Most days, my brain is full of bouncy balls. My ideas are frequent, my thoughts are hard to keep up with and my body likes to mirror my mind, leaving me always on the go, running in one million directions at once. So when yoga became the thing to do with meditation at its core, I suddenly found myself avoiding the gym. Where peace was promised, I found torture. Asking me to slowly transition through poses with little movement while being silent in a dimly lit room is almost unrealistic. I like to talk. I like to move. I have a competitive nature that keeps me focused on being a better human-pretzel than the person next to me. And if you tell me to lie down and think of nothing, I'll think of everything. I have put my pillows on the floor and lit candles, saying my “oms,” but never felt any “sense of being”. The peaceful, relaxing practice of mediation left me feeling anxious, unproductive and ultimately stressed out. In the age of mindfulness, I found myself on the outs.
Meditation is defined as “thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” It promises better brain function, improved sleep, stress reduction and a greater sense of appreciation for life, among various other physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits. But that definition paired with the traditional picture of meditation, left me feeling as though I would never be able reap the rewards of a meditative state.
What I didn't realize though is I meditate daily, just in a different way. For me meditation has never been about sitting with my eyes closed, instead it has been spending time out in nature, hiking hills or paddling out into the ocean. When it's just me and my breath, with the slapping water against my board, that is when my mind clears out the clutter and my whole system relaxes. Some mornings, I do nothing but float there, my head an open bowl, absorbing the empty ocean around me, alert but relaxed. When I am on top of a hill, admiring the earth before me, I feel alert and am deeply focused on my present reality.
Spending time in a mindful manner creates a sense of peace and brings light to truths in your life. In the muck of everyday living, our perceptions of situations can be clouded by all the noise around us. Being able to remove yourself from society, even just mentally, can provide clarity to your world. So many of the questions of the heart are answered in these moments.
Like everything in life, training the mind to become focused and aware requires practice. Like the athlete training for a competition, it is important to incorporate mindful practice into your schedule. For the chaotic mind, chants or guided mediation might be exactly what you need. Focusing on a phrase that feels good to you or having an outside voice guide your thoughts is an effective way to relax and find peace. For the mentally disciplined, meditation might look like emptying your mind in a still silence.
What’s important is to take the time to find out what mediation looks like to you. Perhaps you are like the Buddhist monks who sit in temples and are able to achieve a sense of being. Maybe the art of cooking allows for you to empty your head and focus fully on what is before you. Painting could be what provides you with the greatest sense of relaxation. Even listing the things you are grateful for while in the shower could be the best way you practice mindfulness. Experiment with different activities and be open to seeking a contentment in nontraditional ways. Keep your expectations low at first, five conscious minutes are better than none, and open your mind to the opportunities for relaxation and peace around you.