I first learnt how to meditate about 15 years ago because I was getting a lot of comments from friends and family about how stressed I was. One friend said I would literally buzz when I walked into a room because I was always so busy and preoccupied. I did not want to be that person. I wanted to be calm, engaged, and present for the people I love. At peace with myself and my actions. I was a long way from that, so I sought out a meditation class.
A rest from problems
My first experience was a guided visualisation meditation. With a bit of beginner’s luck and a dash of karma I was surprised to be transported someplace else. For a short time, my problems fell away. What a relief! The Amy channel switched to mute. However, I found I was not able to take the calm I felt within that meditation to other areas of my life – but I was sure it was possible. I just needed some guidance, and so my quest began.
Finding more focus and presence
Oh, my mind! Who knew how crazy it was in there? It would wander off, plan, get angry, get stuck, worry about what I was doing, what everyone else was doing, if I was enough or if I was too much. Sometimes the only thing I was meditating on were the problems, plans and worries of Amy…in stereo…on the big screen.
I was taught the trick is to catch yourself wandering. That’s step one. Then kindly, gently, bring yourself back to the focus of the meditation. It’s a little like training a puppy to walk on the lead who wanders off at every sight, smell and sound. Just gently, patiently bring it back time and time again until it settles. The benefits of this are obvious. The practice improves your focus and attention. If you can continually bring your mind back within meditation, you’ll have a greater ability to do it outside of meditation too. Meditation isn’t necessarily about blocking out all thoughts – it’s about letting unwanted thoughts go so you can be more present.
Soothing difficult emotions
Perhaps the biggest improvement I found was in my emotional reactivity. I feel things deeply and I could often be carried away on a wave of emotion, particularly annoyance and frustration. Meditation has taught me to sit with difficult emotions rather than pushing them away or acting them out righteously.
If strong emotion is present, I invite it to come in and sit on the couch with me (metaphorically speaking). I patiently listen to it rant and rave with compassion. Like all of us, when we are truly heard, things often settle a bit. That is not to say that we should buy into whatever story the strong emotion tells us, we just listen without judgement and sit with it. If we give strong emotions a little compassion, over time they soften and transform. Then we have a greater ability to manage strong emotions without taking it out on others (mostly!).
The way forward
Over the years I have studied, and eventually taught, a whole range of meditation and mindfulness techniques from a variety of traditions. I have meditated solo, with large groups, in silence, with chanting, with movement, for long stretches, for brief stretches, in nature and in my bed. I have meditated regularly, then not at all for months at a time.
What the experts agree on is a daily practice (even a brief one!) can literally change your brain, increasing positive emotions and reducing reactivity. And regularity is the key to seeing lasting changes off the meditation cushion (or chair, bed, train, or wherever you can manage it). If you could benefit from a bit more presence, focus and emotional regulation, meditation may be for you.