What is Meditation Anyway? (What I’ve learned)

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

A few years back I was going through a stressful time at work. I was feeling overwhelmed and unhappy. I’d heard that there are many benefits to meditating and that it can help with stress, so I gave it a try.

I downloaded the Headspace meditation app on my phone, and tried their 10 minutes for 10 days challenge. Every day for 10 days you click a button on the Headspace app, and for 10 minutes you are guided through a different meditation. You find a quiet space, sit with your eyes closed for 10 minutes, and essentially focus on your breathing and on letting your thoughts flow, not paying attention to them or dwelling on them.

Timing Matters

At first I tried meditating in the evening before bed. I sat on my yoga mat in the sitting room.  The meditation was so relaxing that by the end of the 10 minutes I just wanted to lie right down and sleep. Hence, this time of day wasn’t for me. I love to read before bed and now I didn’t want to read, I wanted to sleep. That bothered me. I’d have to come up with another solution.

So I switched to meditating in the morning. 10 minutes, first thing in the morning on waking, sat up in bed. This was better. It’s definitely easier said than done, this whole not dwelling on your thoughts thing – before you know it you can be falling down a rabbit hole of deep thinking. But the whole trick is to develop an awareness of your thoughts. “Hold on, I seem to be running through tomorrow’s presentation in my head (and it’s making me breathless and panicky), let’s just go back to focussing on counting my breath. 1 and 2, 3 and 4…”

It became a habit. Three years on, I still do exactly the same. I stick to the guided meditations. There’s a whole range of topics to choose from depending on what’s going on in your life: balance, focus, anger, relationships…. I went through a period of completing 15 minutes’ meditation, which felt like an achievement, but then I switched back to 10 minutes. 10 minutes is doable. It’s easy to find 10 minutes.

How Meditation Helps Me

I think meditation helps me. It’s not so much the time sat still that is the revelation (although taking the time to sit still and breathe deeply does feel good). It’s the moments during the rest of the day when the words or focus of the guided meditation come back to me.

When I’m able to distance myself from my thoughts:

“Hmmm well that’s a negative view you’re taking there, maybe stop, and focus on a more positive angle.”

Or

“Ok you’re feeling really stressed right now, there’s not much I can do about it, you’re reacting, but remember this feeling won’t last all day, it’s just a moment, it will pass.”

I can’t exactly always control my thoughts, and the emotions they bring up, but I can have an awareness. They’re just thoughts. They come and go. They don’t have to define the whole day. There’s no such thing as a bad day. Well, maybe if something really, really bad happens there is. But on the whole it’s how I’m choosing to view the things that are happening around me that are making me feel bad.

I can have an awareness of the thoughts passing through my mind.

Being Present

One of my favourite memories is during a holiday to Turkey, the month after leaving a job I’d had for a long time (the holiday had been planned before making that decision, great timing).

On holiday I really took time to digest what had happened, I wrote a sort of ‘thought diary’ every morning, letting out all my thoughts, feelings, fears, ideas, everything. It was so cathartic.

And after breakfast, I’d sit on our little balcony, close my eyes, and listen to a meditation on creativity. During this meditation you imagine a small ball of light or energy, growing within you, expanding to fill your surroundings, the room, the town, the country, the world, the universe…I love learning and thinking about the universe so I particularly liked this one.

When I’d open my eyes on completing the meditation, I’d take in the amazing view in front of me. The blue sea, with a small boat lazily chugging by, the green cliff top looking majestic, the perfect cloudless blue sky, the bright pink bougainvillea framing the view from my balcony. The brightness the sun cast on the landscape.

On opening my eyes, it was as though everything was in high definition. I took in every detail. That moment of realisation “Oh yes, I’m in Turkey! I can feel the warmth on my skin, and what an amazing view!”

I guess the whole point is that the meditation made me be in the present moment, as we’re advised to do so often (and with good reason I think). It made me appreciate the present moment. I was acutely aware of my surroundings, the view, the feel of the warmth of the morning, the smells, the sounds. I think you’re more aware of these things when you are visiting somewhere new anyway. But the meditation really bought the present into focus, and intensified my awareness.

And I’ve had this ‘feeling present’ realisation in much more mundane surroundings also; in my flat in Tooting, noticing an interesting shadow the morning sunlight was casting on the wall, or starting the meditation when it’s dark outside and then opening my eyes to realise the sky is turning pink, the day is dawning.

In those moments I’m not rushing off, running through my to-do list, getting ready for the day. For a minute or so I’m just looking, contemplating, right in the now, noticing something new.

Over to you

Do you meditate? Do you find 5 to 10 minutes to sit quietly, letting thoughts pass by, breathing deeply? If not, is now the time to try, and see how it makes you feel?

During a period where you might be feeling out of control, overwhelmed or just too busy, taking 10 minutes to yourself can work wonders in calming you down, and gaining perspective.

Simply remembering to breathe deeply is so good for you, as many of us seem to be in the habit of breathing shallowly.

Give it a try.

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