As someone with various anxiety disorders, meditation has been a constant looming presence in my life. Whether it be my therapist’s suggestion or my envy of those who can practice it with such ease, meditation is often on my mind. While I am no stranger to the concept, I have never quite taken to the practice. I have always blamed my failure to practice meditation on my inability to quiet my mind and lack of time in the day- both of which, when considered, are the result of ironic reasoning. However, as this quarantine has lingered on, I have developed a strange and new urge to meditate for one reason or another. This time instead of ignoring it, I decided to scratch my itch.
This was the plan…
I would set aside time each day for a week to practice meditation. I wanted to focus on my ability to remain present, which I struggle with daily, as many people with anxiety do. I concluded that the best method of meditating would be a method known as mindfulness meditation. As defined on the Verywell Mind website, “Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body.” This specific type of meditation focuses on centering the mind around the now.
After determining the type of meditation I would practice, I decided on a place, time and length. I would begin practicing meditation for 5 minutes, working up to 10 minutes by the end of the week. While this may seem like a small amount of time, keep in mind that meditation is difficult and should be a growing process; this was the amount of time I knew I could manage as a beginner. Each morning upon waking up (regardless of the time), I would go outside into my garden, a quiet and peaceful spot in my home, meditate, and then go about my day.
This is how it went and what I learned…
As I had expected, the first three days were difficult. Sitting in my garden, I found myself becoming distracted by my thoughts, even becoming more anxious as they milled about in my mind as I strained to focus on my breath. At this point in my meditation journey, I focused on trying to empty my mind and enjoy the moment I was in, striving for a blank space within. However, I quickly learned this was not possible. After three days of trial and error, I decided to turn to an app for some help. I downloaded “Insight Timer,” a free meditation app that provides guided meditations of all types. It was after I downloaded this app that I was really in business.
On days four and five, after sifting through various guided meditations, I found that the best options for me were guided meditations without words but with soothing music and sound. Sitting in my garden, I would close my eyes and focus on the sound and where it resonated within my body. I know this may sound a little “whimsical,” but after great focus, I was able almost to feel the sound vibrating in various areas of my stomach and head. Placing my focus on the physical aspects around me helped center my mind and be in touch with where I was at that moment and what I was feeling. After days four and five, I had improved from 5 minutes of meditation to 7; I just needed a little boost from an outside source.
By day 6 I had only improved to 8 minutes. While I was proud of my progress, I felt uncertain that I would be able to reach my goal of 10 minutes by my seventh day. Determined as I was, I decided to meditate a second time on the sixth day and reexamine my strategy. Upon my reexamination, I noticed I was still striving for an empty mind, but my mind was actually quite busy throughout my meditation. However, I realized this business was not anxiousness but the passing through of thoughts. It was then that I came to the much-needed conclusion that meditation is not meant to empty the mind, but focus it and there is a big difference. As I focused on the sounds and vibrations within my body, thoughts would pass through, I would acknowledge them, and let them go, returning to the focus on my place and time of being. Knowing this, I woke up on the seventh day, ready to tackle my ten minutes, and I did!
What did I learn?
A lot. Waking up each day with an intention, my intention being meditation, helped give me something to look forward to– giving each morning a purpose, something which is especially needed in the current quarantine. More than this, I learned that meditation is neither time consuming nor scary, and even just ten minutes a day can make all the difference. After my week of meditating, I noticed myself feeling more in tune with the world around me, my ability to enjoy the smaller details in my daily life enhanced. I was more excited to see flowers bloom or watch a butterfly sip on nectar in my garden. Not only this, but my focus improved as well! I found myself able to sit and read for pleasure for longer periods of time, uninterrupted by thoughts of how I would maximize my time or what I should be worrying about instead of enjoying my book. When you can be where you are and enjoy the present, time seems to become far more expansive; there is so much time to enjoy life and get work done equally. One just has to find the balance and allow for relaxation and rest.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that meditation is not about erasing your thoughts but acknowledging them. Your mind never stops thinking; that’s its job! However, these thoughts can be controlled. Meditation is about focusing your attention on your body and surroundings. Thoughts will pass through, and that is totally okay! Acknowledge the thought for what it is, take a breath, reaffirm that this is your time to relax and your thought will be addressed later, and send the thought on its way, returning your focus on the present.
While meditation did not cure my anxiety, it certainly helped me reckon with the idea of time and presence. I still have quite a ways to go, and I intend to continue my journey into mindfulness, but I am certainly proud of my ten minutes and the growth I have achieved! Remember to take pride and enjoy the little things.