If you are going to read ONE thing today, I highly suggest that you go with *THIS*. And not just to skim or breeze over, but to actually take the time to see the words, hear the sounds, click on the links, and see what resonates. I am sure that we will see the truth, value, honesty, wisdom, and beauty that my dear friend Emily has to share with us.
Emily, thank you. Emily has been a good –the best — friend since 1997 when we first met as awkward freshman in college. We have since been close friends, being parts of each others’ wonderful celebrations, as well as difficult challenges. Emily is someone you want as a friend, and a role model. Emily is hands down, one of the most beautiful people, inside and out.
In the past year, I have witnessed a transformation and glow that has emerged from Emily. She is more calm, at peace, happy, energetic, loving, and loveable. And she credits this shift to her investment and belief in meditation. So friends, here is Emily, with all her wisdom and advice about mediation.
Why I started?
I ‘came’ to meditation in the same way an addict ‘comes’ to rehab…because I was desperate and had nowhere else to go. My relationship of four years fell apart, along with the life I’d planned for myself. I no longer knew who I was or where I was going, so I acted like I felt – like an absolute train wreck – unable to eat, sleep, and make it through a day without crying. I’d lost touch with the ‘me’ I knew and liked and was willing to do anything to feel calm and hopefully happy again.
How I started.
I saw that the yoga studio around the corner from me offered 30 minute meditation classes that I could drop in on my way to work, which seemed like a low commitment compared to the substantial financial and emotional commitment I was making to therapy.
Not surprisingly, it was hard to sit still at first. Really hard. My back itched. My legs hurt. I wanted to stretch, or better yet – to leave – but I had to sit quietly so I didn’t bother others in my class. Eventually, sitting in silence for 30 minutes became more comfortable, but my mind would still wander. I’d think about my grocery list or something someone said the day before or worse, to what was happening in personal life. When my thoughts started drifting, I’d remember the teacher told us to focus on our breath, which I did until I thought of something else, until I remembered to focus on my breath. This cycle would continue until the teacher rang the bells at the end of class.
Despite the fact I couldn’t fully shut my brain off, I felt blissfully calm after class. So much so, there were days I’d smile (creepily, I’m sure) at strangers because I knew hugging them would be inappropriate. I’d get to work and feel focused and yet, unrattled by the normal things that got under my skin. But there were also days I’d meditate and tap into the very real emotions I was going through at the time – the sadness, the confusion, the guilt – and I’d leave in a solemn mood. Through meditation, I came face-to-face what what I was really feeling. I suddenly understood the depth of my sadness and I could name it in a way my constant analysis of it during the day hadn’t been able to. As I stuck with meditation and acknowledged how I felt, I was able to let it go.
Meditation was enormously helpful in getting me through that stressful time and it remains an important part of my life now. Daily meditation has helped me feel both more grounded and more positive at the same time, while giving me a stronger sense of what matters to me. Like all good fanatics, I rave about the practice of meditation and strongly recommend for everyone.
Tips on meditation?
* Regularity – Meditation is much easier to do if you create a routine around it (my routine involves dark chocolate and meditation so I never want to skip it). To start, set your alarm for 10-15 minutes earlier than normal and place a cushion near your bed so you can do it first thing in the morning (although some people find it easier to make time at night). Meditation only will happen if you make regular time for it.
* Flexibility – There are many types, techniques, postures for meditation. You can sit silently and focus on your breath, sounds nearby, and/or parts of your body, you can listen to a guided meditation on a particular topic (see below), and you can even do a walking meditation so find something that works for you. No bonus points for being uncomfortable…or miserable.
* Forgiveness – Meditation is a challenging practice because it’s very hard to stop our wandering minds. When you realize your mind is elsewhere (and it will be), return to the meditation and breathe. If your mind drifts again, recognize it has drifted and return to the meditation. If you feel frustrated at how hard it is, forgive yourself and return to the meditation. If you skip it for a day, week, or month, forgive yourself and return to the meditation. Show yourself forgiveness in meditation so you can extend that same generosity to yourself and others outside the practice.
How does one get started?
There are many great resources to help you start a meditation practice. This list is by no way extensive, but it includes many of the wonderful recommendations friends passed to me along the way.
* Classes: Meditation classes are an easy way to start meditating since they offer a designated time and distraction-free space to meditate. Many local yoga studios, Buddhist centers, and meditation groups offer in-person sessions so ask around and/or google what’s available in your neighborhood or city.
* Guided Meditations: Guided meditations are terrific for beginning meditators and those of us with easily distracted minds because the narrator talks you through the process so you have something to focus on. Another benefit of guided meditations is that you can access them whenever you want or need them. Here are some of my favorite guided meditations:
- Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about the endless string of thoughts we generate and emphasizes the practice of “mindfulness” – being aware of the present moment – and shares some great, simple meditations online (his soft British accent makes them especially soothing). Try this eight minute one and/or this mini-one (only 3 minutes long!) to get in touch with your breathing and body.
- Tara Brach is a Buddhist teacher and mentor to many as she talks about the importance of presence to yourself and others and acceptance of things, even when chaotic, in your life. Her website contains thought-provoking talks and excellent guided meditations and if you are lucky enough to live near DC, you can also see her Wednesdays. This is a terrific 16 minute my guided meditation on happiness and the other ones are equally great.
- Deepak Chopra, a wellness guru, occasionally partners with another guru, Oprah, to offer free 21-day meditation ‘challenges’, which are daily 15 minute meditations on a particular theme (past ones have been on health, relationships, and abundance). Check here for announcements about new series or purchase past series here.
- Meditation Oasis offers dozens of guided meditations on specific topics, ranging from creativity to patience to grief, so you can listen to the one(s) that match what your needs are at the time. You can also subscribe to their podcasts.
- UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center has great introduction to meditation materials, including breathing and body-focused guided meditations. This loving kindness meditation can end any bad mood. Try it today and then go hug a stranger.
- Chakra meditations are not for the skeptics…they are for people that like the “om” part of yoga class. If you are open to learning about chakras, guided chakra meditations like these can be very helpful at addressing specific personal issues like communication, confidence, and openness.
* Reading: To accompany a meditation practice, there are a lot of helpful books that can underscore what you’re working on – being present, stopping the chatter in your mind, and letting go of things you cannot control. Eckhart Tolle’s ”The Power of Now” was that for me. Read it.
* Retreats: Retreats are a more intense option for a full meditation experience. People often go once they’ve started a daily practice since retreats may require several hours of meditation, but they range in length (some popular options are 3-5 days long or 10 days long) and intensity, so talk to people who have gone on them to figure out if they are for you.
So with that, try meditation….at least once (hopefully you will want to keep going). Enjoy it. Breathe deeply. Stop and smell the roses.
Amen, sista. Thank you, Em. I love you loads. Everyone have a great week — and I hope you bookmark this post and look back on it for further guidance and words of encouragement from Emily. I know I certainly will!