Less the Stress: Day 4 – Meditate
New to the series? Read the first post here.
Let’s go all Wikipedia first: Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.
Meditation is something I’ve heard about in passing conversations lately, but it’s not something that appears (to me) to be proselytized like other fads such as yoga or green juices. I felt very close to Marc Maron during his podcast with Josh Radnor, trying to parse out his meditation practice: what do you do? what do you think? what do you say? how do you start? WTF?! It’s small part of the podcast but it stuck with me. What I’ve gathered is that it’s very personal. You make it work for you however you want.
In researching this I found that Forbes just posted an article about how meditation just a few minutes a day can greatly reduce stress. It focuses on mindfulness, stating, “Mindfulness is a mental practice used to focus attention on the present moment, rather than on the usual ‘chatter’ that’s going on in our heads. It also helps a person learn to not get caught up in his or her thoughts, but instead simply to acknowledge them and let them go.”
“Let them go” — that is the most important goal for me. I get caught up in my thoughts all the time, and my brain even goes on to create insane, weird, or unrealistic scenarios just to make me feel bad or confused or, sometimes, elated. To meditate well you can’t get caught up in doing it perfectly. If you’re in the zone, thoughts may pop up to interfere, but you’re supposed to just acknowledge the thought or feeling as valid and then let it pass. We’re all so prone to getting mad at ourselves for not being perfect or doing something right, or just reacting far too strongly to minor stimuli.
For example, I encounter a lot of stressors while driving. You’d think I’d let it pass because it happens every day, but instead I take it personally. One day an on-coming car flipped me off out their window after I passed a slow car in front of me (and I was in no way close to cutting off the on-coming car, it’s a very long straightaway). And it really upset me. I felt bad like I must have done something wrong to cause someone to flip me off, and at the same time upset I didn’t react quickly enough to return the gesture with a sarcastic thumbs up or something. It’s silly. And a waste of time and energy. Yet all kind of these interactions, thoughts, reminders of awkward encounters, and more, invade our thoughts and we obsess about them. Worse yet, we complain to other people about it. I’ve really tried to stop that, and I ask myself if I really need to share a story or complaint and give it more “air time” in my life.
OK. Back to meditating. Everything I read said it’s best to start small first. Pick a daily activity that signals meditation, like brushing your teeth or drinking coffee to meditate after so it becomes a habit. Mornings are good for this in general, but my mornings usually are not. I’m up and running around to get ready and then out the door as early as possible. However, I’ve been changing my morning habits a bit by making cold brew coffee the night before and having breakfast at work. Obviously, the biggest barrier to making this happen is me. I can make time 2 minutes easily, at many times of the day. But I have to want to do that. And I have to stick to the habit, or try to.
I decided to make my signal to meditate after feeding my cat in the morning. Meditating requires silence/calm and I figure the cat will be the least likely to be all up in my space if she’s fed and happy. I’ve been doing it for about a week now, and it’s still kind of a challenge. The first time went by so fast – kind of like when you don’t know what to expect you just jump right in? Subsequent days I’ve found I’m a bit more distracted and have to work hard to focus on my breathing. One morning I was rushing a bit but I still made time to sit down and do it for 2 minutes before walking out the door. It feels like a success, and I want to continue to force myself to take time to just sit down and chill out for a bit. I’d hate to turn into the kind of person that would rather shock myself than sit alone with my thoughts.