“Underneath the chaos of everyday living, peace is patiently awaiting our discovery… go within.”
Meditation is something most of us want in our lives; We know it’s good for our physical and mental health, that it decreases stress, boosts the immune system and does all sorts of other good things, but starting a practice can be intimidating. How do we start, and more importantly how do we keep it going?
If your anything like me you’ve struggled with the process of meditation. I am an activity junkie I am always on the move whether it’s hiking, biking or traveling somewhere in the adventure van. I like to be on the go. I would say I’m even hard wired for it. Sit down and do nothing…yikes! Sounding kind of familiar? Maybe this will sound familiar too… Smoking pot and sitting next to a tree with a blissfully stoned expression on your face equals meditation. For years this is what my meditation practice looked like but this is not meditation. What?!?! How the hell are you suppose to chill enough to actually make this meditation thing work? Now I’m not throwing out the usefulness of plants as medicine but anything you have to use to get you to a certain state of mind is an artificial experience and a dependency, which is the complete antithesis of the purpose of meditation. I think the use of plant medicines can open a door for certain experiences and practices but in my experience dependency is never the right path. Stepping in to a mediation practice isn’t suppose to be easy that’s why it’s a practice but there are some tricks that have helped this basket case, me, to actually finding and maintaining a mediation practice without the use of substances. Here are my Top 5 tips.
1. Get Active! The first thing I learned in my struggle to a meditation practice was that I absolutely could not just sit down and do nothing! I have a ton of physical energy that makes me fidget and I can’t find a way to get comfortable and it’s just a disaster. Maybe this sounds a little familiar? Well through many failed tries at sitting still and focusing on a candle or keep my mind blank I realized that the times I had the most luck staying still and meditating where after I had a lot of physical activity. So Tip numero uno is get active, it can be 3 sets of 30 jumping jacks, a 20 min HIIT routine, a walk around the block anything that helps you move nervous energy out your body. Bonus here, movement also releases endorphins in the body creating a more relaxed mental state. Win! I like to go on a run or do my yoga practice and then settle into my meditation practice if I’ve decided to do it later in the day.
2. Mix it up. There can be quite a bit of rigidity around a Meditation practice and I say let that shit go, unless of course that totally works for you. It absolutely does not work for me. I’m the kind of person that constantly likes to switch up the scenery in life so for me doing my meditation practice at the same time everyday in the same exact way is a meditation death sentence. Truth hurts but I’m working with what I got. So tip number 2. Mix. It. Up. This means Monday morning I’m going to meditate with a candle at 5:30 am, Tuesday I’m going to practice active breathing while I’m making dinner, Wednesday I’m going to do a walking meditation in the afternoon, Thursday I’ll settle into relaxation meditation with some Deep Listening (see post on cultivating stillness) before bed, Friday I’ll meditate post run by listening to a guided meditation, Saturday It’ll be a gratitude practice first thing in the morning and Sunday I’ll drop into my prayer practice. Jumble add/delete as you like. There is NO set way that you Have to set up your meditation practice and meditation can take many different forms. The purpose of meditation is to start to create a time where you can settle, decompress and digest your life instead of being caught in the storm of it all. And if it turns into a spiritual practice at some point freaking rad! But it doesn’t have to.
3. Breathe in, Breathe out. One of the things that took me by surprise was how much my mental state was affected by my breathing. The first time I really noticed this was in my 20’s while I was snowboarding. It was a beautiful morning with a fresh 12 inches of champagne powder glistening in the sunlight and I was eager to hit this fun tree run, I was feeling anxious and excited and a little nervous. I took 3 deep breathes and I felt this wave of calm come over me I slipped through the trees riding the tide of my breathe floating on an endless sea of perfect snow. Yeah that day was an Epic ride for sure and there have been many more since. But the real magic that day was the realization of the affect that active breathing had on my bodies performance and my mind.
My muscles felt fueled, responded well and my mind was calm, it seemed to slow things down giving me more time to react. I was pretty hooked and started incorporating active breathing in all of my activities. Active breathing is pretty simple you just start to pay attention to your breath and then start to control it a little bit. You can play with making your exhale longer than your inhale, or making your inhale and your exhale really smooth, you can also try taking a nice deep smooth breath in and holding it for a second and then letting it go nice and slow. Active breathing is a big part of getting into a meditation practice. Tip number 3 start playing with active breathing everywhere in your life and in your meditation practice.
4. Set the Mood. It would be pretty difficult to meditate in the middle of a bus-station with brakes squealing and tons of people milling around. So check out your space, is it the equivalent of a crazy bus-station with children and animals running around everywhere and a tornado of stuff scattered all over? Our internal space can be powerfully affected by our external environment. Don’t believe me? Next time you feel low or depressed or crazy or frustrated organize something or vacuum and just see how you feel afterwards. ‘The world might be falling apart but my kitchen cupboards are clean and organized…phew I can do anything!’ Yeah, might sound stupid but it works. So Set the Mood for your meditation, make it a delicious space you can’t wait to settle into even if it’s set in the corner of your closet, make it yours. Light some incense or a yummy smelling candle, brew some chai or whatever infusion sounds good at the moment, maybe put on some relaxing music and give yourself permission to settle, decompress and digest in a space that is calm and peaceful.
5. Stop trying and just notice. In our culture we’re wired to work hard at shit and get it right. The harder you work the more likely you are to get it right faster than your competition and competition is everywhere even when it’s not… Competition is a beautiful thing and our culture creates go getters! But there is an imbalance here, we have zero skills in surrender, space setting and letting go. We don’t know how to stop trying and just notice. With this last tip give yourself lots of room to fumble through the process. When it comes to meditation I hear a lot of people say that they just can’t get their mind to shut up and turn off and I would say ‘that is absolutely not the point of meditation’. The point of meditation is to stop trying to turn off your mind and instead become an observer. Start to notice where your mind is going and notice without becoming attached to the story or narrative that your mind is spinning. Eventually a separation begins to occur and you realize that you are something very separate for your story spinning mind. A space can start to settle between the Observer (you) and the noise of your mind, this is the magic spot in a meditation practice and it is the beginning of a deep fulfilling relationship with Self.
It’s taken me a long time to find my meditation practice. And most of that time was spent sifting through the BS that surrounds the idea of what a meditation is. Ultimately a meditation practice looks different for each person and your intuition on what that looks like for you is your best guide. The underlying truth is the same for us all, once you’ve found your practice it will completely enrich your life. For myself it has become the tool that I go to to create ease and balance in my inner and outer world.
I hope that if you’ve made it this far in the reading that you’ve laughed a little and maybe had some of the mystery surrounding meditation removed. It does not matter who you are, where you come from, or what your spiritual/non spiritual back ground is, meditation is an amazing tool and relationship to self that can enrich everyone’s life. Hopefully these tips make trying it on for size and keeping it there a little bit easier.
Wishing you Wellness & Laughter,
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”