The concept of meditation isn’t new to me. In fact, when I was growing up, my family belonged to a Buddhist temple—my parents were aging hippies and avid believers in the power of meditation. But for me, especially at a young age, going to an hour-long meditation at the temple was like willingly submitting myself to an hour of torture. Everyone would close their eyes and I’d do the same, only to open mine five minutes later. I’d stare at the monks’ shiny heads and then inspect all the gongs, one by one. I’d count people, count the statues in the temple, sing a few songs in my head, see if I could do a cartwheel without anyone noticing, then I’d sit back down, opening my eyes sleepily when everyone else did so they all noticed how good I was at meditating and how spiritually mature I was.
Now, more than twenty years later, I’ve started to realize the real value of meditation, especially for someone like me with a brain that just goes, and goes, and goes. If you checked out my recent post, Bipolar, Anxious, Depressed and Working, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In my role as a marketer, content developer, and editor, an ability to take a breath, sink into the present moment, and stay mindful is key. When you can’t get yourself past the feeling of hysteria and panic when your list is teeming with urgent items, you’re likely to either miss deadlines or drive yourself crazy trying to hit them. As an editor, if I can’t concentrate, my work suffers. I care too much about the quality of my clients’ projects to let my mind wander.
I used to combat all this by simply working around my anxiety. If I felt particularly jittery one day, or for a couple of hours, I’d switch my focus to something creative that didn’t require laser-sharp focus. But constantly making room for your brain’s little quirks means that you’re always controlled by your body’s chemistry. I wanted to learn to take control and change the patterns I had become so used to living with.
In the past few months, I’ve added meditation into my daily routine. I started by doing it before bed to get my body and mind ready for sleep. When that had a positive impact, giving me weeks of restful nights on end, I started adding meditation into my morning routine, settling in for a session before I started to work. That has helped so much that I’ve even started adding in a 5-minute session here and there when I start to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or even like I need a little kick of positivity or energy. The fact that I’m saying meditation has had a positive impact on my life should tell you something, because previously I’ve been impervious to anything other than (lots of) medication to help with this issue.
So what changed it all for me? It’s an app called Calm.com that was recommended by Tim Ferriss in one of his podcasts. It includes guided meditations, timed meditations, meditations for focus, positivity, concentration, confidence, deep sleep, and much more. For the first few months I used the free version, then finally bought the yearlong subscription for $39.99. That’s how much I used it. I’m talking at least two to three times a day every day. For me, meditation felt impossible when it was just about sitting there and closing my eyes. With no one guiding me, it was just time to think about the things I had to do when the meditation was over, thus making me even more anxious. The Calm.com meditations guide me through the process of letting it all go, making the meditation actually effective.
Since adding meditation to my daily routine, I’ve seen a vast improvement in my ability to concentrate on work, even when my day starts with stress and anxiety. I’ve been able to use the mindfulness tactics I’ve learned to stay present, even when I’m working on a spreadsheet that wouldn’t otherwise hold my attention. My attitude has changed. I’m more confident and positive. Just knowing I have meditation in my future means I know that no matter what happens in the present moment, or what feelings I’m experiencing, there will be relief. The quality of my work has improved and my capacity for large projects has increased.
My journey with meditation certainly hasn’t been smooth, but I’m happy with where I’ve landed with it all. I feel like I have so much more control over patterns that used to dictate my schedule and capacity for work. It took a long time, but I’m glad I arrived at this place when I did. I mean, had I learned to master meditation earlier on, I might not be able to do a completely silent cartwheel, which I’m pretty sure I can still do without even blinking an eye.
A few tips for making meditation work best for you:
Add it into your routine slowly. Don’t feel like you need to jump into meditating 4-5 times a day. See where meditation fits into your life best and add it in just a few times a week to start.
If you have a child, make sure he or she is either asleep or with someone you trust so you’re not thinking about how scary silence is. As parents, we know that silence means someone is either shoving things into the DVD player, drawing on the walls, or feeding crayons to the dog. Make sure the silence enveloping you isn’t interrupted by worry.
Make your to-do list before you meditate. The last thing you need is a bunch of things you need to remember to write down floating through your mind. Take some time to make your list, then give yourself a few minutes to read it over, so you catch any straggling items.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t work at first. Sitting around trying to make your brain stop thinking stuff is not easy. It takes time. If you’re unable to meditate the first time you try, don’t give up. It’ll happen for you!
Figure out what works best for you. Some people (like my husband) can just plop down and meditate anywhere. Personally, I need a comfy seat, Calm.com, and flickering candles. Figure out what surroundings allow you to shut down and make sure to curate that space for yourself.