I think the most unhelpful thing that people imagine about meditation is this idea that you need to sit in a dark room for an hour focusing on your breath. This is pretty much impossible for most people for a number of reasons and, when this is your idea about meditation, it’s easy to understand why so many people are put off or fall at their first attempt!
Meditation has been a huge part of my recovery but it’s also something that has evolved for me as I’ve developed my understanding of what it actually is to meditate. I meditate every day…and for me, it’s about being present and mindful in whatever I’m engaged in that day. That could be travelling on the tube, talking with someone at work or being with my children.
Developing my meditation and mindfulness practice has literally been life changing… it’s allowed me to be really present in my life and to get the most out of whatever it is that I’m experiencing. I first decided to explore meditation when I realised that my methods for coping with my anxiety and stress were not working. And for anyone that’s interested…. my ‘methods’ were: hoping it would go away and to try to ignore it. Not the best strategy! I’d read enough about meditation to be curious and if nothing else, I felt that I had nothing to lose by giving it a go.
Have you ever found that you can be in the middle of a conversation or at an event and come to realise that you have totally zoned out and that you’ve sort of ‘blacked out’ from what is going on around you? Historically I found that I did this so often… I would become distracted easily and find that my anxiety would take me off on random tangents where I wasn’t really able to connect. I found myself wound up in this battle for control where I was trying to resist my anxious thoughts and feelings, and it was completely exhausting. What I learnt was that mindfulness was not about trying to control how I was feeling, or what I was thinking about, it was about stepping back mentally and noticing where my head was going and then compassionately giving myself permission to ‘come back’ to the present moment.
Prior to adopting mindfulness as a way of being, I would get so frustrated with my own anxiety and would react to each and every thought, the moment that I had them. Then I began to learn to observe my thoughts as just that… thoughts. Even if a thought was distressing, I learnt to sit and tolerate it and found that sometimes with no action at all, the feeling would pass.
If you are reading this and meditation and mindfulness are totally new to you, or something that you’ve tried before and not had much luck with, then I hope my top 5 beginners meditation tips will be helpful.
Tip 1: Start to notice what thoughts you are having. Don’t put yourself under any pressure to do anything with them. Try not to judge yourself!
Tip 2: Go with what works. Does listening to music help you to unwind or relax? Can you give yourself 15 minutes to have a nice bath? Find easy ways to take some time for you. Being with yourself in a relaxing space is meditating… It just might not look how you thought it would.
Tip 3: Explore different meditation scripts/techniques online. When I began exploring meditation I realised that I loved listening to different chill out tracks. Music used for meditation practice is often quite repetitive and the length of the tracks are longer which allows you switch off. See what’s out there and figure out what works for you.
Tip 4: Be in nature. We can’t control our thoughts and, sometimes when our minds are full, it can be overwhelming. Being in nature is a wonderful way of being present and mindful. Being faced with a beautiful sunset, a crashing sea or crunchy autumn leaves can provoke something within us that forces us to be present. Even if you live in the city you can go outdoors and look up.
Tip 5: Be patient. If you’ve spent a lifetime consumed by your own thoughts and anxiety, it will take time to adjust to a new way of being. I know how frustrating this can be but try to be patient and give yourself time. They call it ‘meditation practice’ for a reason! It takes practice and the more you do, the easier it will become.