beam me up: monthly challenge i

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I am excited to finally share with you my first solo flight across the Atlantic monthly challenge: meditation.

BUT FIRST! Why monthly challenges?
I was introduced to the concept of the monthly challenge during my year living as a full-time volunteer in Denver. For everything that we are told/we tell ourselves that we must improve – from using less water to living more simply to taking more chances – it can be a challenge in and of itself just to find a starting point.  It’s unrealistic to try to change everything all at once, and we hardly know what we’re capable of until we bite the bullet, so to speak, so taking it month by month allows for a slow and steady lifestyle change, creating lasting habits and cultivating our values.

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SO: in my first act of Why I Need to Finally Make Mindfulness Part of My Life, I accidentally purchased a $14 magazine at the impulse stand in the grocery checkout line. On the walk home I ruminated over every reason why this mindless purchase could be a disaster, with the $14 I’d just robbed from my food budget winning out over the potential that this could be the difference between us making it out alive when the earthquakes come.  I tried to forgive myself for the purchase, for overreacting, and for not getting started on this mindfulness stuff sooner.

Why do we need mindfulness meditation?
Would you not agree that every person’s relationship unto his or herself is entirely intimate and terribly irreverent? What should be sacred (all that “body is a temple” prattle) suffers under the weight of our collective distress. We berate ourselves for our intense human nature when in fact, it may not be entirely our fault.

I recently discovered a small book in the back of my local 70s-era library and immediately inhaled it. In A Brief History of Anxiety…Yours and Mine, Patricia Pearson recounts not only her personal strife with generalized anxiety disorder, but also the social history of disordered fear, stress, and panic. The body’s reaction to stress is pivotal, and I am constantly taken aback by the somatic manifestation of our qualms. Our stress, anchorless or otherwise, is pulling apart our body’s defense mechanisms like a mole in the military.  Many times, we won’t even attribute our aches and pains to stress and thus, don’t get at the root cause.

And so, in these moments of turmoil which I would argue are, at present day, affecting the collective whole of our individualistic, achievement-oriented society, we are seeking relief. The rise of meditation and mindfulness as a wellness practice stands beside things like yoga and detox cleanses and flower crowns. Think it’s all a little floofy?

Thoughts on meditation vs. mindfulness
I think this is important for the beginner – or “tried it; hated it” person – to understand: All those questions we ask about meditation, all those excuses we give for “not being good at it,” are exactly what mindfulness is. Can’t turn off your thoughts? That’s a tool. Want to jump out of your skin while sitting there with your eyes closed? Tool. Whereas I’ve always felt meditation was telling me to shut off all thoughts and watch them float down the river on a bed of leaves with my detached body, to turn my negative emotions into neutral or positive ones just to get through the day, mindfulness asks me to wrestle with them. And somehow, even thought it sounds scarier and like there is more potential of failure, I am drawn to it.  Mindfulness asks us to sit with discomfort, assimilate to our environment, and take it moment by moment.  In the end, we can channel our “pillow talk” to everyday life situations, like forgetting where we parked the car or not ripping up the utility bill with seemingly bogus charges right then and there.

In the end, it’s to each his own, right? I can’t discount centuries of monk-worthy strain toward enlightenment. I also can’t deny new evidence of how mindfulness has actually been shown to rewire the brain and body where it counts.

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Beam me up
What has it meant for me, you ask?  Considering the number of people I’ve heard say they’ve been practicing for years and it is still a practice, I’m cutting myself some slack on not having anything profound to say just yet.  What it has become is a daily routine, a special time for me to sit in silence upon waking.  I don’t often allow myself to sit and do very little.

I’ve also discovered what I do and don’t like.  I discovered what the distinction between meditation and mindfulness means for my life, and that I prefer mindfulness.  I’ve also discovered that chakra balancing and energy work give me high vibrations and I like that feeling.  Starting slowly and working my way up to more and more time on the meditation pillow makes the whole task seem less daunting.

Has it changed my life?  No.  It has, however, changed my days.  I get that burst of accomplishment right away in the morning, that centered me-time, a slower and more peaceful start to the day.  And I’ve kept it going.  On month two now, and even though I’m tackling a new monthly challenge, I still find myself craving that stillness upon waking.

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My tips for beginners

  1. Pick a time of day at which to practice. For me, first thing in the morning is easiest. In fact, the more time I spend awake without sitting on my mediation pillow, the less likely I will be to end up there at all. For some, falling asleep is challenging, so turning on a yoga nidra and drifting off may be your best bet. Find a time that can be regular and that is comfortable. You may or may not want your partner in bed beside you while you’re trying to meditate…
  2. Carve out a corner. Most guides suggest sitting upright in a chair. I have a floor pillow in a corner of my room that I dedicate just for meditation (and now gratitude) practice.  It feels precious and purposeful and serves as a constant reminder of what I am integrating into my life.
  3. Use technology and experts. My go-to for guides is the app, Insight Timer, and the world of YouTube. In my experience, I found that starting with guides and shorter meditations helped me gradually work my way into silent meditation. Hint: specifically search for mindfulness guided meditations on these apps.
  4. Set up the night before. Because I meditate first thing in the morning, before bed, I open the app I use and search for a guided meditation I’ll want to practice in the morning. That way, when I check my phone in the morning, I’ll see it’s all ready to go and I have no excuse but to get down to it.
  5. Shut the door. I don’t know what your wake-up circumstances are, but I have a dog at my feet almost constantly. He’s particularly restless in the early morning hours, so unfortunately, if I want to have an uninterrupted practice, I have to coax him out of the room and shut the door. For people responsible for other humans, this is a great reason to practice before they get up or after they go to bed.
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