I’ve recently been trying to resume a practice that I used to engage in years ago. It deals with stress.
All of us know something about stress, it is all around us and a huge part of everyday life. There is no escaping it. Your employer is downsizing and you wonder if you are on the chopping block. Your landlord is raising the rent yet again. Your (choose one: kids, dog, husband, wife, co-workers, in-laws) are driving you crazy. I could go on and on but you know the drill. There is always something and you seem to bounce from one crisis to the next. Some of it is external (see above) but a lot of it, at least in the case of writers, is internal. We worry that we’re not producing our word quota for the day. Is our story ready or should we edit it just one more time? The contest deadline looms and we don’t have something ready. And, of course, the more we worry about getting something done…the less we get done.
Meditation once considered the province of the hippie stoner generation, has long since gone legitimate. Over the years it has proven an effective aid in reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving memory and mood. For this reason, many healthcare professionals are recommending the practice to their patients.
Wait, wait, I can hear it now. Yes, I am a self-professed ‘child of the sixties, but this has nothing to do with my ‘mystic mindset’ or sitar music . Today’s meditation has a much more mainstream connotation and is very appropriate to the practice of creative writing.
Have you ever found yourself in the situation of sitting down to your daily writing session (you do have a daily writing session, don’t you?) and finding yourself distracted by either outside influences (road construction outside, airliner overhead, ambulance with lights and siren), or internal ones (gee, do I have enough money for rent, did I schedule the payment to XXX, when is my doctor’s appointment)?. Meditation or “mindfulness training” as it is often referred to today, is a great help in quieting those internal and external stressors and centering your mind on the most important task at this time, writing your story.
The really nice thing about “mindfulness training” is that it can be done anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t require any special equipment. Certainly, you can make it “more special” if you want to, but the only thing that is really required is a willingness to set aside a few minutes a day (anywhere from five to 20 minutes) and some sort of timing device. You can even do it at your computer if that is a comfortable place for you.
I have started reintroducing the practice into my daily routine and it is proving to make a big difference in my productivity. I thought I would add a section to my website for those who would like to incorporate the practice into their daily routine as well.
Before I go on, let me assure everyone that I am not a teacher or facilitator or expert of any kind. I am simply one of those people who has struggled with the adverse reactions of stress for most of my life and, as such, have pursued a number of therapies over the years. I have gone from professional counseling (extremely expensive) to self-hypnosis classes (moderately expensive) to yoga (nice but, yes, expensive). I have found meditation as effective as any of the previous (and much less expensive). So just in case you do want to try it, I hope you will consider some of these resources to see you on your way. It doesn’t work for everyone. It might not work for you. But you might get something out of it and it certainly won’t hurt.
Sites with Free Guided Meditation
Meditation is like any other practice, it takes a while to get started. One day is usually not enough to see if it is going to be something that you can use. So give it a good trial. That is why I highly recommend using the seven day guided meditation online at calm dot com. You can pick your visual as well as your background sound until you find what works the best for you. The sound of running water is particularly soothing for me (possibly because I am a Pisces, a water sign). Once you find something that works, you can download a looping soundtrack and some nice screensavers and set up your own routine. I have found that no more than 10 minutes twice a day works well for me. I do a longer 20 minute meditation at night that I will talk about later.
HOW TO MEDITATE
The key to building a lasting, healthy meditation habit is to keep it simple and start slowly. So that’s what we’ll do.
- 1. Pick a time.
- 2. Have a Trigger
- 3. Find a quiet area
- 5. Count your breaths for two minutes.
- Be Patient
- 7. Build gradually.
I usually meditate twice a day, with the first session in the early morning upon waking. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and prepare myself for the day ahead. If you decide to start off meditating once a day, I would definitely recommend first thing in the morning. My second session comes just before bed. It allows me to slow down my thoughts and relax preparatory to sleep. Perhaps try both and see what works for you.
This should be something that reminds you it’s time to meditate. It may be drinking your first glass of water in the morning, or taking off your makeup at night. I have a note placed on my bathroom mirror. I also have a popup message on my computer screen in case I am still working. This can be set up using the Windows scheduler. It doesn’t really matter what it is – do whatever works for you. I find that if I don’t attach a habit to a trigger, I have a much harder time sticking to it.
Somewhere where you won’t be distracted. A lounge cushion on the floor perhaps, or a quiet spot in the park. Wherever you feel comfortable, and can have a few minutes of peace and quiet. The less there is going on around you, the easier you will find it to practice.
4. Sit comfortably.
You can sit cross-legged if you like, or sit upright withyour arms and legs relaxed. DO NOT LIE IN BED. The purpose of meditation is to quiet your mind, not put you to sleep. If you naturally go to sleep afterward that is fine. But do not go to sleep in the middle of your session.
Just remember that what works for me might not work for you. So play with it to find what’s best for you.
You can start off with just two minutes. Then gradually work up to five. Everyone has two minutes to spare, so there’s really no excuses not to start.
The process is simple. Take long, slow, deep breaths. Expand your belly as you breathe in to fill your lungs with air, then contract your core on the out breath, pushing the air out. Focus on the sensation of the air passing through your nostrils on the inhale, and out through your mouth on the exhale. Some people have a problem learning to “belly breathe” because they are used to breathing with their diaphragm (chest). I’m one of those. That’s alright. Use whichever method is more comfortable to you
Count each full breath, until you reach ten. Then start the process over again. Thoughts will inevitably enter your mind, and you will lose count. But just bring your attention back to your breathing.
Like any new activity, meditation takes time and practice. You won’t be perfect in the beginning, that’s a given. Thoughts and worries will enter your mind, distracting you. Watch those thoughts, and let them drift away. Then bring yourself back to the breath.
Don’t beat yourself up and decide that you’ll never be able to do it. Don’t give up. As with any new activity, you will fail in the beginning. But with each effort, you will improve. Don’t quit and don’t stress out over those failures. We’re trying to avoid stress here, not generate it. Be kind to yourself. Let go of your judgments, don’t focus on the outcome, and just keep practicing.
When you feel comfortable with your initial interval, perhaps after a few weeks or months, make your meditation sessions a little longer. Add on 15 seconds, or 30 perhaps. Don’t take on too much. Start slow and you’re more likely to succeed.
This is not a contest. You don’t get extra points for starting out meditating for half an hour. The idea is to build a habit that lasts a lifetime, as opposed to one that fails after a few months. New habits that are acquired slowly are more likely to stick around than fads.