Mindful Monday: Real Life Meditation

This is my abstract representation of what meditation is like.

This is my abstract representation of what meditation is like.

Since Halloween is sneaking up quickly, let’s discuss something really scary today. Meditation.

I say scary because often when I utter the word “meditation,” eyes grow large and there’s an audible gasp, followed by some of those nervous giggles. “I can’t sit still.” “That makes my anxiety worse.” “The silence would drive me crazy.” “I’ll never be able to do that.” Some don’t say anything and simply stare at me like I’ve grown a second head.

Meditation can be super intimidating. And seem like something only for hippies or more enlightened beings. There are so many preconceived ideas that many are unwilling to even give it a bit of a try.

I get it. Sitting quietly without any distractions isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. As I’ve said before meditation is only one form of mindfulness and luckily, there are a million trillion ways to practice mindfulness for the non-meditators out there.

Sitting quietly in meditation.

Sitting quietly in meditation.

However, even if it’s difficult I still think meditation is something totally worth practicing. It’s only when we go within without the distractions of the outside world that we can best navigate the outside world. I mean, who doesn’t want a leg up on life. I just raised my hand. Alone. In my living room.  

Moving on. Instead of embarking on a meditation benefits monologue that you can get on any Pop Sugar-esque website (I think. I’ve never actually been to that website.), let me share my own unique meditation experience.

I have no idea exactly when or why I started practicing meditation. I think it was somewhere around late high school, early college. Around the time I also discovered yoga. Before either became the new celebrity.

For some reason I felt called to it so I meditated. Whenever I felt like it. Which wasn’t very consistent.

I’ve always struggled to make it a consistent practice. I might meditate for days and weeks in a row. Then nothing for days, weeks, months. Then a day here and there. 5 minutes, 1 minute, a half hour, hours.

Try hours of meditation without a consistent practice. Kind of like running a marathon without proper training. Torture. I get the fear people go into meditation with.

I focused on my breath. Listened to guided meditations. Loving kindness meditations. Who knows what else meditations. Embarked on day long silent retreats.

Another abstract representation of what meditation can feel like.

Another abstract representation of what meditation can feel like.

I’ve had many experiences with meditation. I’ve felt so incredibly anxious I could barely breathe (No one mentions that part of meditation when they’re selling you the Kool-Aid.). I’ve also felt enormous peace and calmness. I’ve even had several experiences where I felt so high afterwards I wondered what drugs had been pumped through the vents. Often I didn’t feel anything different. Sometimes I experienced clarity. Other times I felt more confused than ever.

So many things got in the way just to get to an extended period of silence. Life’s obligations. Other people. Travel. Work. Pets. Anything and everything was an excuse.

I’d tell myself I’ll start small. One minute a day for one week, then two minutes a day for another week, then three, and so forth until I reached what I’d decided was ideal for me, 15 minutes a day. I don’t know if I ever made it a full week.

But still sometimes I’d meditate. Then my thoughts would creep in. Next thing you know the meditation time was over and all I did was think. I’d fall asleep. I’d have to shift my position 8 million times. Peek out of the corner of my eye at the person next to me breathing in such a way I thought I might have to be the one to dial 911.

This inconsistency wasn’t something that bothered me. I figured I meditated more often than most and there must be some benefit to doing it at all. I also practiced other forms of mindfulness so figured that covered me when I wasn’t meditating. One thing I will say I gained from my inconsistent meditation practice was self-love and acceptance. That I was doing the best I could and that was just fine.

Yet, while it’s awesome that it got me to a place where I don’t judge myself as much, the truth is everything is better when I meditate regularly. And for the last couple years my inner wisdom has been screaming at me to do this.

This is how I always want meditation to be like.

This is how I always want meditation to be like.

So three weeks ago, I finally decided to listen to myself. I couldn’t tell you why at this particular moment. I’d finished reading a book that wasn’t much different than some other spiritual/scientific quantum physics stuff that I’ve read before. But this one also incorporated a scripted meditation program. Which is not my cup of tea. I much prefer simply focusing on my breath. Guided meditations can drive me nuts. I listen to people all day so I like some silence when I can get it.

Still this one intrigued me. Maybe it was the promise that it would retrain my brain (Which is really what all meditation should do.)and who doesn’t have some old habits that need to take a hike. So I decided to stop being stubborn and give it a test drive. So for the last three weeks, I’ve followed this guided meditation program for 15-30 minutes per day.

It’s been good. I guess.

I actually don’t know what adjectives to assign to the entire experience so far. I’ve encountered some challenges.

There was the most intense anxiety I’ve ever experienced for three days in a row during the first week. That was when I most wanted to quit. It felt hard to breathe and my heart wanted to escape my chest. Just during the meditation. I felt fine before and after.

I don’t feel anxious all that often so I also got into my head, wondering if maybe I’m actually way more anxious than I’ve thought and now here I am, coming to terms with it. I had to tell myself that this is probably just the crap being cleared away and if I can breathe through it, it will ease. I repeated “This can’t kill me” as often as I needed to. Ya know, all the stuff I tell everyone else.

I was right. After three tough meditation sessions, I haven’t experienced that anxiety again, but I’m also okay knowing that anxiety is actually a normal part of meditation (and life) and I can make it through no matter how uncomfortable it feels.

This is enlightenment.

This is enlightenment.

Since then when I meditate I’ve experienced this buzzing sensation that’s kind of like when you feel excited for something you’re looking forward to. I don’t know how else to describe it, like that higher energy sensation the new agey prophets preach. Probably like the buzz most of you get when caffeinated. Whatever it is, it feels good so I’ll take it.

Even though I’m way into this buzz, it does seem to have disrupted my outside world. I won’t go into the details since this is already far lengthier than anyone reads these days but let’s just say old routines are being tested. I know that shifts on the inside lead to shifts on the outside. Ultimately that’s a positive thing, but change can still feel uncomfortable and our old selves will fight it. So I’m left to fight the good fight and find patience wherever I can, knowing that once the dust settles I will om off into the sunset.

Overall, meditation is a butt kicker. It isn’t all the rainbows and butterflies pop culture tries to paint it. Meditation is freaking Halloween scary because it takes us right to the root of pain and suffering without any sugar coating of it. But we have to go there to experience growth and emerge as something new. So as uncomfortable as it may be at times, I also feel pride in making it a priority and sticking to it consistently even when life and my ego try to get in the way.