For about ten minutes every day I can be found doing absolutely nothing. By ‘nothing’ I don’t mean lying in bed scrolling through social media, though I am prone to do that. I mean nothing. I sit on my bed with legs crossed and palms open and simply breathe in and out to the sound of nature and a guiding voice.
I’ve been meditating for almost a year now and it’s one of the most rewarding, relaxing things I’ve done for myself. Through meditation, my body and mind are still and focus on the simple act of breathing. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. Over and over and over again.
This may seem like an odd thing to carve time out for each day, especially in our society where productivity is king. It’s easy to get swept up in busy-ness, in jumping from one thing to the next. But I’ve learned that when you live your life constantly thinking about the next task to be done, you don’t live in the right now.
Meditation helps cultivate mindfulness. Being aware of the here and now instead of focusing on the past or future. The mind is focused on the breath, and while thoughts will arise and try to sweep you down a path of thought, meditation teaches you to come back to the breath time and time again.
Meditation has made me feel more at peace with myself and has helped me bring aspects of mindfulness into my day long after I’ve finished my practice. It’s helped me foster feelings of gratitude, loving kindness, and compassion while simultaneously lessening anxiety, stress, and sadness. Meditation brings me back to the present moment and reminds me to live right now instead of worrying about the future or stressing about the past. Meditation slows everything down and brings you back to the basics and that can be extremely helpful.
I’ve learned a lot about myself through the act of mindfulness and it has brought me closer to myself and made me more self aware. Meditation is one of my ways of checking in with myself, my feelings, and my body and seeing how things are going. And it’s my way of coming back down to earth when a million things are going on in my brain.
One of the greatest things about meditating, in my opinion, is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Meditation is 100% for you benefit. I’m a very perfectionistic person and I like getting things right and can get upset when I don’t. With meditation, there’s no such thing as messing up. The mind will naturally drift away from the breath and that’s a part of the practice. It doesn’t matter if your mind drifts a thousand times while you sit and meditate, in fact that’s great. All that matters is steering the mind back towards the breath.
Another great thing is that mindfulness doesn’t end when you open your eyes after a practice and go on with your day. The lessons learned during practice stay with you. Being more mindful has inspired me to try to live more simply, to greatly reduce my social media use, to use my phone a lot less and be present in what I’m doing more, and to really focus on each thing I do without multitasking. Mindfulness to me is the exact opposite of the culture we live in, which demands productivity 24/7 and is extraordinarily stressful.
Mindfulness has been really life changing for me. One of the most horrible things about mental illness is the unwanted pesky thoughts that show up uninvited and can ruin a day. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, thoughts about my appearance and weight may crop up, which would normally be distressing. Through mindfulness I feel control over my mind and over what I think. Just as I steer my mind away from superfluous thoughts during practice, I steer my mind away from cognitive distortions and come back to the present. Mindfulness has helped me sit with my emotions and explore them deeper without judgement. It’s given me the tools and the grace to be kind to myself and accept myself as I am.
This is not to say that mindfulness is some grand cure for all of life’s woes. Mindfulness for me makes coping with life’s stressors easier, but it shouldn’t be seen as a way to fix mental illness. I fought mindfulness at first because of the perception that it was some great fix to my issues. We’ve all heard of the stereotypical neurotypical saying, “Well, have you tried yoga?” as if yoga and meditation alone can cure major depression or any other mental illness.
Mindfulness is great, and it’s helped me a ton, but lots and lots of therapy and medications are the treatments I needed for my mental illness. Mindfulness is just a really nice bonus that happens to help a whole lot.
If you want to start your own mindfulness practice but don’t know where to start, there are plenty of apps and YouTube videos to help you get started. YouTube has guided meditation videos for free, and Spotify has a whole genre dedicated to meditation playlists. I personally use the Calm app, which has held me accountable and kept me meditating this whole time. The first 7 days are free and then you can pay $60 a year for a subscription. I have only tried Calm personally because I haven’t wanted to pay for another meditation service so I can only speak to that, but there are other apps out there for meditation. Headspace is the other big meditation app out there and I’ve heard good things. But you don’t have to pay anything to meditate if you don’t want to, which is another great thing about it. It’s free! If the apps or YouTube videos aren’t your thing, just sitting without any guidance and trying on your own can be helpful in itself.
Honestly meditating is really hard at first. It may seem like it should be the most simple thing in the world to do literally nothing! But it’s actually a lot more challenging than it may seem. Turning off the constant racing thoughts and agendas and being present can be really hard and it may seem pointless and you may get discouraged, and that’s okay. I’ve definitely had days when I sit down for practice and am not feeling it at all. And that’s okay. As I’ve continued, I’ve found it easier and easier to slip into a mindful state and calm my mind as soon as I close my eyes and that’s when I feel the most relaxed and get the most out of it.
Alan Watts summed this all up succinctly when he said, “For there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.”
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