I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on meditation for a while. I wanted to write about my experience with it thus far, what I think of it, the challenges of it, etc. But I hadn’t yet, because I didn’t know how to articulate my thoughts; I hadn’t fully understood it yet. That is, until something happened the other day and it all snapped clear to me.
To backtrack a bit– one of my New Year’s resolutions was to make meditation a habit, so I’ve been at it for almost three months now. (Crap it’s already nearly April!) At first I had no idea what the point of it was—yes, it was relaxing, but it was also frustrating and effortful, and I couldn’t quite grasp why I was doing it.
The basic premise of meditation is to be present in the moment. It’s not about erasing your mind of any thoughts. It’s more about being at peace with that particular moment: letting thoughts come and go, but remaining focused on the present. It’s extremely difficult to do this, especially for longer than 5 minutes. I’ll find my mind wandering almost immediately after I close my eyes, and by the time I realize I’m daydreaming, minutes have passed. And, since I meditate right after I wake up, I often find myself in a half dreaming, half awake state of mind and constantly have to snap myself back into consciousness. It takes serious focus and work to keep my mind on the act of meditation.
Since I began, I would always feel good for about five minutes after, but it had no effect on the rest of the day. It’s supposed to increase productivity and creativity, while reducing stress and anxiety, but I wasn’t seeing much change. Am I doing it wrong? How long is it supposed to take to reap the benefits? When is the big revelation of my purpose in life going to enter my brain? What is meditation doing for me?
Then it all clicked for me one recent morning. The night before, I was lying in bed, on the verge of sleep when I was awoken by the sound of the buzzer to my apartment (it’s horrendously loud). Ugh, I thought. I need to get up early tomorrow. I was so close to dozing off! Was it really necessary to buzz up? I could feel my heartbeat speed up and my temperature rise as my frustration grew.
Then an amazing thing happened. I said to myself: Just let it go. It’s not a big deal. You can fall right back asleep. Just relax.
And I did. I fell back asleep. Granted, it wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t the most restful night, but the fact that I was able to calm down, let it go, and forgive made me realize my reaction was a direct result of meditation. I don’t think I would have been so quick to relinquish my frustration prior to the New Year.
When I woke up, the benefits of meditation, which were previously just beneath my level of consciousness, surfaced. I’m not saying I’m now an expert on meditation, or that I now know exactly how it works, but what I’m saying is the fog that had been covering the why of meditation finally turned to a lighter mist.
Meditation has made me more grateful more often. Meditation is all about being present. And the more present I am, the more I realize what I have, not what I could have. Gratitude has made me a much happier person. Whenever I’m feeling lonely, sad, or overwhelmed, I think of a few things I’m grateful for and it really helps. This winter I struggled pretty often with depressive thoughts (I think I have seasonal affective disorder), but practicing gratitude has been extremely uplifting. I’m immediately happier and calmer as I realize I have an abundance of things to be grateful for. I truly believe practicing gratitude is one of the biggest keys to happiness.
Meditation has strengthened my brain. I know that sounds weird, but meditation works a part of the brain that isn’t normally challenged or stretched. Training it to focus on the present—on the sounds around me, my breath, forcing my mind to stay exactly where it is—takes serious work. It is hard. And it takes practice to be able to go more than a few seconds without letting my mind run free. It is way too tempting to use the time to think about what I need to remember to pack in my bag, who I need to email, or what I’m going to eat that day.
I think this aspect of meditation is what makes us more productive in day-to-day life. When we find our minds wandering, our brain muscles, which were too weak before, are now strong enough to pull the mind back into the present. The cultivation of this muscle is what allows us to get more done throughout the day.
Meditation has allowed me to let go more easily. This goes back to the buzzer incident that led to this blog post. Instead of remaining angry and anxious that I would never fall back asleep, I was able to recognize my feelings, calm myself down and let the irritation pass. When your mind wanders during meditation, you are not supposed to judge yourself; you’re supposed to simply acknowledge the thought, let it leave just as it came, and then get back to the present. You don’t fail at the meditation if you think about other things. It’s fine, that’s natural. There’s no need to get irritated– just remain calm and patient. It took a while (three months) to see this new mindset play out in real life, but it’s pretty incredible to see my attitudes and reactions change simply by accessing this frame of mind in normal life.
Meditation can tend to feel pointless and time consuming, so it feels really nice to justify it. Wellness experts, researchers, your hippie friend, yoga teacher, WHOEVER can tell you all about the benefits of meditation, but it doesn’t mean much until you realize them for yourself. Now that I’ve had this experience, I’m excited to see where meditation takes me and what I learn going forward.