Hi Friends! Welcome to May 2020, week 7 or 8 into corona-quarantine. Not much has changed dramatically, but I’ve noticed some shifts in my mental state over the past couple weeks. In some ways, I’ve gotten more used to this new way of life in which I am indoors and physically alone, all day every day.
In the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, I have found that meditation has made the greatest difference to me so far. I’m not suggesting that I have found the be-all-end-all solution to negative states while quarantined, but I have found that making some time to just breathe has made everything else seem more manageable, from the little dramas that arise to the anxieties of not knowing what will happen next.
I’ve heard, read, learned that meditation is a powerful practice to invite more calm, balance and even happiness to our lives. I started out with guided audio and video meditations around five years ago, when I was struggling with anxiety and depression. When I first started, I was so overwhelmed with my own mental and emotional storms that it was hard for anything to get through, but I figured that I lost nothing by sitting and listening to guided meditations. Eventually, after listening to enough of these, and reading all the books on how to feel better, I realized the only goal is to just sit there and be with it, whatever *it* may be.
I had always assumed I would not have the willpower or ability to sit still for a certain amount of time, without the guided audio to help me, so guided is the only kind of meditation I had ever done. But I was inspired to try my hand at meditating without a guide after I read a book by Yuval Noah Harari – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It tackles some of the greatest challenges to humanity and I highly recommend reading, as it is fascinating, terrifying, relevant, and too much to dive into here.
As I was reading, what stood out to me are our relationships to our computers and phones, how much data can be drawn from our activities online, how that data can sharpen the algorithms to better predict our behavior, how information can be used to influence or manipulate our choices, and whether we can still believe in ‘free-will’ and individual choice when all we do is scroll and consume increasingly targeted online content, whose purpose is to make us believe or do or buy something. There’s also the issue of attention that we give away for free without even a second thought, and whether that is healthy or makes us feel good at the end of the day, both figuratively and literally.
I know… it’s a LOT to process, but net-net, it scared me to know how much of my mind is affected by what I do on my phone, what I scroll, what I click on and react to. There’s also an addictive nature to this activity, which is why I frequently fast from Instagram (like now, again, lol) when I know I’ve gone too far.
Seems to Harari, every other smart and happy person, and even me, that one way to exercise the control we still have is to direct the attention back inside, to our physical bodies. It seems so hard to just sit there and turn focus back inside, especially when there is physical or emotional suffering that we need to deal with. But if we can’t cultivate the mindfulness, it’ll be harder yet to see the behaviors that contribute to our suffering, and this gets passed on. As computers and algorithms get smarter because we give them the attention and information to do that, we humans need to recognize there’s still the option of participation which belongs to us, and to decide that level when we can. We have to be human again, and we can do that by just breathing and paying attention to ourselves.
After reading, I decided to start meditating using a vipassana technique, which basically means I focus on my breath and body sensations with as much objectivity as possible. I set a timer, and I try with all my might to focus on the air coming in and out of my nostrils. It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of concentration to do it, and I am constantly carried away by my own thoughts, emotions and other sensations. I try not to become discouraged anymore, I just bring it back as soon as I am able to.
It may not seem like much, because I have only been doing it for 2 weeks and on average 15 to 20 minutes a day. However, I have experienced rapid benefits that include:
- better emotional balance / calm
- to be clear, I am still a highly emotional and sensitive person and I still fly off the handle, but I am able to process more efficiently. I also recognize what I can and can’t control more quickly.
- time expansion
- this is the most magical part of meditation. 10 minutes can feel luxuriously long when I just sit and breathe. this makes me feel less constrained.
- dramatic change in sleep quality / pattern
- this has been the most life changing result. I’ve been doing 5 minute meditations before bed and putting my phone away from my reach. This has helped me to quiet my mind and become ready for sleep. Imagine my mind is a snow globe that a toddler is shaking, and meditation is the act of taking away the snow globe from the toddler and setting it on the table. It takes a moment for the snow to settle down, but at some point it does! Since I’ve started meditating regularly, I’ve been sleeping through the night again, having lots of dreams and catching up from my long bout of insomnia.
- knowing that I always have a solution to any problem, I don’t need to run
- even if I get overwhelmed and the absolute last thing I want to do is sit and breathe, I know this is my best option that will eventually allow the experience of ease and letting go.
- increased feelings of compassion
- I have felt much more loving towards other people (and animals) and remember now that it feels good to help others. It’s way too easy to become self-absorbed in your own negative spirals when you don’t realize you’re in one, but taking some moments to be present and soothe yourself creates space for feeling for other people.
- re-focus on what is important to me
- simple things like cooking and eating plant-based, reading more books, limiting time on social media, even my fun little manicures!
Whoa. I did not mean for this to be a long post today but sometimes I get carried away when I’m inspired by something. Do you meditate? What kind of meditation have you tried, and what kind of effects has it had for you? If you haven’t, what do you think about it and would you ever consider picking it up for a week?
I highly recommend it. OMMMM.