How often do we find ourselves spiraling, hooked by intense planning and contingencies for the future, rumination over past joys or regrets, fears of missing out or failure, or general overwhelm because of all the to-do’s, shoulds, or musts? We can lose all sense of time and attention to the things, people, and events that are most important to us simply because evolution has wired our brains to consider all threats– real, imagined, or falsely predicted– to keep us safe from harm. And though we no longer need to protect ourselves through fight, flight, or freeze when we encounter a rustling in the brush that may or may not be a saber-toothed tiger, our reptilian brains have not caught up with our higher-level intellect. What can we do to reconcile the incessant brain chatter and even re-wire our neurological brain functions to produce more calm, greater attention to what we value most, and increased resilience when we really do need resources in the face of truly difficult experiences? Meditation. Plain and simple.
I know, I know. I, too, was skeptical and experienced distress and personal perfectionist pressure when I attempted meditation and could never just “empty my mind.” But as mounting scientific evidence continues to support the benefits of meditation, even just 5 minutes a day, for the busy mind, it becomes more difficult to make excuses. The illusion that you have to be a caftan-wearing guru experiencing an astral plane out of body experience just isn’t realistic or valid. Meditation is not some new age practice only for the self-actualized, it is simply about exercising our brains and getting present. And it’s for anyone. Simple, right?
To help reduce meditation-oriented anxiety, I’ve summarized a short list of strategies for getting started, as adapted from Pema Chodron ‘s book How to Meditate, a wonderful read that I highly recommend. She makes meditation accessible for us all.
- Prepare: Settle on a realistic schedule, if you can. The benefits are best discovered through regular practice. Start with 10 minutes and build from there. Keep your environment simple, maybe a few visual displays or objects that help you feel supported and a cushion or seat that works for you. Finally, find a timer with an alert to let you know when you’ve finished.
- Settle: 1) Check in with yourself in your meditation space. Ask yourself: What am I feeling physically, what is my mood, what is going on in my mind? 2) Do a body scan for about a minute. Stand still with your eyes closed, take a deep breath, and give each part of your body gentle, present moment attention, notice what is happening from toes to top of head.
- Adjust 6 Points of Posture: 1) Seat: Find a good base that provides a flat bottom. 2) Hands: Rest them palms down on your thighs where you feel aligned and not pulled or slumped 3) Torso: Upright, but relaxed. Keep an open heart and envision a string at the top of your head, lifting you up. 4) Eyes: Open to encourage awareness, and fix your gaze (not your whole head) downward 4-6 feet in front of you 5) Face: Let your mouth fall slightly open to relax the jaw. 6) Legs: Cross comfortably in front of you with knees lower than waist, or sit in a chair.
- Breathe: Place attention on your breath. When the mind wanders, bring it back to feeling (not watching) the in and out flow of breath. Experiment just focusing attention on the space after the out-breath, before you breathe in again.
- Attitude: Keep coming back to be present and stay in place. Regardless of the thoughts, feelings or physical sensations, suffering of the mind or contentment, we can either escalate them by getting hooked or we can return to the present moment and create more space. Ask “How much of this is really happening on the outside, and how much is in my mind?”
- Maintain Unconditional Friendliness: Sometimes we may feel great difficulty in returning to the present moment and our breath, other times we may experience significant openheartedness in our practice. Rather than judging ourselves, develop a willingness to stay with gentleness, kindness and self-compassion. No matter what’s going on, staying with your practice helps you move closer to “making friends with yourself”.
As you delve further into your meditation practice and start getting present with—rather than avoiding or numbing—deep emotions or difficult past experiences, you may decide additional support would be of benefit. Fresh Air Counseling offers a nonjudgmental partner as you explore difficult thoughts, feelings, or experiences whether related to past trauma, physical illness, chronic pain, or a challenging relationship. Together, we can develop strategies that align with your personal strengths and values to move you toward the more meaningful and rewarding life experience you deserve. Contact us today to schedule your FREE 15-minute telephone consultation and we can begin our collaboration!