Learning to Meditate

About three or so weeks ago, social distancing and telework started here in Washington state. As the first state with a confirmed COVID-19 case, I figured the situation would get worse before it got better. (And sadly that is what’s happening.)

So when I started teleworking three weeks ago, I decided I needed to focus on a new project, something to keep my mind active in a positive way.

Enter meditation.

Over the years, I’ve tried to get develop a meditation habit. I’ve read books on the subject. I’ve tried various guided meditation programs. I’ve even taken an in-person class. But nothing stuck for more than a few days.

Then two things happened.

First, when cleaning up my email inbox at the beginning of March (slightly before all the insanity began), I found a 2018 essay author Rachael Herron wrote about her month of meditation. Her experience resonated with me and got me to thinking about trying it again.

Second, social distancing and telework happened. What better time than this to start a new, positive habit.

Why meditation?

Meditation has numerous benefits—reduces stress and anxiety, promotes emotional health, enhances self-awareness, improves concentration and attention. Studies even show that meditation can help with many addictions and a long-term meditation practice actually changes the structure of the brain.

There’s actually a lot of proven science on the benefits of meditation.

Dr. Richard J. Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, has studied the brains of non-meditators, meditators, and even yogis (think Dali Lama). He and Dr. Daniel Goleman, Harvard-trained psychologist, did meta-analysis on more than 6,000 meditation research trials. Together, they proved that meditation does change the brain.

(Check out their findings in Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.)

So the question really is why wouldn’t I want to learn to meditate?

What’s my goal?

My goal is to establish long-term meditation routine. Just like I do 10 minutes of yoga and then hold plank for at least 1-minute every morning (something I’ve been doing for the past three years), I want to make my meditation practice something I do every day without thinking.

To achieve this goal, I made a measurable and trackable plan. I decided to start small—meditate for 10 minutes every day for 4 weeks (28 days).

I figured if I couldn’t build a meditation habit into my daily life within 4 weeks, well, I probably wasn’t going to do it at all.

Today is day 16 out of 28. And so far so good. I have successfully meditated every day for 10 minutes.

How do I know I’m “successfully” meditating?

Meditation is something that seems hard, but I’ve found we make it harder than it actually is. The main struggle I think most people have, and certainly I had at first, is trying to not think, to try and make my brain completely quiet and still.

The process of meditation is not about silencing your mind. Thoughts happen. Our brains work all the time, even when we’re asleep, and so it’s not reasonable to expect our brains to suddenly just switch off.

Many years ago, I had a yoga teacher who had us meditate at the end of class. She instructed us to allow our thoughts to flow through our minds like clouds passing in the sky. She said you can recognize the cloud, but don’t try to hold on it.

When a thought pops in my mind, like what I need to buy at the grocery store or what I did yesterday, I recognize that thought, but I don’t hold onto it. I acknowledge it and then bring myself back to the present moment.

Like any exercise, meditation does take practice. That’s why I committed to doing it every day. And to further help me achieve my goal, I’m using guided meditation. So far I’ve tried 2 guided meditation apps and have several more downloaded to try. Later this week, I’ll post a review of the first two I’ve tried later this week, with a follow-up later in the month on some of the others.

What have I experience so far?

Nothing ground breaking or earth shattering. Then again, I wasn’t expecting those kinds of results. What I have experienced is better sleep, more self-awareness (especially of some of my not-so-positive habits), and a gradually easier time getting into the “meditation” mind space.

When I first started two weeks ago, I kept itching to check my phone to see how much time had passed and how many minutes and seconds I had until 10-minutes was up. Now, only two weeks later, I’m surprised when 10-minutes is up. What felt like an eternity at first is now flying by. And it’s still just 10 minutes.

Even though it’s only been two weeks, I’ve had a positive experience. And I look forward to seeing what the next two weeks brings. Moreover, practicing meditation is helping me focused on something other than the pandemic craziness. That in itself is worth it.

Do you meditate? Or have you tried it? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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