Whether you have large amounts of money, the greatest job, or really glowy skin… there are things from everyone’s nurture and nature that will implant into your psyche to say that you are in some way broken. We are messy clumps of the stuff passed down from our family collective consciousness – hormones, brain chemistry, the crap in the air, arthritis, cancer, and whatever else may come up. It’s easy to feel like something is always spitting on us.
It is difficult to trust ourselves when there is that critic in our head – all day, all night, lurking – ensuring us that we are in one way or another, broken. What if we talked to ourselves with the sincerity and kindness we have when we talk to our best friends? Therapists use that line a lot – they know how we talk to ourselves up there in our war zone minds.
Knowledge often comes in the form of advice. If only the “fix it all, it’s broken” landlord in our brain didn’t block out the wisdom given, to push forth the cheap words that were on sale. It goes something like this: there is a message waiting for you that says, “mixing up intensity and speed of movement is beneficial for muscle growth and bone density…” It may then get extracted and revamped to “if I run my body into the ground doing CrossFit every day for a month, I’ll get rid of my gut, so someone can love me.” Bone-broth, cricket protein, standing-desks, and now meditation, are the up and coming recurring cast members in the slew of hot tips being passed out to you.
It is an uphill battle to be accepting of ourselves and we tend to go in one of two directions: we either feel the need to go hard at something until we burn out fast, or we judge ourselves for not committing enough. We feel like failures. And then, we give up altogether. “I’m not spending twenty dollars on obscure, grass-fed beef, bone-broth, so just give me cheese-fries instead.”
All that said, here is a plea – don’t let the “all-or-nothing” bully in your brain ruin meditation for you, too. Plenty of studies on meditation are being passed around and chewed on. These studies include a Harvard one showing how meditation can increase the brain’s gray matter, as well as chat groups blowing up Reddit on how it helps improve concentration and immune function, and reduce stress, inflammation, disease, depression, and so much more. A recent Time Magazine cover was titled, “The Mindful Revolution.”
Don’t throw this Buddha-belly baby out with the bath water. If anything should be simple, it should be meditation. If meditation ever begins to or is stressing you out, you’re doing it wrong. (And it is probably the only way you can do it wrong!)
Meditation doesn’t need to be metaphysical, transcendental, or subliminal. And it doesn’t have to happen for a half hour, or while chanting a word you don’t know the meaning of. Mindfulness is awareness. If you can right here, right now, hear the sounds around you, notice your breath, feel your body, smell the aromas, and focus on all that is actually happening in this moment, then you are meditating. If you can take time to do nothing but be still and meditate, that’s great too, but it’s not the only way.
Whether you do it for a minute a day or two hours a day, there is no one-and-only way to meditate. There’s a boatload of helpful advice and tools out there but you should know that you are your greatest teacher in meditation. Meditation in a way, is actually taking your power back. We relearn how to think for ourselves by observing our own thoughts.
I have noticed in my own experience that any minute I spend in stillness saves me time in the long run. This is why on the very days I say to myself, “I don’t have time to meditate,” I’ve actually come to know that those are the days in which I need meditation the most. Taking a moment to pause, to hear my thoughts, and to return to my point of focus, makes me more aware. This helps me to distinguish the noise in my head. It allows me to decide what I want to put my attention on so that I can shut down the constant chatter up there. (Chatter that is happening all day long without my actual consent!) And in turn, a bigger percentage of my thoughts are used for what I want to think about. So something that took five halfway attentive hours to complete, now only requires one hour. Feeling fulfillment from streamlined quality is glorious. Mindfulness meditation can bring that into all daily activities – from eating, to working, to walking, to thinking.
Mindfulness meditation is excellent, with many scientific studies now boasting multiple ways in which one reaps long-term body and brain health benefits. Without all the “should do’s” and “must do’s,” below are some things that you can do, as you would do, in line with honoring what feels right for you. In this way, you can listen, see, feel, and connect to what you need.
Wherever you are, at any point of the day, once per day (or a lot of times in a day!), you can notice what you are doing, and you can take in the whole moment, as it is happening and appearing before you.
What is my back touching and how does that feel?
What does the air feel like on my skin?
What is the air like as it washes up and down my center?
What are the sounds?
What am I seeing?
What does this pen in my hand feel like while I write?
What is happening in the story I’m reading?
What is the person in front of me saying?
You can focus on just one or many of those things that are occurring. Slowly, we work to eradicate the go to human nature of either anticipating the future or dwelling on the past. When we let go of the problems that haven’t yet happened or the ones that no longer exist, and we return to what actually is, life feels a lot more approachable.
If you’d like to pause in stillness, you can pick an object, a piece of music, a sensation, a mantra, or a word to focus on. You can work with bringing your attention back to it, as the many other thoughts that flood your brain come up. You can theme your moment of repose, using compassion, calm, focus, gratitude or something more abstract. I often do gratitude ones, while saying in my mind, “I am grateful for…” as the images of things I’m thankful for flood my mind– the art that makes me happy, the love of a friend, the smile of a stranger, a teacher who believed in me, or what I had for dinner.
You can do it all for as little or as long as you like. You can stick with one kind of meditation every day, or you can switch it up by tuning into how you feel in the moment. By truly tuning into the moment, you’ll know what’s right for you with more depth and clarity than anyone else, because no one but you is having your present experience. See how you feel when you are done, and if you liked the dose and the prescription you gave yourself. Embrace your freedom and expansiveness of mind, within each meditative moment.”
If you’d like additional guidance, there’s the user-friendly Headspace app that gives many ten, fifteen, and twenty minute meditations. The creator, Andy Puddicombe, has a TED speech worth checking out too.
If you like to sweat and meditate, Bryan Kest, the creator of Power Yoga, leads all of his mindfulness based yoga classes without any fake additives. His humor and wise words will pull you into the present moment here.
Tara Brach is an encyclopedia of meditation. I love her, too, and there are some guided meditations on her site as well.
Lastly, I’m a fan of this book that helps to simplify meditation.
Galeit Sehayek guides meditations and is a yoga instructor. She writes, acts, and recently released Balloonabies, a free children’s iPad book app narrated by Andy Richter.