I awaken to the quiet alarm of my sports watch on the night stand. With eyes still half-closed, I sit up in bed, propping my pillows behind my lower back for support. I light the match and hold the big beeswax candle at an angle where the flame meets the wick.
I have been doing this routine without event for years now, yet as I extinguish the match I still extend a brief prayer of gratitude that, in my sleepy state, the flame has made it safely to the candle yet again.
Then I begin. I close my eyes and inhale. Many mornings, I sit there simply breathing in and out before I remember that my intention is meditation. On those mornings, my mind roams freely about, jumping from topic to topic, leaping and falling like a newborn fawn in a field of tall grass. At some point, before my louder alarm clock sounds, I remember why I am sitting upright, with a candle burning, and my eyes closed. These are the minutes I invest in myself before anyone in the house knows I am awake. I am meditating.
Clients often tell me they are open to the idea of meditating and are willing to try something known to reduce anxiety while increasing the ability to focus and feel present in different situations. Clients also tell me that they are not sure how to meditate or that they have tried meditating before and felt unsuccessful.
There are books, classes, and numerous online resources I can recommend to those who want to learn more about meditation. Yet I often reference my own personal practice first because of its simplicity.
1) I meditate at the same time every day, rain or shine, tired or not. I light my candle before my feet touch the floor and often meditate even before making a trip to the bathroom if I think there is a chance I will bump into family members along the way.
2) I consider myself to be ‘successful’ at meditating if I show up. I understand that the purpose of meditation is to quiet one’s mind and to refocus the brain each time a thought enters. Yet, if I sit up, light my candle, and sit still for five minutes, I count this as meditation. If my mind leaps all over the place the entire time, I note this, and still feel comfortable in saying that I have meditated that morning.
3) I use visualization. The person who first taught me about meditation suggested I focus on my breath, counting each inhalation and exhalation. I needed a visual to work with though, so I modified the suggestion a little. As I breathe in, I picture a big, bold black number one floating toward me. As I exhale, I picture blowing the number one back off into the distance. I repeat this with the number two and, if my mind is focused, with the number three and so on. If I find myself thinking about anything other than the number in front of me, I return to the number one and start again. While there are many days I barely make it to three, I also notice that when I do make it to three, I can feel a shift in my overall state of being. The trick for me is to lean into this feeling and continue focusing rather than getting distracted by my delight that I made it all the way to three!
4) I recognize that keeping my mind still for even a short time has great benefits throughout the rest of my day. Studies show that meditation is one of the most effective non-medicinal ways to reduce a person’s anxiety. I have experienced this phenomenon firsthand and pass this fact along to others who may benefit.
5) My practice evolves. When I first began meditating, my goals were different than they are now. At that time, I was desperate to enjoy an uninterrupted night of sleep and was committed to finding ways to reduce anxiety. At that time, I meditated before I went to bed and spent a longer amount of time settling in with my candle, my breathing, and my counting. These days, I maintain a short and simple practice. Yet I know that I can increase the length or frequency of my meditation practice at any time, particularly when I want to feel more grounded, peaceful, or joyous in my experience of life.
Please use the comment section below to share your questions, thoughts, or your own experiences with meditation.