In our survey of well-being practices over the years, we have noticed that most of them have one thing in common. We call it the "M word"—otherwise known as meditation. In spite of knowing this, we have to confess that we have been what you might politely term as meditation slackers. But no more!
Several months back our adviser said to us (yes, advisers have advisers), "You HAVE to meditate twice a day for 15 minutes." She was so emphatic that we didn't bother to make up any excuses. The next morning we sat for 15 minutes and then again before we went to bed. We've done this religiously for 3 months now, and we have to admit that everybody is right—regular meditation helps on so many levels that it feels like you have super powers.
If you google "benefits of meditation," you'll get 28 million results detailing scientific and anecdotal accounts of the physical, emotional, and spiritual advantages of meditation. As the 28,000,001st entry, we can attest to the following:
According to the literature, there is also a good chance that our immune system has improved, our blood pressure is lower, our cell-level inflammation is less, and we have reduced our chances of a heart attack or stroke.
Our positive experience from meditating just 30 minutes every day reflects one of the prescriptions we heard recently at a workshop on improving brain health: "little and often." Apparently we benefit most when we engage in healthy brain practices frequently for short periods. How easy is that?! A daily investment of a half hour is not a lot, especially if you wake up feeling like Superman or Wonder Woman.
There are lots of ways to meditate and the most important thing is to find what works for you. Most meditation involves sitting, but there is walking and moving meditation as well. Many meditation styles focus on becoming present to the moment, often by concentrating on something such as your breath. There are also guided meditations or visualizations in which your attention is drawn to a particular quality, emotion, sensation, or thought.
Many people find it helpful to join a meditation class or group where they receive instructions, ask questions and feel supported. This can be helpful in the beginning as you figure out what works best for you. Once you have some understanding, you can essentially meditate anywhere, anytime; the only thing you really need is your awareness. Talk about a having a super power!
"Simple but not easy" is how one meditation teacher has described the process. This is because once we have created a space to be with ourselves, well, there we are! We discover just how many crazy thoughts go zinging through our heads at warp speed trailing a mix of emotions, judgments, and beliefs. Just noticing the noise is an important first step. Eventually taming that torrent is one of the benefits of a regular practice. This happens moment by moment and is best approached with curiosity and self-compassion. The opportunity to step out of our judgments and critical thinking and experience a greater openness and self-acceptance for even a few breaths is one of the greatest gifts we can offer ourselves.
So, in the words of our esteemed adviser, "Meditate!" Find a place where you feel comfortable and you won't be disturbed. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Sit with your spine straight, your hands resting on your thighs, your shoulders and jaw relaxed. Close your eyes or focus them softly down in front of you. Direct your attention to your breathing, in and out. When thoughts come into your head, name them—planning, judging, worrying, etc.—then let them go and return to your breath.
As we said, the process is simple but not easy. Then again, it wouldn't be a superpower if it were that easy!
Google "how to meditate" and a carpet of resources will unfurl before you. Enjoy books? Recently we read How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by the American-born Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. She writes in clear and insightful prose about the process, including guidance for working with your thoughts, emotions, and senses.
Try meditating regularly for one month and see what super powers you develop.
Breathing in and out,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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