Each month I try something new - a new heath regimen, habit or discipline I have heard (and hope) will improve my quality of life.
Each 'what if' has yielded interesting results. I've been most profoundly changed, interestingly enough, by making my bed each morning. I do see a significant shift in my day when I start the day off in this way, with one foot firmly on the ground.
This month, I meditated. I didn't meditate every single day, and I didn't meditate for lengthy periods of time, but I did meditate regularly and tried different methods/types.
Here's what I did, what I learned and what I plan to do moving forward:
1. I tried several guided meditations after a few days of sitting and trying to calm my mind were utter chaos. Normally I like to go all gung-ho into something and do it myself, on my own terms, not listening to anyone else. As I've gotten older, I've realized this means frustration and, in short order, quitting. So, I finally tried some guided meditations.
I love the Calm app, and I typically hate apps. I'm not sure if it's worth paying for (an option once you download it), but I found the free breathing circle useful enough to keep the app on my phone. I play it at night, just after I turn out the lights, and it's a lovely little soothing ritual to calm my body before sleep.
I love UCLA's free guided meditations in part because they're short, so they're not overwhelming. Also, I don't love a lot of people's recorded voices. The woman's voice in these meditations I actually like and find soothing but not like she's trying too hard, if that makes sense.
My favorite, however, is James Doty's guided body calming audio (aka: Ruth's Tricks). It's not the best recording, and Doty's voice is a little distracting. However, the whole thing makes me feel (as he says) really, really good. One of the reasons I wanted to get into meditation at all was after reading Doty's literal page-turner Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. It's not often one finds a doctor who can write in such a compelling way about such a non-medical issue. Doty is quite compelling, as is his story and, for me, his message.
2. At this point, I'm not making any distinctions between types of meditation or meditation vs. mindfulness. What feels good for me right now is mindfulness. I think meditation, a complete clearing of the mind, comes next. I do have seconds of feeling it, when my brain just goes blank. Then, I usually think: my brain is blank! And we start all over again. Still, just sitting still, focusing on my breathing and my body and the sounds around me has quieted my movements afterward for a good hour or two following a session.
3. I'd like to build up to 20 minutes twice a day. I like to think I don't have time for that, but you know the old Zen saying:
4. There were moments, especially during Doty's meditation, where I felt intense love or kindness toward random people, one of whom is another mom at my son's school whom I don't even know very well. It was odd. Yet, there it was. I wonder if meditation and quieting our minds enables us to tap into those emotions we keep at bay with all of our busyness? Doty says meditation and mindfulness bring clarity. Can you imagine?
5. My body is about as tense and tight as is humanly possible. Goodness. My stomach is in knots (no surprise). My shoulders are tight. My legs are tight. Everything is just tight and tense. I wonder what this is doing to my overall health. I can't imagine it's good, and I'm not sure if it's just a product of having lived like this for so long or a result of daily stress. I don't know. I think meditation and focusing on this tension could only help reduce it. Having said that, the breathing exercises sometimes make me feel entirely out of breath. After a few minutes I have to take a gasping breath of air to keep going. I'm not sure that's the point. :)
That's it. Meditating for a month (hit or miss) didn't change my life, but it gave me this tiny little sliver of the idea it could.
For that reason, I'll be keeping up with meditation for the month of May.
After six months of What Ifs, I'm realizing that I can't keep adding things to my life without a plan. I loved foam rolling, but now that the month is over, I don't keep up with it. It's difficult to add more to life when there isn't a plan for when that will happen and for what I could/should cut out to make room.
That's it, isn't it? How do we make room for more of the good when life is already chock-full of so much already?
I'd like to make room for meditation, foam rolling, more reading, more baking/cooking and more rest. I'd like to add dry brushing to my nightly routine, but that routine is already an hour long. If I'm not careful, my entire day and evening will be little habits I've developed to live the best possible day.
Why is that bad?
More on meditation next month.
If anyone is interested, I love Into the Magic Shop and 10% Happier as books that inspired my desire to really delve into meditation and mindfulness. I've tried other books, but these are the two that resonated with me and made me feel meditation might help me rather than only people who wear Birkenstocks and do yoga daily.
I'm getting there.
I am sitting on my neatly-made bed, the windows open, a seriously gentle breeze wafting through the room and birdsong in the background. Sandy is curled up in a wingback chair. Now that I'm paying attention, the sound of the keyboard is soothing, and my right ear aches slightly.
How are you feeling at precisely this moment?
Does anyone else meditate? Did you see any 'results' after a certain period of time?
I'm learning that all of these little habits aren't life-altering in a vacuum; that is, there isn't one magic bullet that changes our lives. It's just the combination, I suppose, the daily working toward well spent that adds up to that happy sleep.