Last post, I talked about how initiating three small practices into my day have made a big difference in the quality of my life. Even just in the past months and weeks, as I’ve added first meditation, then walking, then writing practice to my morning, I have experienced a surge in energy, focus, and joyfulness, and a reduction in worry, stress, and fear.
My Meditation Practice
In the morning, I begin my day with a sitting mindfulness meditation. Generally I spend 10-15 minutes; sometimes as many as 20. Most days, I wake up, roll right out of bed and onto the floor, and do my meditation before doing anything else.
My meditation practice is simple: placing my awareness on my present self, centered on my breathing, I count to ten, one for each inhale-exhale. When I reach ten, I start again at one. I do this until my time is up. Simple.
Sometimes I choose a word to think about as I’m doing this, like “peace” or “center” or “humble” or “calm”. Depends on my mood for the day, and whether there’s a need for the word in addition to the breathing. Sometimes having a word to keep in mind is more helpful than just the breathing—other days it’s too much of a distraction, so I center on just the breathing, and imagining my breath drawing in and blowing out.
The only other “rule” of my meditation practice is this: when I notice my mind wandering away from the count of my breathing, no matter where I am in my count, I must start over at one.
This may happen fairly often over the 15 or so minutes. Each time, a seemingly random thought pulls me away from my present (that I’m sitting in a room, on the floor, breathing in and out). It might be something I’m worried about, or a dream I had the night before. It might be a distracting noise, or the cat deciding that now is the time she wants petted.
No matter what the distraction, when I recognize that my thoughts have moved from my breathing, I bring them gently back to my breathing, and start my count over. One. Two. Three. And so on.
Some days, I reach ten repeatedly. But other days, my mediation count goes something like this:
One. One. One. One. One…
Practice is Anti-Perfection
The old me would have considered such a practice a failure. I’d have judged my performance, decided that I wasn’t doing the meditation perfectly, and then decided there was no reason to continue.
(How arrogant to assume I could do it perfectly without practice? To assume I could do it perfectly at all? But that’s where my head was, even though it made no logical sense…)
But I’ve come to realize through meditation that achieving a perfect performance is not the important thing. Because meditation isn’t about the performance, it’s about the practice. Sitting down each morning. Breathing, and listening, and paying attention to the present moment. And sticking with it, even when the meditation “doesn’t go well…”
That’s another falsehood I’ve discovered about practice; that it has to go well to be of help to me. And as I’ve continued to do the practice, I’m realizing more and more that no matter how I experience the meditation that day—no matter if I reach ten repeatedly, or practice to my mantra of “One. One. One.” for the whole time—the practice always goes well. Because I did it. And also because even if I struggle to find my quiet mind, the struggle itself is worth the doing, and sticking to the practice through the struggle is the whole point.
Any idea what the chief benefit of my meditation practice is? I already talked about the fact that helps me overcome my perfectionist tendencies, and to accept the work of practice as the beautiful, flawed creation that it is. (This is true of my other practices as well, but it started here, with the meditation.)
And I do find myself feeling more calm and centered and peaceful after a meditation, no matter the state of mind with which I came to it.
But my ability to achieve that calmer state of mind, while a benefit itself, is really a result of one important benefit of meditation for me: mindfulness.
For me, this mindfulness has assumed three aspects:
- I’m more aware of each time my mind shifts, when my thoughts drift to something else and away from the thoughts I choose to have. As I’ve become more aware of it, I continue to be amazed how often this happens.
- I’m more aware of the “thought-places” my mind goes when distracted, or emotional, or fearful. I’ve become aware of the things I worry obsessively about, over and over again, whether I can take action on them or not, and whether or not they are even worth worrying about. I’ve become aware of thoughts that trigger emotions like anger or resentment or fear. I’ve become aware of the justifications, the excuses, the rationalizations my mind wraps itself in when I want to avoid doing things I fear.
- I’m more aware of the way I talk to myself. I’m more aware of the way my mind crafts a voice that’s not me, that calls me “You” instead of “I”—as in, “Boy, you really screwed that up.” Judging. Negative. Accusing. Labeling.
I’ve spent my mornings sitting and breathing and focusing my thoughts on that one center, noticing when my thoughts shift away from that center, and consciously bringing them back. And I have noticed that my daily meditation practice—and the act of self-awareness, of focusing on the present moment, and of continually bringing my mind back to that focused center—has given me the ability to apply those same techniques throughout the day, even when I’m not meditating. Much the same way that exercising to build muscle allows one to burn more calories, even at rest, meditation has helped me grow the mind muscles of self-awareness and the ability to bring my focus back to the task at hand, and away from thoughts that are distracting, distressing, deluding, or destructive—both in the act of my morning meditation practice, and throughout the rest of the day.
Meditation for You
The purpose of this series on practice is to encourage you to adopt daily practices of your own. And while my practices presently consist of writing and walking and meditation, the practices that support you and your life might be different than mine.
However, I have realized such profound benefits from practicing daily mindfulness meditation, and in a very short time (just a few months), that I encourage you to give it a try.
If you’ve never meditated, now is a great time to start. If you have previously and have gotten away from it, I encourage you to give it another try.
You’re welcome to try the breath-counting meditation I use as your starting place, or you might consider trying a guided meditation. Here are several resources for guided mindfulness meditations:
- The Best Meditation iPhone & Android Apps of the Year (from healthline.com). Many of these apps are free or low-cost, and have multiple meditations you can try. Buddhify 2 is the app I’m most familiar with, and has meditations for different situations.
- UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) has a page of free guided meditations you can play or download.
- The Free Mindfulness Project (freemindfulness.org) has a bunch of free resources on mindfulness meditation, including meditation downloads, apps, and a blog.
These are only a few; there are many other resources online related to mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other meditations as well.
Whatever type of meditation you choose, here are a few tips:
- Commit to practicing meditation at least once a day for seven days. Remember, this is practice, and the power is in the doing, and doing repeatedly.
- Choose a time of day, either morning upon waking, or evening before going to bed, that you’re confident you can stick to.
- Choose whatever length meditation is comfortable for you. I recommend five minutes to start, then gradually increasing the time.
- Remember, this is practice. There’s no perfect way to execute on meditation. You’re not performing. There is no product. You succeed in the doing, and doing regularly.
I hope you’ll take the time to try out a meditation practice of your own, and let me know how it goes for you. Or if you’ve been meditating for a while, let me know what techniques or resources you’ve found most helpful. Please share your stories and experiences in the comments.
Liked this article? Want to make reading this blog a regular practice in your life? 😉 If so, please subscribe by entering your email in the box to the right. You’ll get the latest from the blog right to your inbox, as well as subscriber-only, insider information on the Free of Gravity manifesto and other goodies.