Clearing Space - How and Why I Meditate; Three in a series


Before I begin, I want to say that I am by no means an expert on meditation. I share from my own personal experience only. I think that is the beauty of meditation. It sometimes seems like an intimidating word or concept, but it is the simplest thing to begin. Anyone can do it and the only thing you need to do to start is just that - start.

As I've mentioned before, there have been a number of recent studies on the benefits of meditation including this one and this one. They have identified that for the maximum impact in the least amount of time, we should be meditating for 20 minutes a day. If that sounds like an eternity or long enough to make you stop reading right now, don't panic. As with all things in life - eating better, exercising, etc. - it's important to begin where you are. Never meditated before? One minute a day is an improvement upon that. 

I think the best way to share is from personal experience so here is a glimpse at what my meditation practice looks like:

1. Make coffee - this is a crucial first step for me. I meditate in the morning and I need coffee before I can do anything else.

2. Say a prayer - you can call this a devotion or a reading or a poem and it can be absolutely anything you want it to be - from a religion, or not; from a specific spiritual practice, or not.

3. Short reading or writing - if I read something it's usually from one of my daily readers that has a specific reading for each day of the year. If I write something it's usually a short gratitude list.

4. Meditate - I sit comfortably on a pillow on the floor and meditate for as long as I can. If I only have a few minutes I don't bother timing myself. If I'm trying to get in 20 minutes, I will set a timer on my phone and see if I make it.  While I'm sitting there, I practice Ujjayi breath (if you do yoga you'll be familiar with this technique, if not, watch this) and do my best to let my thoughts go. To be clear, I've never been able to have an empty mind or to stop my thoughts completely. I understand that people do in fact achieve this and maybe I will too one day, but for me the process is more about observing my thoughts and seeing if I can stay in a calm and peaceful place in spite of them. If I sit there for long enough, the ujjayi breath seems to get louder and louder until it's almost a roaring ocean in my ears and it is actually possible to let go of thoughts for a few fleeting moments. When the time is up I usually just get up and go about my day, but if a new idea or interesting thought has come to me during my meditation time, I will write it down. If I don't, as I go about my day it's too easy to forget what I've learned.

For years, this whole process took me five to 10 minutes. The meditation period lasted anywhere from one to five minutes and that was that. It's what I had time for and it was sufficient for the results I wanted to get.

Only recently and honestly as a result of reading the study about how we can change or brain structure with just 20 minutes a day, I've tried to bump that up to the full 20 whenever I can. On the weekends that's usually no problem. My schedule is my own and if I want to make the time, it's there for me. On weekdays when having time to fit it all in before work means getting up really early I don't always make the cut. I do what I can, even if that just means two minutes.

I also don't want to give you the impression that I do this every single day of my life. There have been weeks, even months where I haven't made it a priority to pause and center myself. This isn't an all or nothing exercise - this is a start where you are and do what you can process.

So, why do I set aside this time in my busy life? What is it that I get from meditation? For starters, I have an easier time staying peaceful in my daily life. I'm able to respond to life rather than just react to it. But perhaps more importantly, what I get is a sense of being connected. I am less focused on exerting my will on the world and those around me and more interested in discovering what the world has in store for me each day.

What am I connecting to when I meditate? Well, that's a huge question and not one I could ever hope to answer definitively. There are as many names for it as there are religions and I am certainly not here to debate those nor to give more credence to one than the other. I choose just to acknowledge that there is some greater power at work and that each individual has the opportunity to access and experience that power in any way that works for them

My intention is only to give you a window into how I start my day, most days, in hopes that it might be of some benefit.