When I was a little kid, I had allergic asthma. I couldn’t eat dairy without running the risk of not being able to breathe. I was put on a medication to help my breathing – Theo-Dur - which was a central nervous system stimulant. In my head I always called it Theodore, you know, like in Alvin and the Chipmunks. As with most of my childhood memories, I do not know how long I was on this medication, but it feels like it was years. I do know that I was on this medication when I was supposed to be at an age where I got lots of sleep, including naps.
I did not get lots of sleep while taking a central nervous system stimulant. One of the side effects is even insomnia. However, my parents did put me to bed with the hope that I would sleep.
Instead, I sang, read books with a flashlight, worried about the monsters in the closet or under the bed, and generally stayed awake. At one point, either my father or my mother told me to clear my mind and think of nothing.
Sure. While I do that, go sit in a corner and do not think about a white elephant. Be sure to let me know how that works out for you.
I spent hours upon hours lying in bed, hopped up on this drug, thinking about nothing. I would try to think about nothing. Then I would think about how if I was thinking about nothing, I was still actually thinking about something, and I would try to blank my mind. I would then spin out into infinity, thinking about thinking about nothing, while thinking about thinking about nothing, forever and ever. Eventually, I got to the point where I was able to chase these thoughts of thinking about thinking about nothing to infinity away. I was able to let them go. Release them into the void. I would be able to blank my mind and find that calm. I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I was able to find a bit of rest. The nights I successfully let go of the thoughts of thinking about nothing, I did get to sleep easier, although not earlier, than the nights when I sang or read books or tried to discern what the monster in the closet wanted.
What I did not realize at the time was that I was meditating. As an adult who does not wittingly consume caffeine, I am able to meditate quite easily, as I trained myself to meditate while basically on speed. From the many books and articles I have read on the subject of meditation, the hardest part in learning to meditate is the clearing of your mind. Thinking about nothing. However, the process of learning to think about nothing, even including spinning out into infinity, is training your brain how to reach that place of meditation. Many people try meditation for a while and give up on it after they do not think about nothing successfully. “I could never clear my mind completely,” people have told me. However, as with so many things, they are focused on the destination, when the journey is so much more the point. It is the exercise, not the goal of the exercise, that really matters.
Beyond that, simply sitting and thinking about nothing, clearing your mind, breathing deeply, may work for some people, but it is not necessarily going to work for you. Luckily there are many ways in which you can achieve a meditative state. I am still a big proponent of taking five minutes out of your day, sitting quietly, taking cleansing breaths, and clearing your mind. As thoughts rise up, acknowledge them and then let them go. Just five minutes will give you great results after a month. If you can up it to ten minutes, you are a rock star. Lately, I have been shooting for a goal of 25-35 minutes. I have a vitamin D deficiency so I have been going outside, sitting in the sun, and meditating. I figure if I need to be in sunlight for 30-40 minutes a day, may as well kill two birds with one stone. It is still a challenge on some days to clear my thoughts, but I always feel better afterwards even when I am not totally successful.
Focus on the path, not the destination. The journey is the majority of your time anyway. Might as well enjoy it.
That said, there are other really great ways to meditate.
Full Body Meditation
Lately, I’ve been going to yoga classes. There is nothing better for living in the moment, feeling the now, and inhabiting your body fully than yoga – at least in my experience. I am usually so focused on myself, how my body feels, and living in the moment that none of the other stresses in my life intrude upon me. One of the first exercises our instructor had us perform was to stand on a yoga block. Yoga blocks are rectangles of a sturdy foam-like material. The whole point was to balance on the yoga block. Once we had accomplished this, she had us close our eyes and balance on the yoga block.
This was much more difficult. Eyes closed, balancing on this block was an exercise in living in the moment. The meditation was simply one of keeping your balance. No other thought was in my mind. This was a great way of clearing my mind and an exercise I still do at home when I am feeling too stressed and want just a brief moment of not having to carry the worry of the day with me.
I have talked with people who do a variety of body meditations similar to yoga. Finding an exercise that works for you is just a matter of finding the body movements you feel clear your mind best. There are numerous exercises that can create that mind clearing, trance-like state of being that you seek through meditation. Dance (whirling dervishes, anyone?), tai chi, running, walking, archery, swimming – the possibilities are as diverse as humans.
