Meditation definitely sits near the top of my list for tools that have changed my life.
As a teenager I used to wake up in the morning and come out of my bedroom to find the house dark. My Mom would be sitting in the living room in the pitch black, sometimes with a candle lit, in complete silence. I could not wrap my head around why she wanted to get up early only to sit in silence with no lights on. Turns out my wise Mother had much to teach me, which I am still learning, years after her death.
Part of her morning practice back then included meditation. Other than savasana after yoga classes and a few meditation circles after tai chi classes I took with my Mom, I hadn't had much experience with meditating. Until Yoga Teacher Training began in October 2015. Turns out a huge part of the curriculum included things such as the history of yoga, chakras, the Yoga Sutras and....meditation.
We were given the assignment of meditating 3 times a week (at least) for a period of 8 weeks. Alongside the practice itself, we were to reflect upon it in a journal. We had to write down which type of meditation we did, how long it lasted, what time of day, and any insights, thoughts, ideas that went along with it.
I hated it. I totally freaking hated it. I had shit to do. Seriously, who had time to just sit and clear their mind? It seemed anytime I tried to clear my mind, it got louder and more frantic. I was experiencing the opposite effect and I was totally annoyed by it all. I put off the assignment, as I do most things that cause me anything other than peace or comfort.
One Saturday afternoon our teacher guided us through yet another new meditation. The date was February 6, 2016. I remember the day mostly because I journaled about the experience but it's also an important date for me because I experienced an immediate shift in my relationship with meditation that day.
Our teacher called it the Transmitter Receiver meditation and it worked much the same way as the concept of the Law of Attraction. Basically you envision something you want in your life and allow yourself to feel as though you already have that item/event/opportunity in your life. You envision your third eye chakra opening and projecting your desires while then envisioning your heart chakra opening to receive it.
You mean, I can actually meditate but be somewhat productive at the same time? SOLD!
I noticed huge benefits in my life once this became a regular practice, and quite quickly, which was the positive reinforcement and validation I required to keep going.
Some of the benefits I noticed personally were:
1. Calmer disposition
I began to notice my ability to fluff off certain behaviours or events without them disrupting my whole mood. Fighting kids, a messy house, an unproductive day...I felt I had a better handle on my emotional reactions to these external things that allowed me to find my center amongst the chaos.
2. More open heart
For those who know me, or those who have encountered me, know I have this ability to throw up my walls of armour at any given moment when I face any type of vulnerability or unknown. I present a tough exterior that screams with "don't talk to me or acknowledge me" vibes, sure to ward off anyone even considering speaking to me. This superpower I possess had done me well in certain situations and became a quick and effective tool in managing my anxiety. But it no longer works for me. It has caused the disruption of many relationships that once meant something to me. It has effectively kept me isolated, yet also cursed me with isolation. It's just not good practice to use as an adult who wants to feel part of society. Meditating, in part, has helped me sit with my vulnerability and feelings of insecurity while embracing them and honouring them in a positive healing way. I noticed I felt closer to some people in my life, and that opening allowed relationships to flourish. Connections with women I never imagined, suddenly bringing an awareness into my life that I didn't have to carry the world all by myself. Perhaps I could allow people in by showing them ME and have them accept me for who I am rather than their perceived idea of who I am based on the false shit I always presented. Having an open heart builds and deepens relationships. It allows in opportunities that never before would have been allowed in with a closed heart.
3. Better Management of time
So you would assume that spending a half hour or so in silence day after day would really put a damper on the ability to get stuff done. Magically this wasn't the case and I'm not totally sure how to explain this one. I felt like my days were easier and that overwhelm didn't burden me every step of the way. I think it's because I was able to let things go - the thoughts that rattled away relentlessly, the expectations that I set so high they were unattainable before I even tried, and the to-do lists that were very much tied to my sense of self worth. I felt (for the most part) that I could float through my days feeling a whole lot more freedom than I ever had and didn't have a million pressing tasks needing accomplishment.
