So I've always been a fast-paced kind of person, but worst of all I'm known for taking on more than I can handle and being really good at making people believe I could.
I am at a point in my life that I know the handful of friends in my life are going to stick there for awhile. I know this because they are the kind to constantly check in on me and remind me to take care of myself. After a trip to New York talking to my mentor and a lengthy phone call with a good friend, I decided to take on the challenge they both unknowingly gave me. I did my research and I planned and it was decided that I would try meditation for a week. I was not at all looking forward to it.
How does one even meditate?
I believe I am a rather calm person, it is difficult to make me angry and even harder for people to see when I am stressed. However, I am the kind that likes to keep busy and the idea of sitting and being present was terrifying to me. So my number one question was, is meditation just sitting still for a few moments or was it more? Also, I was rather convinced it would be a waste of my time. After research and a suggestion from my mentor I decided to use an app, Headspace.
Headspace is an app that strives to help people learn to meditate and live mindfully. They have hundreds of themed sessions, short sessions and sessions for sudden meltdowns. The app was also organized and neat so I decided to go with it. They also have a first time meditation basic package for those beginners, like myself.
* Learn something new about myself
* Reach at least 5 minutes
* Reduce anxious feelings
I kicked off day 1 with meditation in the morning before work. With Headspace you have to select the duration time of guided meditation, and I chose 3 minutes (the minimum). I had time for more, but to quiet honest being forced to be present with myself longer was a little frightening.
The session begins with focus on your breathing, starting off with large inhales and exhales as you close your eyes. Bringing attention to noises around you and just being aware of them and the guided voice slowly pulls you away from them and has draw attention to your body. How does everything feel? I made mental notes and my neck and shoulders were very tight and my chest felt heavy with every breath I took.
The guided voice reminds you it is normal for your mind to wonder during quiet time, but always try to bring it (your mind) back to your body. Towards the end, you're instructed to let your mind wonder as it pleases, not controlling where it goes. The meditation is then ended with a long breaths, followed by a short reflection taking note of how you feel.
At the end of day 1, even though it was only 3 minutes I felt significantly more relaxed, at peace and ready to start my day. At the beginning I said I was afraid to be present with myself for so long, in fear of what thought may come up. What they be criticisms of myself or just a list of everything I needed to do today? When infant it was the opposite, I didn't think of myself. My mind wondered off to a friend and wondering how they were doing this morning. That in itself brought to my attention, how little I focus on myself. Overall lesson from today was realizing that I need to focus more on myself and stop worrying all the time about those in my life and how they're doing.
Day 1 = Success
Today was different, I am horrible at starting new habits; especially when they're good for me. I am not a morning person and the idea of getting up to meditate did not seem as beneficial as laying in a bed a few extra minutes. So I didn't. I went about my day and quite literally let the entire day pass when I realized it was 11:30pm and I hadn't meditated. In my head I was thinking, I have to do this.
I got up, sat on the floor and began session 2, this time upping it to 5 minutes. Beginning just as yesterdays, focusing on large breathes, inhale and exhale. Focusing on breathe and where you breath from (I felt it in my diaphragm and as I focused my chest). Then beginning the body scanning, from head to toes. My head was clear and focused, my neck and shoulders heavy from the long day, but my chest was heavy in another way. Weighted down, even as I breathed. Arms, legs and feet were all light
There was a moment towards the end where you're again instructed to allow your mind to wonder. I wasn't expecting much my day was good, but out of nowhere this rush of emotions just flooded my mind. I couldn't articulate what feeling this was, tears began to stream down my face. I wasn't sad or happy, but they rolled without an end in sight. I then realized it vulnerability, I was allowing myself to be vulnerable with my harshest critic, myself. What was only a few seconds to a minute long felt like a lifetime of catching up.
I was then guided to bring my attention back to my breathing and open my eyes when I was ready and to reflect how I was feeling.
At the end of day 2, I felt on another level. The heaviness in my neck and shoulders was lifted. That entrapping feeling in my chest was merely a feather now. I realized that all of that was years of pent up emotions, not being able to be vulnerable even with myself. I was finally able to trust myself with my own emotions, if only for 5 minutes. Acknowledging that human emotion isn't scary and in fact healthy to experience them. It was a raw moment realizing that I have a lot of work with myself that I can't even begin to articulate.
Day 2 = Emotional Success
I have acknowledge that I am not a morning person and no longer try to be. I enjoyed meditating before bed, kind of washing the day off and resting. By now I know the routine and where/how I like to situate myself.
Beginning session 3 I decided to dive into a 10 minute long meditation. They start you off with a quick video explaining what you should try to accomplish today. It was basically an analogy of comparing your thoughts to cars on a freeway, we can get overwhelmed with them all coming at us and the sounds or we can take a minute and allow only what we want to affect us. The idea that thoughts are acknowledged when we let them. Ultimately, we have the control.
Same routine beginning with breathes and scanning the body, I had been suffering from a massive headache all day so I definitely felt it pounding. As I focused more on breath I began to feel lightheaded and dizzy.
I was then taught a technique to keep focus and in control of your mind and that was to count your breaths as you inhale each. If at any point your mind wonders off you can always just return to the number you left off at. In essence redirecting your mind. For me I'd make it about every 36 breathes before my mind began to wonder.