I have one friend that finds working a carpet shampooer to be very meditative. This is a particularly cool one, because you can meditate and clean at the same time.
The point with full body movement is to not be self-conscious, be focused on the body, and to let go of thought as you move.
If sitting silently and clearing your mind is not your cup of tea, there are a wide variety of guided meditations out there. These are usually spoken meditations that take you through the relaxation and meditation process. I love guided meditations. Not all of them are created equal, and I have found a few unpleasant or annoying enough that I have turned them off, but for the most part, guided meditations are lovely as they take most of the thinking out of your hands. You listen, follow the instructions, and voila – you meditate.
For guided meditations, a good, free way to start is to search online for podcasts. There are a lot of people out there who host guided meditations via podcast, blogtalk radio, and other online venues. Try out a sampling of these free guided meditations before spending money on CD’s. Also, keep in mind that just because you like an author’s books does not mean you will like an author’s voice. While there are some great books out there with companion CD’s to listen to, their voice may not match their writing. There is one prolific author who makes a click noise at the end of each sentence. Drives me right out of the meditative state. Listen to samples, if you can, before you buy something.
Chanting is another way to meditate via sound. I am not saying sit at home, in lotus position, saying “Om…..” to yourself. I personally cannot get into lotus position as it makes my knees angry. However, for those who have done meditations using mantras, they are very helpful. One of my favorite mantras/chants to meditate to is to Ganesh – “Om, Gam, Ganapatye, Namaha”. Traditionally, you would repeat this mantra to Ganesh 108 times. The sounds resonating through your body when you chant do help induce meditative states of various kinds, depending on the chant or mantra you are using. I should point out that it is best to find someplace away from others to kill any feelings of self-consciousness. Using a mantra in meditation is helpful, but not if you are wondering what people would think if they saw/heard you.
As with guided meditations, check out free sources online first. YouTube has a wide variety of chants and mantras to choose from. Everyone is different and what appeals to me is not going to necessarily appeal to you. Check around for something that you can sing or say to yourself that resonates and helps get your mind into the meditative state.
In addition, if singing or chanting is not your style, there is classical music, singing bowls, chimes, and many other sounds that may help you in achieving a meditative state. Experiment with sounds and see what you like best. There is even a genre of music called Trance music. It is not my particular style, but that does not mean it won’t be yours.
I don’t know about you, but if you sit me near a fire, it’s over. I am gone. Fire transfixes me. I may get up and play with the fire to get it rolling more, but for the most part I am totally zoned out if there is a camp fire to look at. Or a bonfire. I have even created the same effect with a single candle although it is less intense.
Some people can meditate upon flowers, trees, a picture, or other visual aid. For me, there are two pieces of artwork that can cause almost effortless meditation – Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night, cliché but true, and John Martin’s Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion. The latter picture is at the St. Louis Art Museum, and as a child and as an adult that has been the highlight of visiting the museum for me every time. While I know what that painting is about, I do not care as my own stories for it are better. Also, the tiny man in the vastness of nature always made me happy.
Some people have had much luck with meditating on various screen savers.
Basically, as with the other venues, find something that you like, that inspires you or quiets your mind. The possibilities are endless. It can be a moving visual such as screensaver or fire (although I recommend fire, but that is because it works for me). It can be a still image such as a painting, or even an object you are drawn to. Experiment and find something that works for you.
Sometimes we go through phases where we respond better to certain stimuli – visual, auditory, mental, physical. Trying out each way of meditating might help you find a method that works well for you.
Because everything in life comes back to the zombie apocalypse, here is some food for thought. People who meditate on a regular basis are able to handle crises much better than your average, non-meditating human. While those who meditate will have the same shock and surprise and those who do not, they go back to their functional mental state much more quickly. This is an advantage when it comes to defending yourself against zombies. If your brain is still screaming “Aaaaah! Zombies!” when it should be thinking “Those zombies are closer, I should run away now” your chances of survival are lower.
What types of meditation work best for you? What methods of meditation have you loathed? Feel free to share in the comments section!