“I don’t know why it never occurred to me to try this before?” I asked a friend.
He responded (paraphrased) that perhaps we become open to things when we are ready for them. I thought back on previous opinions I held on meditation, which fell in various categories: “I could never do that because I have anxiety” and “I will never be able to clear my busy mind.”
However, meditation wasn’t far from reach growing up in Boulder, Colorado. Yet it felt reserved for people living a different pace of life. The idea of being “zen” and moving about the world in a more mindful (which I interpreted as slower) way felt anti-productivity and success. It is no surprise that I felt at home, living a busy and fast-paced East Coast life. Now more than ten years into that life, I question the sustainability of this busyness and stress.
This flirtation with meditation is very much a beginning, a honeymoon phase. This flirtation began only twenty-five days ago, inspired by my companion, anxiety. Meditation began to carve a path towards my life over the past year. Last fall, a close friend, L, brought the App HeadSpace to a dinner party. I was enthralled at the idea of guided meditation. A few months ago, flying home, I snatched the new book, 10% happier by Dan Harris, from the airport book store shelf. Immediately, I identified with his skepticism towards meditation as a fast-paced person thriving on stress.
Twenty-five days ago, I was inspired to drop down onto the floor and try it again. Why? I think sometimes harder moments open our brains to new ideas or maybe we just feel we have nothing to lose. On the floor of my bedroom, I struggled to get comfortable, closed my eyes and pressed play on a Headspace meditation. Ten minutes later I felt a break from anxiety through listening and breathing. I decided to do it for 30 days in a row, to see if it was a new habit that could play a role in managing anxiety. What I didn’t realize and only have a sense of from reading and talking with friends, is that meditation is an open door to more than potentially curbing anxiety. The idea of mindfulness seems to root itself in enough aspects of your life that it transitions to being a way of living rather than something one considers at specific points throughout the day. While it makes my heart jump to have potentially found a tool (or way of life?) that could adjust my relationship with anxiety, it is too early to understand what this path looks like or where it could lead.
I am harnessing the energy of the honeymoon phase to gather information and seek guidance.
Step 1: Gather information
I am reading and listening to everything I can get my hands on. Here is the current list:
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris follows his journey to building a meditation practice following an on air panic attack he suffered as a news anchor
- 10% Happier podcast, where Dan Harris interviews people who meditate and individuals who have helped shape the meditation landscape
- Course on meditation put on by Insight Meditation
- Autobiography of a Yogi (in progress)
- The HeadSpace App which offers guided meditation
- The “Breathe” App: short meditations on specific topics, such as compassion and sleep
- An app of nature sounds (this seems to inspire a sort of meditative work state
I would love suggestions on books, guided meditations, retreats and, really, anything meditation and mindfulness related. I often learn through hearing the experiences of others. I am asking friends and random people I meet in cabs and on the street about their practice. I’d love to hear about yours.
Step 2: Try it out (without really knowing what you are doing)
I am a hands-on learner. I need to hold the paint brush myself. Coupled with my hands-on nature, is an impulsiveness to jump in and try things, at times throwing caution out the window. For the past twenty-five days, I have meditated once or more a day. I meditated on flights, lying on my floor, sitting at my office desk, uncomfortably sitting up, outside, inside, with my cat licking me, at a bachelorette party and in a tent under the stars. So far – I love it (hence, the honeymoon phase description). I warded off a panic attack by plugging into a guided meditation, I can focus better at work and I’ve created a space between a trigger and my emotional response.
The bottom line: meditation feels like an option instead of sitting with anxiety or panic. I share this notion with caution, as from what I’ve heard and read one’s relationship with their practice has highs and lows. One day the magic meditation wand may not cast a spell on a panic attack.I have more questions than I have my own answers.
For example: Should I find a teacher? A community? Why is a community important if it is more of a solitary activity? Is it okay if I lay down while I do it? Am I really not supposed to move?
I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.