How I Started an Imperfect Meditation Practice
Who wants to learn how to meditate?
I finally checked meditation off my list! I have been meditating for about four months now. I have had many conversations with others who also want to start doing this. In effort to help those who want to start a meditation practice, I want to share with you how I was able to successfully create an imperfect meditation practice that I could actually stick with. Maybe it will help you.
You have likely heard the word meditation many times over. You are reading this right now because you have been thinking about it too. Traditionally, meditation is known as a spiritual practice. Today, celebrities do it and it seems like it is becoming more and more mainstream. You probably have been thinking about it for awhile too. Perhaps you've read about it. Maybe you've even tried it, but you came to the conclusion you just can't do it. It is too hard.
I get it! It feels hard. I was just like you.
I first heard about meditation during yoga classes. Through the years, the word popped up in books and videos then Oprah and Deepak Chopra joined forces to start a 21 Day meditation practice. I thought this would be my entry point to success. It wasn't. I signed up. The most I ever completed was 10 days of this practice. I couldn't do it. I just didn't enjoy sitting there and it was a guided meditation! It didn't even me require sitting in complete silence.
Of course, because I didn't complete it, I beat myself up. Is there something wrong with me? I can't sit still. I can't concentrate. Why does my mind keep wondering? I can't get rid of my thoughts.
The M word continuously reappeared as time marched on, I kept hearing about the benefits of meditation. I wanted to experience them. There is lots of science and research behind the practice so I believed everything I heard and read about the benefits of mediation, I just couldn't get there. In case you haven't heard, here are some of the benefits:
Benefits of Meditation
Physical Health: reduces stress, promotes better sleep, creates longer attention span, makes you look younger (Hello!! I like this one.)
Emotional Health: reduces anxiety, better focus, creates calm, better mental clarity (bring it on!)
My Turning Point
I had heard all the benefits, but clearly they didn't resonate enough for me to commit to the practice fully. I believe ideas come into your consciousness repeatedly because it is an idea that you are calling forth. Eventually there will be a right time to begin. For me, that right time to begin meditation was in the fall of 2019.
Here was my turning point. I have podcast called Soul Sister Conversations where we talk about soulful topics. In Episode 27: The Power of Meditation with Stephen Joyce https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/soul-sister-conversations/id1450113062?i=1000445463984 we talked to a local yoga and meditation teacher, Stephen Joyce of http://amanainstitute.ca/ about his experience with meditation. He said ONE thing that got my attention fully.......
"Stress never goes away unless you make a conscious effort to release it. Meditation dissipates chronic stress."
Suddenly I heard the benefit that resonated with me. These statements "hung in the air" because my mother had died two years earlier. I believed her premature death was due to an unexplained medical condition resulting from a build up of chronic stress over decades. Stress is the invisible toxic sludge that builds up. It was alarming to me to witness what my mother had experienced - a slow, uncontrollable decline of her body. Chronic stress builds gradually and appears suddenly like my mother dropping to the ground inexplicably.
I imagine chronic stress like a brown layer of smog resting over the skyline of a large city. Meditation to me is like an eraser that removes the brown sludge (chronic stress). The idea that meditation could dissolve stress is what made me pay attention and take meditation seriously as a portal to healthy living. I didn't want on a trendy bandwagon. I just wanted to live well in mind, body and spirit as I aged.
The official moment I began. I attended a conference where I did not have a good sleep for two nights in a row. On Saturday, the main day of the conference, I was running on a combined 7 hours of sleep over two days. I felt sacked when I woke on the Saturday morning. I remember Stephen Joyce, our podcast guest, telling us that two 20 minute sessions of meditation was like 3-4 hours of sleep. Meditation had a rejuvenation effect too! On that Saturday morning in a hotel room, I needed to recharge if I was to get through the day. I had a few minutes so I sat for the first time in silence for 7 minutes.
I can say that meditating for 7 minutes and getting ready with a positive attitude about the day versus complaining about my sleep enabled me pay attention to get the most out of the conference instead of feeling sluggish.
Once I returned from the conference, everything just clicked. I was ready to commit to a regular meditation practice. Here is what worked for me:
How to Begin
1. Decide on a time when you will meditate on a regular basis. For me, I wake, pee, return to bed and sit up against some pillows stacked against my headboard. Getting the meditation in before my day begins allows me to be successful with it because once I start getting ready, I am off and running for the day and it is much harder to settle myself back down. If you have to rise a few minutes earlier, make space for it in your morning routine.
