I started this blog to share my adventures in running, swimming, skiing and other forms of playing outside. I feel happiest and most comfortable when I’m active, so my latest adventure is admittedly a bit of a departure.
I first stumbled across one of the guided meditations that I now listen to daily a few years ago, while I was researching a story about self compassion. Curious, I bookmarked one of the mp3s on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s website, and vowed to listen to it before I went to sleep that night.
Let me be clear: I had no illusions before that night that I was some calm-minded Zen master. Still, listening to Neff’s compassionate body-scan recording as I lay in bed, I was shocked to learn that a crazy, free-for-all parade of thoughts marches through my head before I fall asleep. As I followed Neff’s cues to tune in to the sensations in my body—as simple as the feeling of the back of my head meeting my pillow—I felt myself relaxing, almost against my will. And then it was morning, and I’d enjoyed the best night of sleep in recent memory.
At first, I thought of meditation as a bit of a one-night stand—something I tried once, but was uncertain I wanted to commit to. Listen to a guided meditation late at night when I can’t fall asleep? Sure! Sit on a cushion and find a way to keep my mind empty for a whole 20 minutes? I am waaay too Type-A for that. (I KNOW—you’re going to tell me the thing about that being like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath. I clearly had a lot to learn.)
It wasn’t until I talked about meditation with a grief counselor I spoke to after my dad died in 2012 that I began to understand that meditation isn’t necessarily about totally emptying your mind for 20 minutes, but about being present enough to observe what’s happening in your mind for any amount of time at all, whether that’s a weeklong silent-retreat or two minutes of focusing on your breath. I also began to understand that even if you spend two minutes focusing on your breath and a third minute watching thoughts pop up in your head like rabbits popping in and out of burrows in the ground, that’s still super, and still counts as meditating.
Fast-forward two years. I have taken meditation classes in which the instructor talks about the third eye, and in which I have been unfazed by mentions of the third eye. I’ve read and re-read (and re-read) The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I don’t like falling asleep without a recorded body-scan meditation—a practice I have since learned is referred to as “beditation.” And rather than shying away from meditation because I’m “not good at it,” I’m accepting the challenge of admitting that I am not, and will never be, perfect at this—that perfection isn’t even the goal.
I’m posting this today for a few reasons:
1. To explain where I’ve been. I’m still swimming and running and hiking and biking and skiing; I’m also just doing a lot more BEing, which isn’t such great blog-post fodder.
2. To set a public goal that I will meditate once a day in May. Since “beditating” is already part of my daily routine, my goal is to branch out and actually “sit” for at least five minutes daily.
3. To share what’s helped me in case any of you are looking to get started in mindfulness meditation. My two favorite sources of guided meditations are Self-Compassion.org, where you’ll find several wonderful guided meditations from Kristin Neff, the aforementioned self-compassion expert; and UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.
Mindful.org is a also fabulous clearinghouse for all things mindfulness.
What role, if any, does meditation play in your life? Any links to guided meditations to share? Let me know by posting a comment below.