Inside my head:
Okay time to do this thing…silence my thoughts…
Oh, jeez has that clock always ticked that loud…oh wait, shhhh brain.
Gonna have to make sure I take my car in for an oil change around 3pm today before I do my grocery pickup at Kroger…I wonder what I should make today? I did buy that ox tail Greg really likes…but I don’t feel like cooking. Maybe I’ll just make pasta and call it a day…oh, and I got that project report due this week. Crap almost forgot! When do I have time this week to finish that? I guess I won’t be getting any sleep. Okay, wait, wait, wait I’m stressing myself out already in my morning meditation and it’s only 7:00am…do people normally hum during these things? They usually do on the tv. HMMMMMMMMM… HMMMMMMMMMM oh wow I feel silly let me stop.
Oh gosh, how long has it been? Let me peek at the time it should almost be over….
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IT’S ONLY BEEN 3 MINUTES? And people were saying they can do this for 30 minutes to an hour. I must be doing this wrong. Maybe I should do a shorter one, but I thought 8 minutes wouldn’t be that bad. Oh, I’m never going to get this.
Okay, float these thoughts on clouds…maybe a train going by is better…okay…breathe in and out…slowly…Ah I remember taking that train excursion in North Carolina…ah the views was breath taking and the food was so delicious…oh take me back.
This is kinda getting uncomfortable sitting on the floor like this. I probably should’ve just sat on my couch or laid down in my bed”
BEEP. BEEP. BEEEP.
Well, this was a horrible meditation! I don’t think this is the thing for me.
This was the type of dialogue that was going through my head the first few times I tried to meditate. I was trying so hard to silence my mind that my thoughts became preoccupied with silencing my mind. That doesn’t sound very silent, does it? I had believed everything around me and in my head had to be silent. But my thoughts continued to run rampant. I remember asking myself how do I turn off my brain? Do I just have one of those brains that just never shut up? I remember being so defeated and stepping away from meditation because I thought the goal was somehow to not have a single thought come up. But I kept thinking about not thinking and I never felt relaxed. I felt more anxious and stressed that I couldn’t do it. Why would clinicians tell me to do this which is stressful and anxiety provoking when I’m already struggling with anxiety and stress. It sounded like one big contradicting joke.
I didn’t step back into meditations until I was introduced to mindfulness. I had to make the discrepancy between being mindless and being mindful. I thought I needed a “mindless mind” which is why I struggled with meditations. I soon realized being mindless meant that I was not in control of my own thoughts, I was just on automatic– taking a passive stance of what was going on and how I let things effect me mentally and emotionally. Metaphorically, it was like I was sitting in the back seat of a car and sometimes what felt like being crammed into the trunk. I wanted to avoid those uncomfortable thoughts that brought up feelings I’d rather not feel. I was on a path of struggle, avoidance, isolation, being overwhelmed, and being oh so reactive to everything. I blamed other things (and people) for how I felt, and I let my anxiety and stress control me without much of a fight.
With mindfulness, I soon understood it was all about awareness. I took back the driver’s seat, that which being my mind, and I looked out with a level of clarity I hadn’t experienced. I learned to be more attentive and disengaged from my thoughts while letting go some, while others I processed, and problem solved those that continued to cause distress. My decisions were made with a greater level of calm, and I was led to approach those feelings and thoughts. I approached those uncomfortable thoughts no longer wanting to beat them down to try and stuff them in a metaphorical box in my head labeling them ‘bad’, and instead I welcomed them and embraced them. However, once they overstayed their welcome, I was in a better place to make decisions on when to release them and cope appropriately. I became more honest and assertive. Truthfully, I became more fun to be around because I began to like myself again and I wasn’t so doom-and-gloom and worried that the smallest thing would make everything fall apart.
If you made it this far, you’re probably reading this like, “Okay, all this sounds great but how did you go from that first excerpt to that last passage?” Like many things, it took practice. A lot of it! I can’t say it took days, weeks, or months before ‘I got it’ because I honestly don’t know. I also don’t want to give a specific time period as you may try to compare your journey to mine. The only way you won’t progress with your meditations is if you are not being aware, open, and willing. Remember it’s the small steps that count in building mastery. If you’ve never meditated before, start with short intervals, which can be as short as 2 minutes once or even a few times a day. If you’re constantly on the go and micromanaging your thoughts like I once was, then trying to sit for 5-10 minutes may feel like eternity. So, start small. You don’t have to compare yourself with the masters who can mediate for hours on end. You can decide for yourself when and how long is most beneficial for you. If you find yourself getting too distracted it may benefit you to take time away to refocus or shorten how long you meditate. What worked for me is working outwardly to inwardly. I became familiar with my senses first. I took time to notice textures, patterns, scents, colors, durability, and sensations, like the coolness of the wind or the heat from sun. I then noticed my breathing–being aware when it was shallow and when it was slow, deep breaths. I gained the ability to take a few seconds to body scan. which helped me be able to tell when I was tense. I would clench my jaw, raise and tighten my shoulders, and be taking shallow breaths all before my brain registered that I’m stressed. With that awareness, I was able to figure out the why and cope with ease before others had to point it out for me.
Doing to Being
I’ve come to enjoy guided meditations and those with sounds and music. I first believed it needed to be silent and now I do morning guided forest meditations with birds chirping and brooks bubbling, and I may treat myself to a guided imagery meditation. If you’re new, you’ll get there! Just take your time and experiment with different meditations, different sounds or settings. If you’ve never meditated and feel unsure about it, I encourage you to try the shorter meditations or even take a yoga class as that incorporates a form of meditation and mindfulness. As you start this journey, it will start off being a way of doing to eventually becoming a way of being –improving not only your mental health, but your whole self overall.
by: Danielle Ferguson, MS, APC, NCC