A while back I wrote “Sometimes I sits and Thinks” observing the process of learning to be okay just being, not doing. The second phrase of this saying, “and sometimes I just sits” also has significance for me. Lately, meditating is the time for me to just sit, which is what I want to tell you about today.
I am sure I had heard of meditation while growing up in the 1960s as it made the news, memorably through the Beatles’ venture into the world of meditation. I vaguely recall it being associated with non-Christian activity and decided it was suspect. Exotic and intriguing, but out of my realm on the farm in Nebraska. As a young adult, I heard it was practiced in Christianity and was curious. But still didn’t try it. When I was 25 years old I started attending 12 Step meetings, with the 11th of the 12 Steps reading: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him….” This renewed my interest in meditation. The 12 Step literature I read didn’t have a wealth of information on how to meditate, but there was a suggestion to reflect on the prayer of St. Francis. (This article gives the prayer’s origin to a magazine written in 1912, not St. Francis of Assisi. Who knew!) I may have tried this a few times, but it did not become a regular practice for me. My therapist was a proponent and practitioner of meditation and gave me some tips on how to meditate. I don’t recall all of the instructions, but I remember talking to him about the challenge of turning off my thoughts. He called it “roof chatter” like the sound of squirrels on your roof. He encouraged me to note what I was thinking, then return to breathing. But I gave up, thinking I didn’t have the ability to clear my mind and wasn’t going to get it right.
Fast-forward 25 years. I married Ken in 2010, who shared he had received the Transcendental Meditation training in the 1970s and felt it was beneficial to him. I was surprised when he explained the few and fairly simple instructions. Although he was not meditating at the time, he was willing to teach me by meditating together. His format was to meditate for 22 minutes, the first two minutes to allow ourselves to settle into the meditation space, 18 minutes of meditating, and 2 minutes of returning from the meditation. Basically, I spent my meditation time focusing on my breathing. Ken said I didn’t need to turn off my thinking, but when I had a thought, just gently let it go and return to breathing. I told him about the roof chatter being pretty loud for me, and that in the past I hadn’t been successful in tuning that out. He encouraged me to let go of the idea of doing meditation correctly, that just doing it was the goal. Being an “all or nothing” kind of person, was a novel idea for me.
We first started meditating together using a guided meditation CD, as I thought it would help me block out my own thoughts. We did that several times a week for a few months until he said the guided meditation felt like interference with meditating. I was still doubtful I could clear my mind but was willing to try. We developed a routine of meditating three times a week. He did a gradual retirement and started working part-time. We actually meditated on the mornings he went to work. He would get up and get ready for work, then I would wake up, at 5:05 a.m. and be ready to meditate at 5:10 a.m., finishing a few minutes before he left fo work. I found that barely being awake to meditate was beneficial. I had less noise of the busyness of the day in my head and was more able to breathe and relax.
My husband had been given a mantra when he trained in TM, that he still accessed. I decided to use a phrase to pace my breathing and came up with “All is well” for breathing in, and “All is verrrrrryyy well” for the longer exhale breath. I also found I didn’t necessarily turn off my thoughts, but if I just let the thought exist, like a situation at work that perplexed me, the answers would become apparent during meditation. I would say to Ken, well, I didn’t turn off my thoughts, but wow, was it a great problem-solving time! He would remind me there was no right or wrong way to meditate; the point was to just do it. I didn’t know if I was getting what I was supposed to get out of meditation, but I knew I liked those moments of clarity for problem-solving. I did begin to notice there were empty spaces, where I wasn’t aware of the time, my breathing, nor thoughts occurring. At those times, the 22 minutes zipped by. I realized I did have spaces of that nothingness.
Ken’s training had suggested a second period of meditating in the day, before 8 pm so as not to interfere with getting to sleep. Sometimes we would add a second meditation time after getting home from work. These were interesting sessions; I found it would help me know what was the next indicated thing to do that evening. Several times, it became apparent to me I was so tired from the day, the next indicated thing was to take a 10-20 minute nap! I wasn’t inclined to take naps, so this was a new and novel experience. I found that bit of nap made for a better evening. Other times, the afternoon meditation was all I needed to have an evening being awake and engaged in whatever I was doing. I liked it, but I let the busyness of the days distract me from the second meditation time becoming a regular thing.
Several years ago I showed up for that colonoscopy recommended for people in my age range. I was all prepared for the procedure, IV line in place, and heart monitors on when the nurse came in and apologized. She said they were running behind and would be a few minutes late for the colonoscopy. I wasn’t fussed. I had already endured the uncomfortable part of the colonoscopy the night before. But, my mobile entertainment smartphone was with my husband in the waiting room, and there were no magazines in the room. I decided to use this unexpected downtime to meditate. I started my meditative breathing, and one of my monitors started beeping. The nurse came in fairly quickly and asked if I was okay. Evidently, my heart rate had lowered enough to set off the heart monitor. This was the first time I had data showing I slowed my heart rate when meditating. I was delighted! Maybe I was better at this than I thought!
After a time of consistently meditating, I realized I was reaping some benefits overall. I believe my focus, in general, had improved, I was less reactive, and solutions to issues became more easily apparent for me. I was quite impressed!
After retiring meditating daily was easier to include in our day. Since I like its benefits, it’s become a priority for me. We continue to tweak it: meditating after breakfast, meditating before breakfast. To beat the summer heat, we recently started taking our daily walk before breakfast, and misplaced meditating. After a couple of weeks, I realized I was less focused, maybe quicker to being irritated, and decided to fit meditating back into our mornings.
Interestingly, in writing this blog, I have decided to try adding that second meditation time back into my day. I am finding those same benefits I had in the past. I am glad I wrote this blog!
I highly recommend making meditating a part of your daily routine; right up there with brushing your teeth! I am assuming teeth brushing is a daily part of everyone’s day…if not, definitely prioritize that!
This Mayo Clinic article is an easy read about the different types of meditation and some hints on how to tailor meditating to your preferences. Check it out and see what works for you.