mindfulness and suggested I try a meditation App called “Headspace”. I told him there was no way I could meditate; my thoughts constantly race and I can barely sit still! He asked me to try it for 10 minutes a day for 10 days. I figured I could commit to that. So, I downloaded the Headspace App and gave it an honest try. After my first 10 minutes of meditating – it wasn’t hard or difficult; I wasn’t sure what to think but I was definitely curious enough to try it again. You see, I (like so many millions of people on the planet) thought that to meditate – you must clear your mind of thoughts. Ha-Ha! That is definitely NOT what Mindfulness Meditation is! At all… It is more about becoming AWARE of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, patterns and habits and attending to them in a kind, non-judgmental way (more about this later).
I continued to use the Headspace App and within a few weeks, I began to notice a subtle difference in my interactions with people – without even trying! I seemed to be less triggered or reactive and was listening better – more present to what was being said rather than anticipating what I thought was going to happen. I wasn’t sure if it might be due to the meditation, but I was going to continue with it and see what happens. Progressively, my life became better – more meaningful and my mind became less judgmental. I continued to practice, slowly increasing the amount of time and the hard shell I’d built began to soften and my heart began to open.
Through meditation, I got to know myself – my true nature (not who I thought I should be in order for others to accept and like me) and it has taken time, but through the practice of meditation and other mindfulness practices like self-compassion, compassion for others and Loving-Kindness – I’ve become more comfortable in my skin and far more compassionate and forgiving of others! The list of benefits grows as I continue to practice. I am noticing new things about myself all the time: my concentration is much better (I can listen to podcasts, books, lectures and be paying attention through 85% of them whereas I used to drift off within about 5-10 minutes and then constantly fight to pay attention); I am now mostly patient – with situations, long lines, traffic, relatives (ha-ha –that one took a while), myself and learning; I am a significantly better listener (curious and interested); I feel kinder and rarely angry (I used to live in a state of suppressed anger and resentment); I have more compassion for myself and others and I am considerably less judgmental.
Mindfulness Meditation is more about learning how to work with your own mind than it is about adopting a new belief system or achieving a specific state. It is available to anyone who wishes to wake up and be more present to whatever is occurring in any given moment; to come out of living your life on auto-pilot.
Meditation can be considered a tool to help develop self-awareness and mental stability which can empower us to deal with hardships such as stress, grief, worry, depression, anxiety and an assortment of afflictions and to conduct ourselves in a way that is ultimately beneficial to those around us.
The rewards of mindfulness practice are well proven: reduced stress, improved concentration, and an overall sense of well-being. But those benefits are just the beginning; it can also help us work more effectively with life’s challenges, expanding our appreciation and potential for creative engagement. If you’ve tried meditation before and felt like you failed or “couldn’t do it”, I urge you to have an open mind and give it a try. Using an APP like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer can be a huge help. I like Headspace because the instructions and guidance make it super easy to follow and really teaches you the foundations and how simple this practice is (although, not easy).
Some Simple Tips for Making Meditation a Part of Your Life — Starting Now.
Anyone with an interest in health probably knows by now that meditation has huge benefits. Dozens of scientific studies have shown that regular meditation increases resilience, reduces stress, offsets anxiety and depression and improves health. And it makes us less-reactive overall.
Even knowing all this, it can still be hard to just sit. We may feel overwhelmed, restless and intimidated and this is normal and A-OK! Working with the wandering mind is challenging and it is absolutely natural (and EXPECTED) that your mind is going to wander — constantly. You will probably notice that you tend to get lost in memories or thoughts about the future (not just while meditating either). In my next post, I will present some of the obstacles that arise in meditation. In the meantime, following are some instructions for beginning meditators.
- Set Your Time and Place – The science shows that regularity of practice is more important than length of practice, so setting up a time for yourself to meditate most days, even around the same time of day is a good idea.
- Start Small – Start small. Ten minutes of meditation a day is a great beginning. If that’s too much, five minutes is fine. I guarantee everyone has five minutes they can carve out of their day. Use a timer or an App so that you don’t have to check your clock.
- Be Nice to Yourself (Really Nice!) –It is the nature of the mind to think, so the first thing you are going to notice is how busy the mind is. There is no need to berate yourself for thinking; it isn’t the enemy – it is what the mind does. If you start to berate yourself for not meditating “right”- just breathe, relax and smile. There is no “right” way anyway. A “good” meditator is the one who meditates J
- Notice Your Excuses –You will have excuses for why you can’t meditate. You’re too busy, you’re too tired, your kids need you, etc. Rather than giving in to these claims, just pay attention to what they are. Since the way we do one thing is usually the way we do everything, they probably reveal something. For example, if you repeat that you don’t have time for meditation, ask yourself what you believe you do have time for.
- Practice –Meditation is a skill that gets better with practice, just like golf, yoga, sewing or cooking. You are learning how to work with your emotions, harness your thoughts and train the nervous system to stay regulated in the face of stress. These things take time. You don’t eat one healthy meal and call it “done”. You don’t expect to get strong from one day at the gym. Think of regular meditation as a workout for the mind. And remember that consistency is more important than intensity. You will get stronger from meditating five minutes daily than you will from sitting 30 minutes once a week.