I started noticing that anytime I had questions about something and focused on that during my meditation, I would either receive a clear answer or shortly after some sort of sign slapped me right in the face so hard that I couldn't deny it as my answer. For example, once I meditated on a niche for my business. A vision appeared of me sitting on a floor cross legged with a room full of women. No idea what it meant, and it certainly didn't help me find my answer. Within a few hours of that happening, the owner of a local yoga studio called me out of the blue to discuss the possibility of me teaching prenatal yoga classes for her. I almost dropped the phone. So many of those situations came forth for me. So much so that I couldn't deny the fact I was receiving answers in some form. Anytime the answer to something was plaguing me, I would sit in meditation and feel so much clearer by the time I was done. It became my personal Google, where I could access answers and information previously inaccessible to me.
5. Stronger sense of self
Oh...there you are! Was almost my exact thoughts a few weeks into a regular meditation practice. I was able to, for the first time in my life, see the clear defined lines between who I was and where everyone else began. I became more aware of my interests, my tendencies, my preferences, dreams, desires and goals. I felt good in my own skin and enjoyed many of the qualities I possessed. I felt secure in who I was and ready to toss away all the masks I had worn for so long.
I have shared all these amazing shifts in my life with anyone who will listen. Friends come to me wondering about meditating and the process to beginning. Most of them tell me they've tried but just can't do it right.
That's the problem with meditation if you ask me. Reading books, watching YouTube videos, hearing from so-and-so all about the correct way of meditating - how your hands should be, how you should sit and on what, no background noise, in the mornings, without distractions...all to enter a thought-free zone. If any of these conditions weren't met, or you weren't able to empty your mind of thoughts, you failed the whole damn thing.
Because I'm immersed in the benefits of a regular practice, I want everyone I know to discover their own practice. From this desire grew my rules for meditation:
1. Sit however the heck you want
Find a spot that's comfortable, in whatever way won't be causing you stress (is my back straight enough? I have a kink in my neck. My foot is falling asleep.....) If you're spending your time zoned in on how uncomfortable you are, you're just setting yourself up for failure right from the start. Sit comfortably and get on with it
2. Place your hands wherever they're comfortable
Forget the mudras and the enhancements they may bring to your practice. Sure, if you've been meditating for a long time and looking to up the ante so to speak, then you can research mudras. But for now, who cares where your hands are?
3. Let your mind race
So the goal of meditation, isn't, as most people think, to empty the mind of thoughts. We are human beings and that would be an impossible task. One of the goals of meditation is to observe your thoughts without getting wrapped up in them. Instead of getting frustrated because you're thinking non-stop, practice sitting with those thoughts as though you were an exam proctor, and notice. Notice what keeps coming up. Observe how your body feels in relation to certain thoughts. Notice the theme that is bombarding you. Imagine yourself a lotus flower, attached to a rock at the bottom of the ocean. The waves that travel back and forth are your thoughts. They don't sweep you up and carry you away. Instead, you remain grounded in who and where you are while just noticing them around you. That's what meditation is like. The ocean doesn't disappear, you just stop being carried by it.
4. Focus on your breathing. Or not.
Yes, focusing on deep belly breathing is very effective at calming and relaxing the body but it isn't the ONLY way to meditate. Focus on a mantra, or a feeling, or a word, sound. Or just throw out to the universe what you are hoping for "Please help me find some clarity in my business/relationship etc" Listen to a guided meditation, join a class....whatever. There is no right or wrong, there are just different tools that work for different people at different times. Do what feels right for you during that particular meditation.
Here are my final thoughts. Sitting with yourself in a way that will relax your body is the goal. All the added extras and pesky little details can come about if and when you're ready. Meditation isn't all or nothing, that's why it's referred to as a practice. There are days I can immerse myself completely in relaxation and others when my chattering mind drives me insane for half an hour and that's the end of my practice. If you sit there with the belief that you have to be an awesome meditator, I can tell you now that you won't bring this practice to your life on a consistent enough basis to ever see the benefits.
Just follow whatever the heck guidelines you feel are best for you and do it every day regardless of how you evaluate your own practice. 5 minutes...55 minutes...who cares. Just commit to sitting with yourself every day and wait for the shifts to happen.