Every time I turn around there’s another article talking about the benefits of meditation. It reduces stress, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, memory loss, and pain while improving sleep, cognitive function, attention span, concentration, and your immune system among other things. It seems like it’s the cure-all answer for everything, so it seems like everyone should be doing it.
Here’s the thing about meditation: It takes work, it’s called a meditation practice because it’s not something you do one time and you’re done, you have to make this a part of your life, set up a routine and include it in your daily life. It’s exercise for your brain.
“To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on your investment. “ – Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier.
I have to agree with Dan Harris. Not a miracle cure but if you put the time in, it will make a difference. In the past when I’ve tried meditation, I found it difficult to sit for any length of time (sadly I’m only talking 5 minutes) and the thought of doing it over and over, I just couldn’t get motivated. My son, Matt, enjoyed meditation and was always encouraging me and sharing guided meditations he wanted me to try. I wanted to like meditation but it just wasn’t working for me.
Still, I would randomly give it a try when I read something or someone suggested an app for me to try, hoping it would click.
When I read about a free online course, called Palouse Mindfulness, an 8-week course by Dave Potter, I thought I had to try it. I loved that each week there were videos and readings by well-respected experts in the field of meditation, people whose books and articles I had been reading or people I had read about in the course of my research. I loved that there was an online Palouse Facebook community of people who were also going through this course and we could ask questions and share experiences. I was excited to begin.
I watched the video’s, read the articles, downloaded the worksheets, set up my yoga mat and pillows and got ready to meditate.
I was surprised when I clicked on the first meditation audio to find it was 33 minutes long. I thought they would start slow and then build up to it. I realized this was going to be a challenge but I was all in.
Here’s what I learned on day one. Don’t meditate around bedtime. You’ll fall asleep.
Day two, did my meditation first thing in the morning and that was much better.
Ok, right there, “much better” very judgmental. That’s the beauty of meditation, whatever I did was enough. Even sleeping through the first meditation, that IS meditation. Accepting what is.
It’s a hard concept to grasp. I wanted to be good at this. I wanted to control my thoughts and just focus on breathing but that is not what meditation is. Meditation is recognizing when your thoughts drift away and then coming back to breath. Everyone has thoughts intruding on their focus. It’s surprising how little control we have on where our mind goes. Really, how hard is it to stay focused on your breath? Impossible, my mind just goes off on all these other thoughts in spite of the fact that I don’t want it to. Then I catch myself and come back to focus on my breath. That’s meditation.
In spite of knowing that I should not be trying to be good at this, I couldn’t help it. So that being said, I was feeling pretty proud of myself after week one.
Week two. A new meditation was introduced this week, sitting meditation. Last week was a laying down meditation, this week was torture, 32 minutes of torture to be exact. I don’t know why but within a minute or two of sitting, my back started hurting, my legs fell asleep, I itched all over, and I couldn’t stop wondering how much longer. The idea is to mostly stay still, or if you move, move with intention, but I shifted positions every few minutes and I was judging myself as a terrible meditator.
Day two of week two. Same as day one. Torture.
I took to the Palouse Facebook group and they said I could lay down instead of sitting. OMG! So much better. FYI – around week 5, I went back to sitting meditation with the mindset that I would simply switch to laying down when I got uncomfortable. I think just knowing that I had that option helped a lot. I sat for 15 minutes before I laid back, my legs never went numb, and I was able to breathe into the back pain and little itches.
Each week there was a different focus and a new meditation with choices to include the previous meditations during that week. Some I liked more than others but I stayed with it and found I started looking forward to my 30-minute meditations.
I had two experiences while meditating which were meaningful to me, where I felt a shift in my thinking and it felt amazing. One of those days, I was feeling very zen, very compassionate and open to the world in a way I had never considered before. And I’m thinking this is incredible, I get it. Then I walked downstairs and saw my pile of stuff had been moved and immediately went into irritation mode. How quickly I was humbled.
So that’s another thing about meditation, it is not going to change who I am. It doesn’t mean I’ll never be sad, mad, irritated, etc. My hope is that with practice, it will help me to slow down, to not respond with a knee jerk emotional reaction but instead, take a moment to acknowledge the emotion, breathe, and then when I’m calmer, respond from a place of thinking rather than feeling. I’ve done it already and it feels good. I’ve also recognized when I didn’t do it and went back and said, can I try this again. As my husband, Ron will tell you, there are also times when I just go with my knee jerk emotional reaction, but I’m working on it.
Bottom line. I’m so glad to have taken this course. I would recommend this to anyone who has been thinking about trying meditation but didn’t know where to start or how to do it or even for those of you who have tried it but then given up.
I’m so grateful to Dave Potter for offering this fantastic free course online and putting it out there for everyone. Thank you, Dave!
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried meditation, I’d like to hear how it has (or hasn’t) worked for you and if you have any meditations you’d recommend.
As always, I’d appreciate it if you would help me get the word out about the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award of $250 (nominate someone who inspires you) and the Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant of $250 (submit an act of kindness you would do with $250).