I have read that learning to meditate is one of those skills that can enhance your life, bring you peace within your body and mind, help you sleep better and help you process your problems. I have tried to master the skill of meditation on numerous occasions, and I have always reached about 30 days and felt that I was going nowhere fast. My mind never settled, I felt anxious that I wasn't “getting it”, and I think the bottom line is that I was simply just trying too hard.
I have now been meditating every day for the last 60 days, and I feel that I am getting there. This week, something just “clicked” and I thought I would share with you my learnings so far.
Find an app or programme that suits your personality
I've been listening to the Calm app each day to keep me focused on a daily meditation practice. The lady who presents the daily Calm session (Tamara Levitt) has soothing tones, but I do find myself getting irritated by her accent, which is not good when you are trying to meditate!
As I spent time exploring the app, I discovered a “30-day meditation programme” which is presented by a guy called Jeff Warren. Jeff has my sense of humour, he is not all “woo woo”, and uses common sense. It's not all about breathing and body sweeps – he talks about things like “pretend to be Fonzie from Happy Days and be “Cool / just chill”. He gives real-life examples of how mediation can help in the real world which made me embrace meditation rather than fight it.
You don't have to close your eyes
Did you know that you don't have to close your eyes when you meditate? I found it so much easier to concentrate on my meditation practice when my eyes were slightly open and I was focusing on a picture on the wall of a forest trail. For me, this just worked. If I closed my eyes then I found it too easy to be distracted (which is probably the opposite of what I had originally thought). You don't have to sit in a yoga pose with your eyes closed. Just do what works for you.
Always wear earphones
When listening to a mediation programme, I now always use my AirPods. Other noises such as the dog barking, or someone getting up and having a shower always distracts me. I do find that I can mediate whilst walking and I don't need earphones, but when I am in the house (or my tent!), then I need my earphones in to keep me focused.
Figure out your home base and use the labelling technique
Your “home base” is the place that you come back to when your mind starts to wander. Most people tend to use breathing as their homebase, but I found that didn't really work for me. My home base is sound. On the Calm app, you can choose many different background sounds. For me, I like the forest track or the sound of the sea with the seagulls. I start counting my breaths, and then as soon as I notice that my mind has wandered I bring myself back to my home base and tune into the sound. This works for me whilst on a walk, as well as being at home. Some people return to a “happy place”, others try a sensation in their body such as the feeling of the belly rising with each breath. Finding a “home base” that works for you is an essential ingredient for successful mediation in my opinion.
Accept that your mind will be active
I have learned that we can't control our thoughts, so stop trying! All we can do is accept that thoughts happen, and once we notice that we have wandered off, then we attach a label to the thought such as “thinking” and send it off into space. Jeff talks about the different ways in which we produce thoughts. Some of us think visually, and others think with dialogue. I no longer get annoyed with myself when I realise that I have been going off tangent and thinking about stuff. I simply notice it, label it “thinking” and go straight back to my home base.
I can't still for very long
I have the sort of mind that needs to be active constantly. I can't just sit and listen to a podcast or an audiobook, I need to be active at the same time for the information to be received in my head. For example, I listen to an audiobook at the same time as driving, washing up or going for a walk. If I just lie in bed or sit in a chair to listen to a book then my mind wanders and I realise I have missed half of what they are talking about. Meditation is the same. I need something else beyond just sitting and looking at the picture on the wall. When I started using my mediation pebble to turn over in my hands during the meditation practice, I found that it was much easier to concentrate.
Overemphasis on the breath is not necessary
I appreciate that breathing properly and with purpose is hugely beneficial for a healthy meditation session, but I always struggled with this. I do not enjoy breathing from my mouth and am always more comfortable breathing through my nose. Part of the Calm app gives you access to a 15-minute podcast called “Spark”. One of the interviews was with a breathing expert, who explained the benefits of breathing through the nose. The expert also said that you should ideally start each meditation practice with two big deep breaths, and then let it fall into a natural rhythm. Once I realised that I did not have to think about breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, then life became so much easier and much more relaxed (or Fonzie chilled!)
I appreciate that 60 days of daily practice is not a long period of time, and I still have so much more to learn. I realise that meditation is a skill that can not be learned overnight and it is something that takes time to develop, a bit like building muscle. Meditation can be addictive, but I don't think that is a bad thing. I started with 10 minutes a day, and now I meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and also have a sleep story to go to sleep (Harry Styles and the Camino De Santiago are my favourite stories). I am more patient with people, I can control my mood if someone cuts me up in traffic, or another person jumps the queue. I've started noticing my reaction to situations that just would have got to me before that I now simply “let it go”. (Queue for a song!).
Will I continue with these daily practices? I hope so.