2. Set a timer. I use the timer on my iphone. I choose the number of minutes, hit start and close my eyes in silence. This is not a guided meditation where I am listening to somebody's voice. Stephen Joyce also noted this on our podcast episode. The true benefits of mediation comes from 20 minutes of sitting in silence. Sitting in the afternoon with your eyes closed for 5 minutes might feel meditative and mindful, but you are not going to experience the full benefits of meditation.
3. Begin with a small amount of time. This is so important. When I say I meditate 20 minutes a day now, I did not start with that amount of time. You have to build up to it. When I committed to building my meditation practice, I started with one minute. I did this for several days without getting anxious about when I should increase the time. Honestly, this is where I cut myself some slack for once. I knew that it was more important to practice sitting quietly with myself. Once I got accustomed to one minute and I felt like I could do more, I added another minute. I probably meditated for one minute for three or four days before adding more time. I moved to two minutes then three minutes for a couple of days then five, then seven etc... It took almost a month to work up to 20 minutes. And I was completely o.k. with that. Look at this like a journey. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and move on. Return to your practice the next day or find a time to do it later in the day.
Admission: I sometimes find it hard to meditate on the weekend, I might sleep in then crawl out of bed to enjoy a cup of coffee and totally forget to meditate. I just return to my practice the next morning. No big deal.
Go easy on yourself. If you start with 20 minutes when you begin this practice, it will likely be too overwhelming. When I first started meditating, two minutes felt like two days. Again, it is more important that you are practicing presence. Your body and mind have not been accustomed to sitting still and being present especially in this very distracting world. You are training yourself.
Here is my advice for people who think that they must start with 20 minutes...
"Don't start at the end of your journey. Start at the beginning of it."
If you start with 20 minutes, you are starting at the end of your journey. Pick a much easier entry point for success. Start with one minute and celebrate your ability to get through one minute of silence. Believe me, it is worth celebrating. 💥
3. Posture. You do not have to be sitting up straight as an arrow. You should sit up, however, instead of lying down. Do not get hung up on the perfect meditation posture. I sit cross legged with my hands resting on my thighs. If my legs start hurting, I straighten them out. I think it is more important to be comfortable. Sometimes I bring my knees to my chest.
4. Focus on your breath. This is the best technique I have found to detach myself from my thoughts. Focusing on your breath takes you inward. Do not worry if you think about your thoughts. I can see all my thoughts floating by. When I tried meditation previously, I spent too much effort on detaching myself from my thoughts. I know they are there and I accept it now. It's almost like I can see the thoughts floating above. I know people use mantras in meditation. Saying the word breathe is my mantra, I guess. It reminds me to breathe deeply. A long deep breath in and a long deep breath out. Repeating the word breathe refocuses my attention inward instead of on my thoughts.
There you have it! My top tips for to begin an imperfect meditation.
What I Noticed
Top 3 things I noticed as a result of my meditation practice:
1. I noticed that situations that previously made me upset are quickly diffused. What would have been a mild irritation sometimes doesn't even register with me. If I do get upset about something, I realize that I back off that emotion much more quickly. It is like my mind recognizes it before it even registers with me that the emotion will not serve me. (From a spiritual standpoint, I would say that I move from my Ego to my Highest Self without much effort. The effects of meditation does the work for me.)
2. Twenty minutes goes quickly now. Remember I said two minutes felt like two days? It doesn't anymore. It is weird. It is like I am connected to this timeless space and sometimes I am surprised that twenty minutes is up. I surprisingly don't check the timer to see how much time is left. On a rare occasion this has happened, I was not in the flow of meditation. I broke ranks with my inner world, ie, my breathing practice.
3. Sometimes I crave the presence. I haven't started a regular afternoon practice yet, but sometimes I find myself wanting to sit and meditate. I just need the inward time. I have a great desire to tune out the outside world and my thoughts. What I noticed about the afternoon meditation versus the morning meditation is that I actually feel recharged. It is like I had a nap. This is huge for me because I am not a great napper unless I am actually tired.
Be willing to be imperfect with this practice. Cut yourself some slack! You can do this.
I would love to hear your experience with meditation. Perhaps you need an encouraging word to begin. If I can give you perspective on getting started, send me a note.
As we individually move toward a more conscious life, we impact the world around us.
To your continued growth,