At one point you're instructed to stop counting and without control let the mind wonder as it pleases. I did so and for whatever reason NOTHING came to my mind, absolutely NOTHING. I was in a state of complete presence. Then slowly you were instructed to count breathes again, open eyes when ready and reflect on how you felt.
Today was an off day for me, I had that borderline migraine all day. My productivity was shot and I felt my day wasted. However, the mediation really helped me to relax for 10 minutes. After the meditation my headache had pretty much dispersed and all I needed was some peppermint tea to really do the trick. The ultimate lesson was learning how to clear mind and focus. I can barely articulate it myself, but basically it was a sense of being in a calm state, this endless blackness with your eyes shut and focusing just on that. I controlled what thoughts entered my head and it was amazing. My mind and my body are mine as I let them be.
Day 3 = Success even with a headache
Today was an active day, went hiking and enjoyed nature. At the end of the day I began my session, optimistic and calmed.
By now I am familiar with the routine and hit the 10 minute long session and just go with it. Focusing on large inhales and exhales, scanning my body and being aware of how everything felt. This time my head, neck and shoulders were all very light; there was no tension. I did feel a little exhaustion in my legs and primarily my hips from the hike, but I wasn't anything significant enough to focus on.
Counting breaths again to remain focused and aware of the present state I am in. This time making it up to 53 breathes before my mind would wonder. When I was instructed to allow my mind to wonder, it felt the same as yesterdays, nothing but the state I was in. Nothing came to mind unless I really tried, but that wasn't the objective. My dogs began barking at cars passing by, but that was mostly a distraction rather than my mind wondering.
This time the session ended when I allowed it to and somehow it lasted 28 minutes long. I took deep breaths, opened my eyes and reflected.
I am noticing my reflections getting shorter and maybe that is a good sign. There isn't too much heavy stuff coming to mind if at all any. I felt significantly refreshed after this one and even more so accomplished that I was able to last 28 minutes without knowingly doing so. I also realized that I was doing this now because I wanted to instead of doing it to write an article.
Day 4 = Success
Today's session started off with a video and another analogy. In this video they really try to get across that although we're taught more effort is better, some things require no effort to accomplish what we're trying to. In this case they use sleep as an example, the more effort you put trying to fall asleep the harder it becomes; it is when you stop trying that you finally doze off. Letting go of the idea of trying to achieve something, instead sit back relax and be present.
With that said I started session 5, opting for only 5 minutes because it was a crap day. Focusing on my breath and following the guided voice as I scan my body. This time everything was feeling significantly more tense, I couldn't stay still as my hands fidgeted, my fingers tapped and even my legs bounced.
Counting breathes I was only able to manage 16 before my mind wondered, I was beginning to get frustrated and annoyed. At one point I found myself rolling my eyes at the guided voice, not because of anything in particular.
When I was instructed to let my mind wonder, it wondered exactly where it shouldn't have and I quickly retreated back to counting. The session then ended with deep breaths, opening my eyes and reflecting.
Today I was not in the mood to meditate, I had gotten into an argument with a friend and I was not happy with the way it ended. I was annoyed and frustrated that I could not fix it because of the miles apart we were. I did not go into meditation with focus or even the slightest hope of achieving peace.
I was angry and didn't allow myself to be present as I had been the past four days. I kept replaying the conversation in my head repeatedly trying to figure out what I could have said differently. What I could say next if they would just respond. If there was any lesson in this session it would be when things bother me they really bother me, taking my focus away from anything important to me at the time. I couldn't find it in myself to be present.
Day 5 = FAIL
Meditation was something I was scared to dive into. I will always be that person that likes to constantly be working and stuff; while simultaneously thinking about what I am going to do next. That's a fact. However, what I have learned is I can slow things down and focus if I need to. That taking a moment to be present is more beneficial to myself, my goals and the people around me.
We live in a world where everything is fed to us so fast and we are forced to keep up or fall behind. We are overly critical with ourselves and too concerned with our friends that we fail to grow ourselves.
I have learned many things about myself that I never saw and maybe others did. I fail to trust myself, I am afraid of my own emotions and I feel a need to constantly show up for others in fear that I'll loose them.
I have grown to enjoy meditation and I look forward to it every night just before bed. I found that it makes me more productive and better focused. I will continue to practice until it stops working for me, but if I've learned this much about myself in a few days, I am sure I have more to work on.
It is important to acknowledge that meditation isn't always peaceful and their are hard days, between my fifth session and now I have had at least three sessions that were difficult. I've also acknowledged that meditation is not for everyone and thats alright. My only suggestion to everyone, is find what works for you and never let it go. It is important to keep your mind strong and healthy as you would your body.
Review of Headspace
I really enjoyed Headspace and would highly suggest it to anybody wanting to give meditation a try. They have the all kinds of packages from the basics to focusing on happiness, creativity and more. I'm excited to dive into all of them and see how different each is.
My favorite feature in the app is setting up mindful reminders. It's these little notifications you'll get throughout the day to remind you to take a moment and be mindful. One that sticks with me the most was, "Meditation is nothing but a window into your mind. The view is always changing, but each time you meditate is like polishing the glass."
With that said I challenge you to put down your phone, take a moment from your daily activities and try being present even if only for a moment. The world is not going anywhere you can always return to your daily life after.