Nobody is more surprised than I that I have been able to sit myself down for 10 minutes a day and lose myself in quiet directed mindfulness meditation. It wasn’t without some bumps and challenges along the way but now it has been 1 year since I started. This is what I learned.
1) It is not that complicated!
I studied a bunch of different forms of meditation. I wasn’t looking for anything that would place me on some spiritual journey or levitate me to some higher plateau. I just wanted something simple that I felt would help me feel better and manage some of life’s stressful situations.
Mindfulness is simply about being mindful of what you’re thinking and deciding where you choose to focus your attention. Ideally, one would choose to focus his or her attention towards compassion, kindness, and optimism. Mindfulness is about deciding to look on the bright side and deciding to be kind to yourself and others. It is not that complicated!
2) It is not that easy!
All this talk about enlightenment sounds great, but this doesn’t happen just because you decide to sit down and meditate for a few minutes. My first few attempts were full of thoughts streaming through my head. Part of me was asking questions while another part was telling myself “shut up, you are trying to meditate.” I made such an effort to try and make it work the first time that I ended up feeling stressed out more than before I started. It is not that easy!
3) Start small
If you create the rules of the game then you have the ability to make it as easy as you can to win. Attempting to sit down for even a half hour in silence was too daunting to me. After having attempted this I discovered that if I tried too hard to make it work that I would quickly give it up. So I had to make it so I at least felt a sense of accomplishment that would push me to continue. The way to accomplish this was to reduce the amount of time. It worked. Once I felt more comfortable and in control I slowly started to feel the benefits and naturally lengthened the amount of time. It was better to start small.
4) It takes discipline
Meditating everyday for a week, then going a week without felt like going up a step then falling back. I guess taking some quiet time once in a while is better than not at all but I wanted to discover what kind of transformation could really be achieved by a daily meditation practice. As a musician, I was already aware that skills take time to develop. Being able to allow yourself to release tensions and redirect your focus and attention back on track when it gets lost, and do that daily, is a skill, and one that takes discipline.
5) It is easier to be guided
I read some articles and watched some videos. When I felt like was comfortable with the concept I sat down and gave it a try unguided and on my own. It wasn’t a great experience. I did notice, however, that in a few of the videos there was a teacher who was helping to direct everyone. I quickly came to the conclusion that having some direction would probably be a better option than attempting this on my own. So I headed to the app store!
I found an application called “Headspace” that had quite a few good reviews. So I gave it a try. Headspace was started by Andy Puddicombe. He traveled to the Himalayas where he studied meditation and was eventually ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. He seemed like someone who walked his talk. In addition, he marketed meditation for only 10 minutes a day. Perfect, because I wanted to keep it small. So I went through the free 10 minute a day guide for 10 days and I was hooked. I am still using it after a year because I realized it is easier to be guided.
6) Not everyday is a success
At the beginning, my mind was wandering more often than not. As Andy explains in the app, this was a perfectly normal occurrence and not something to be fought. Just keep redirecting your attention back to your breath once you realize it has wandered. He helps the listener to do that. When I was able to go through the 10 minutes in complete focus I did feel great. Some days, however, I was more agitated, anxious or stressed and that did make the exercise more frustrating. I just couldn’t keep my mind from thinking of any number of things that happened to be preoccupying me at the time. Although I can see the overwhelming benefits, not everyday is a success.
7) Same time every day is better
As much as I tried to be disciplined, I did miss a few days every once in a while. I would sit down and meditate whenever it occured to me to do so. This wasn’t conduscive to habit forming. I needed a better routine. I picked my favorite chair, to avoid fidgeting, and a spot where I felt most comfortable. I also started to discover that mornings were the best time for me and where I felt I got the most out of it. Having a fixed time became habit forming to where I didn’t have to remind myself to do it, it just became part of one of my daily routines, such as brushing my teeth. I realized that meditating the same time every day is better.
8) It gets easier over time
After about 8 months I started to realize that I was able to manage my flow of thought better. Those frustrating moments were not coming as often. It was actually becoming addictive. This is the reward of creating a solid foundation and honing a skill. It gets easier over time.
9) The release of pressure, pain and pleasure
One of the center pieces of mindfulness is to notice various tensions that arise in your body. Some, pressure felt in your neck, or a slight pain in your right knee. The goal is not to try and change anything but to observe it, as if you are doing a resume of the state of your body. This is often tension being released and by simply observing it and moving on quite often helps one to dissipate these tensions. I have learned this by experience.
At times I found myself falling asleep. This is the extreme. The best place to be is right at that sweet spot where your body is completely relaxed, your thoughts and attention are controlled. I have felt light headed at times and almost as if I have been given a shot of dopamine. It is kind of similar to that feeling you get when you hit that down-slope on a roller coaster. I am sold, simply because after a year I have felt the release of pressure, pain and pleasure!
10) It works for me…….and maybe for you!
If there is one thing I believe in it is that everyone has to determine their own life recipe. Find and use the things that work for them. A great way to figure that out is by observing the experiences of others. I am against anybody presenting the top things that YOU should do to improve some aspect of your life. I don’t like people preaching practices that they themselves don’t even follow. However, I do believe in learning from others’ experiences. We all try and learn from our parents, at the same time trying not to repeat the mistakes they made.
Mindfulness is not new. It’s part of what makes us human—the capacity to be fully conscious and aware. Unfortunately, we are usually only in this state for brief periods of time, and are soon reabsorbed into familiar daydreams and personal narratives. The capacity for sustained moment-to-moment awareness, especially in the midst of emotional turmoil, is a special skill. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned. Mindfulness works for me……..and maybe it will work for you!