I avoided meditating or even the idea of meditating for a long, long time. Decades.
Then in January one of my son's mentors recommended that he implement meditation to help manage work-related stress.
I encounter a great deal of stress in my job as well, and January and February were packed with stress in my home life. I won't go into the details, except to share that I got sick and my asthma symptoms came back in full force, my husband got sick (he rarely gets sick), our elderly (“heart”) dog started to fail and eventually passed, and I had a dental cleaning scheduled. Don't laugh, going to the dentist has become a very difficult task and I was determined to follow through with this recent appointment since I'd made and cancelled several during 2017.
When my son told me he was going to start meditating, I decided to take a closer look. One of the reasons I've avoided meditating is because of my faith in Jesus Christ. My understanding is that meditation derives from Eastern religions and should be avoided. I have spent the last thirty years working to unlearn the damaging beliefs I was taught in the Pentecostal religion for the first two decades of my life. My son is also a believer but he was not exposed to the cult-like churches that I was as a child, so he is in a much better place with regards to religion. By the way, our family considers ourselves to be mid-Acts Dispensationalists, if you are curious.
I decided to mention the religious aspect in this post because I shared a simple breathing technique with my mother. She experiences a lot of anxiety from projecting worst case scenarios and I felt it could help her to quiet her mind since it has worked well for me. Not five minutes later she met up with a friend of hers and asked me to share. The friend shot the technique down while looking me in the eye and said, “I used to meditate 20 years ago, but then I became a Christian.”
Ugh. Thankfully I was able to respond that I was also using an app called Abide, which is specifically for Christians. Still, that got me all nervous that I was doing something “wrong”. Uh-oh, gonna get struck down!
So I had a conversation with my sister, who told me about Calm, the app which she has been using for the last year. Obviously being raised in the same home, she was exposed to the same damaging control issues surrounding religion. She pointed out that the Calm app is not oriented to any religion and due to the 7-Day programs it is very similar to having a brief cognitive therapy session each day.
I've been meditating every day using the Calm app for 48 days. I started on January 30th and have gone through several of the 7-Day programs. I usually meditate first thing in the morning, I don't even get out of bed, I just lay on my back with my earbuds and listen and breathe. The sessions run from 11-13 minutes and I find Tamara Levitt's voice to be extremely soothing. Tamara had a rough start in life, and meditation helped her turn things around. You can read her story here at the Calm blog: Tamara Levitt – Head of Mindfulness.
By the way, much of the Calm app is locked unless you pay for a subscription but I like the 7-Day programs so much that I feel it is a valuable investment. I pay for the annual subscription which is currently $59.99. I can't really recommend any other meditation apps as this is the only one I've used regularly.
I am feeling a great deal calmer, and more in control of my life. Things don't seem so bad. Honestly, they weren't that bad to start with! My life is good, but when my mind is racing from one negative issue to the next or I can't get to sleep because of thoughts (THOUGHTS… just mere thoughts, not reality!!) or I feel anxious because of the worry it is hard to realize how good my life truly is.
Here are some of the ways that meditation has helped me in the past few weeks.
How Meditation Helps
Stop the mind from racing
It is normal for our minds to project the worst so focus on the process of breathing in and out to stop thoughts.
In one of the 7-Day programs – I think it was the 7 Days of Calming Anxiety – Tamara says that we tend to imagine every worst case scenario because we think we can control the future by projecting. But a great deal of the time, those terrible things we imagine rarely or in many cases never happen so we spend a lot of time playing this sinister “what-if” game which tends to create a great deal of fear and negativity which leads to anxiety.
I have learned it is very effective to focus on breathing. In and out. In and out. I know it sounds too simple, it did to me also. It is harder than you would think to just focus on your breathing and it does take practice to master this simple technique. It is very much like exercising a muscle. Sometimes as I breathe in and out, I think with each inhalation and exhalation: “In. Out. In. Out.” Sometimes I think, “Thank you. Jesus. Thank you. Jesus.”
Understand that it is normal for the mind to wander onto other topics, while focusing on breathing. During the meditation session, Tamara reminds us that this is normal and to not be hard on yourself, but gently pull your mind back to focusing on your breathing every time you realize it's happened.
It takes a practice to master and it's worth the effort. I was very glad to learn that it is normal for the mind to wander because I thought I was doing something wrong, or that my mind is different than anyone else.
Helps with Getting to Sleep
Does your mind decide it's time to worry about everything when you're trying to fall to sleep?
Maybe your mind awakes you in the middle of the night, like mine tends to do.
“Oh, were you sleeping? Wake up! It's time to worry about that upcoming appointment or how to get everything done at work, or maybe the roof needs repair because it might rain, or I'm AWAKE, not sleeping, tomorrow is going to be so hard without enough sleep” and on and on and on.
It has been a game-changer for me to start to focus on my breathing as soon as I realize my mind wants to race from one stressful thought to the next.
It really works! My husband is one that if he can't sleep he'll just get up and stay up until the next night. One night he was restless and moving about and I told him about focusing on his breath and he fell asleep shortly after. The next morning he told me he'd never known that just focusing on one's breath could help you fall asleep.
Time Slows Down
Does it seem like time is racing by for you? The weekdays zoom by and then it's the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are over so fast, did you get anything done?
This has been a complaint of mine in the past few years. It seems like my life is racing by so fast that I don't know where the time has gone. Everyone says this is normal, this speeding up of time but I think I've figured out how to slow things down.
After about five weeks of meditating, plus the use of another app called Fabulous it feels like my time has slowed, or at least my perception of time has slowed down.
The weekends are now enjoyable as it feels like they leisurely drift along. Before it felt like hours would pass without my knowledge and I was scrambling every minute struggling to stay on top of things, but not really getting much done.
That's just a few of the benefits I've personally noticed from meditating. Do you meditate? What are your thoughts and what benefits have you noticed? I would love to hear from you in the comments.