Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Tools series: Meditation

Months ago, I talked about the tools that have helped me with anxiety. One of the most important ones is meditation.

I know. It's trendy. It's in magazines and work-place programs and on talk shows. They have a word for that - McMindfulness, the McDonaldization of something that's essentially 2600 years old. But all that isn't really important, because I'm not (really) trying to sell you on meditation/mindfulness. I mean, I think that most people would benefit from it, but yeah. Live and let live.

During the summer when it all fell apart (2015), I had started mindfulness meditation thanks to winning a subscription to Headspace at work. I used Headspace that summer, and I liked it, but there were somethings that I didn't love. I found it hard to keep my mind in the game when I was meditating, and that frustrated me ("Why am I doing this wrong?") I didn't like it when images or thoughts came that I didn't know what to do with. Also, in the agitated mindspace I was in that summer, I was trying to use it to fix something that wasn't possible. I didn't even know at the time what needed fixing, I just knew that I loved the few moments of calm I experienced during meditation but was frustrating to not be more able to access that peace afterwards. I didn't have a language or conceptual knowledge to even know I what I was seeking, only that what I was getting was inadequate to help bring contentment to my life.

Meditation is a tool in my backpack in many ways.

  • When I find myself in anxious moments, I can detach myself from the seriousness of my thoughts, because I've learned that thoughts are just thoughts and I don't have to believe every one that pops into my head. 
  • It can the sting from highly anxious moments when I'm close to or experience panic. I may still freak out on my drive to work, but I realize it's not the only thing I'm going to do that day. I can get back to calm sooner, and I don't carry the weight of those experiences so heavily, or for as long.
  • I'm slowly starting to see that it is helping with the weight of my panic on the freeway, the experience that set me off 2 years ago. I'm finally processing that experience and while it can still fill me with dread, I am less attached to the experience as a whole. (I don't know if that even makes sense, but I don't know how else to say it.)
  • I worry a lot less. I don't believe any longer that my preemptive worry will help me prepare for a situation.
  • I am not stuck in my head as much. I don't create elaborate stories about situations and think on them for hours without questioning their truthfulness.
  • I can identify my emotions, and accept them for what they are.
  • The idea of impermanence, that everything changes, helps me through the bad emotions (they won't last forever!) 
  • I know that everything has a beginning, middle, and end. Not clinging to the moment allows me to live in it more authentically, and I can savor it and be there, not dreading the end.
  • I take myself a lot less seriously.
  • The critical voice in my head isn't the only one I hear anymore.
  • My reactions are much less dramatic. I can stop myself a little better from behaving negatively on impulse. I may still get a flash of anger or other strong emotion at something, but I have more space before I act, and I'm not as likely to spill my vitriol over others.
  • I can drop the story about those strong emotions. 
  • It has given me and my husband a common language. We listen to a lot of the same sources, and we've found this strange but wonderful path together.

My favorite source for meditation is an app called 10% Happier. There is free content on the app, as well as paid access (I happily pay for it, personally.) There is also a podcast by its host, Dan Harris, by the same name, and a book too, that I've read and loved. He interviews people from all walks of life who meditate, and a few who don't. (To get started, just listen to the very first episode. He interviews that Dalai Lama. It's delightful.) If you are a "fidgety skeptic" about meditation, check him out. He takes all of the sting of meditation away and just brings out its awesomeness.

Another source is the Insight Timer, a free mediation app that gives you access to hundreds of guided meditations. It also has a great timer if you like to do your own. I personally don't like to do silent solo meditation for long periods of time - anything more than 5-10 minutes, I prefer a guide.

Does meditation fix everything? Absolutely not. But the concepts I've learned from some really amazing teachers have made such an impact on my life.

These are just a few ways that meditation has affected my life. I feel like it's nothing but good stuff. If you know me in real life and really want to make me excited, let me talk to you about meditation.