A decade ago, I had no idea what meditation was – beyond the ability to sit cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed. That in itself is a challenge for some people. And I admit that, even after practising meditation for almost three years (daily for about one year), I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I have come to realize the benefits of this activity, despite my ineptitude.
You are not your thoughts…
Like many homo sapiens, I have a “monkey mind,” with thoughts racing from the moment I wake up to the moment I put my head on the pillow… and easily for another half hour after that. It’s very busy in there, and I used to be proud of it. I used to say “I can think of 10 different things at the same time!” Happy multi-tasker, happy monkey. Then I realized that living in a cluttered mind is the same as living in a cluttered environment. It’s stressful. It’s chaotic. It begs, it yearns, it clamours for order and simplicity.
So my original goal in meditating was to quiet my mind. Ha! Well, that hasn’t worked. But somewhere along the line, I began to enjoy the process. This is mostly because meditation involves ritual, which is universally comforting, I think, to all living, breathing beings. You can create your own meditation ritual, but it usually involves setting aside a specific time, putting yourself in a receptive frame of mind, and respecting a process that is repetitive, regardless of results.
I’m constantly tweaking this process.
These days, I meditate at 5 a.m., ideally while the sun is making its first appearance and the sky is lightening. I have a special spot, a special cushion, and my own ritual of lighting fragrant incense, putting my earbuds in and connecting to Insight Timer, a free app that offers a wide variety of meditations for all user levels. My favourite guides include David Ji and Sarah Blondin. There are lots of apps, lots of YouTube videos, no shortage of sources for free meditation. This is just one, and so far I’m happy with it.
There are many types of meditation, too. Quiet meditation – sitting with your breath and being fully in the moment – is the hardest. Guided meditations offer instruction, which provides a focal point and makes wandering thoughts less likely. Musical meditations, similarly, give the ear something to listen to and process while sitting still. They’re all challenging, and I pick one style over another according to my mood.
Aside from helping ease chaotic thoughts, meditation also calms the body. Our muscles have memory, and now when I sit down in my spot, I “click” into meditation mode and feel an instant and very pleasant stillness. My back straightens, my limbs calm, my head bows slightly and my eyes close. Usually a few full, deep breaths relax the body even further, and then the hard work – keeping your mind focused on anything but your thoughts – begins. I used to find it difficult to sit still for even five minutes; I’ve noticed recently that a half hour flies by and the ending bell surprises me. That’s progress.
How it works and why is a mystery…
The science of meditation is quite sophisticated. The mind is a powerful tool, and we’ve gotten very used to letting it run rampant. Taming it is akin to getting a puppy to sit still; it’s not impossible, it just takes a little training and a lot of patience. Ongoing research tells us that there are numerous benefits — to the heart, the lungs, the organs and, not surprisingly, the brain. It has been proven to have benefits in fighting Alzheimer’s, too, either by staving it off or slowing it down. So there’s that! But I’ve noticed, generally speaking, that I just feel calmer throughout the day, better equipped to deal with calamities or upsets, and less stressed overall. Those are huge benefits for caregivers.
This one’s for the world’s angels…
When I came across the beautiful meditation recorded below, I knew I had to share it with my team of angels, and now I offer it to all caregivers. I’m hoping it’s timeful and helpful, particularly at this time of year, which can be stressful and overwhelming for many. There is a small pause at the beginning; I recommend that you use this time to sit somewhere quiet, still your body and close your eyes.
Be kind to yourself, take a moment to listen, and know that you are loved and appreciated.
CREDIT: Gary Malkin, The Art of Receiving. From the album “Care for the Journey: Messages and Music for Sustaining the Heart of Healthcare.”