Meditation: Let That Sh*t Go
I avoided meditation for the longest time because I thought I had to sit cross-legged with my hands in a mudra and clear my head of all thoughts. And for many this is what meditation looks like, but thankfully for me and the many other fidgeting anxious minds out there, meditation can be practiced in other ways.
In fact, meditation theories and practices vary so widely within different traditions, it can be confusing to know if you're doing it "right." Really though, this is the beauty of it - you can decide what works best for you and leave the rest behind. I found the most important place to start with this whole business of meditation is with the why, the purpose, and then work from there to discover the how.
So why meditate? In the simplest of terms, meditation is a practice that helps train your attention and awareness. It's not likely you will clear your mind completely, but you can learn to detach from your thoughts and stop identifying with them. With regular practice, meditation improves regulation of our emotions which has many, many benefits. No, I'm not talking about repressing feelings - we all have plenty of practice with that already!
Regulating emotions requires awareness of them first, which requires us to connect with ourselves and our inner state of being. Then we can gently release emotions and unhelpful patterns of thinking. When we're able to achieve a calm, stable state of mind, we can accomplish tasks more effectively, manage time well, and engage within our relationships in ways that foster healthy connection and communication.
Here's some ideas for the how - ways you can practice meditation to fit your current lifestyle, interests, and experience level:
Focusing your attention objectively on your breathing, a chosen object, a word, an idea (such as loving-kindness), or an image.
Being non-judgmentally present with the sensations of the body using movement, such as stretching or gentle yoga forms.
Mindful walking - using the 5 senses to observe sensations in the body, with the breath, and within the surrounding environment.
Going to a yoga or tai chi class.
Getting a massage and remaining present with the sensation of touch on your body (raise you hand if even in the most relaxing of situations your mind wanders to unhelpful places - guilty!)
Listening to guided meditation recordings which can be found in several different phone apps or on YouTube and iTunes. These range from general body scans to more imaginative scenes. You can find a guided meditation for nearly any ailment or problem, whether physical, mental, or circumstantial. Belleruth Naparstek's recordings are a favorite of mine.
Listening to relaxing music (key here is still to focus your attention and avoid temptations to multitask!).
Chanting or using a mantra. You can also find recordings of these to help you stay focused; I like the music infused version of mantras by Jai-Jagdeesh on her album "I am Thine."
Reflecting on a specific idea, word, or image through writing, drawing, painting, or sculpting. Being present using the 5 senses with the experience of creating (observing the color of the paint, the feel of clay, the sound of pencil to paper, etc.)
Remember to try not to take meditation too seriously. A sense of humor is just as beneficial as a meditation when it comes to managing mental health and wellness. How far and where your meditation practice goes is an individual journey that looks different for everyone. You do you, and don't let the spiritual elitism of others get in the way of your own journey.
And with that said, here's a satire by J.P. Sears on How to Meditate - It's quite funny. Enjoy!