Wait, don’t stop reading yet! I still inwardly groan at the idea of meditation too but hear me out. I have heard about mindfulness and meditation for years now. They always sounded good, like something peaceful happy people would do. Not feeling as serene and content as I would like to, as often as I would like to, I was not sure meditation or mindfulness were for me. In other words, they had felt unattainable.
The combination of having a desperate need for keeping my calm (three children under the age of three) and being continually presented with research on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation led me to give first meditation followed by mindfulness a shot. I have stuck with both since.
A brief definition of each.
Meditation – For a period of time keeping focus on one object such as the breath. Check out Mediation Basics at Psychology Today.
Mindfulness – Being consciously aware of the present moment, as opposed to
lost in thoughts of the past or future. As mindful.org puts it “mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through.”
Surprising things I have learned so far:
Applying compassion to inner thoughts. We have all experienced the inner critic or negative thoughts. Our first instinct is usually to try to squash the negative thought followed by beating ourselves up for having such negative thoughts. Meditation practice teaches to acknowledge our thoughts have wandered from our breath then kindly return back to the breath. As a meditation teacher put it, if we practice a harsh critical response to our mind wandering we will strengthen our harsh inner critic. Some teachers suggest smiling to yourself when your mind wanders and you return to the breath. Another said if you catch a harsh tone, “Oh my gosh, I’ll never get this. My mind is always racing” to try again with compassion. Acknowledge my mind has wandered “thought” and “come back.”
Self-awareness. As I began to notice the tone of my thoughts I also began to learn more about them and their impact on me. An instructor put it like this, “I notice I’m feeling anxious. Then ask myself, “What does anxiety feel like?” This simple question provides instruction on how to gain distance from our sometimes incessant inner dialogue. Before I would be more reactive to thoughts and feelings which usually did not change anything and sometimes my reaction made it worse. Now I practice acknowledging “I’m feeling nervous, overwhelmed, etcetera. This is uncomfortable. My stomach is tied in knots. My muscles are tense and tight” but I do not have to react.
Insight into habitual patterns. I had previously been aware that if I was overwhelmed tasks that should take 20 minutes seemed to take twice that however I was not quite sure why or what to do about it. What I have learned about myself is that when I feel anxious or overwhelmed I would start to try to do more which created more of a frenzy leaving me feeling even more anxious or overwhelmed. The best example of this is when I had to fire someone. I had never done this before and was not looking forward to it. That morning I was nervous about how it would go and I noticed I was trying to make coffee, button my shirt and probably something else too. The difference was this time I caught myself, realized I needed to slow down, and took a breath. Before I likely would have spilled the coffee and created more frenzy. It is not uncommon for our habitual reactions to make our situations worse instead of better, such as drinking, emotional eating, binge watch TV, etc. These patterns are difficult to break, especially if we are not even aware they exist.
Meditation with guidance. I feel I have gotten more out of meditation because I have had guidance. It would have taken me much longer to learn what I have so far, I feel I have just begun to scratch the surface, without the guidance of a meditation instructor. I am sure there are endless options. I have listened to podcasts, watched documentaries, and listened to Sounds True talks on Audible. Pema Chodren’s talks on Audible are a great place to start. One favorites is Pema Chodren’s, Walking the Walk. Her talks focus on how to live in the present and what gets in our way. Her talks are always in a very practical and relatable context.
Meditation to mindfulness. Meditation does not have to stop when the timer goes off. While meditation is simply focusing on an object like the breath in the present moment, mindfulness is simply focusing on the present moment in all the other parts of your day. What I have learned is how little I am fully present for my life. This small awareness is the likely cause to so many frustrations: absent mindedness, forgetfulness, worries about the past or future. Although mindfulness seems like the purple unicorn I try to keep my focus more manageable. If I could be fully present for just a little more (a few minutes here and there) of my life each day I would be that much happier and more at ease.
I see now why they refer to meditation as a practice. Being mindful and present in life will be an ongoing journey with ups and downs. I need lots of support for such a challenging task so you will usually find a meditation talk on my audible and meditation podcasts on my phone. If you are sort of interested but need more knowledge try the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. He also has a podcast by the same name. Enjoy your journey and your New Year!
Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC
Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling
Helping couples grow close
Couples, Marriage, & Individual Counseling Serving Katy | West Houston
This blog is brought to you by Hold Me Tight. Hold Me Tight is a couple’s workshop developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. I will be putting the workshop on in Katy with colleague John Dietrich March 1st and 2nd 2018. Couples will learn were they get stuck when trying to communicate and what is leading them to distance, tension, or fighting. Partners will also learn how to communicate in a way that pulls their partner closer. Please click here for more information.