Thanksgiving is the new Christmas.
Sure, there are no gifts or carols involved. But in terms of holiday stress, late November can be tough. The stressors include travel, family, and the early onset of all that year-end noise. Daily exercise can help you feel better, but a recent injury has limited what I can do.
So about one week ago, I started meditating before work each day. Friends from my yoga community had been encouraging me in this direction for years. I finally tried it. And I'm so glad I did. Here's a brief description of my meditation ritual, followed by a short list of benefits I've already noticed. As a disclaimer, I'm far from a meditation expert. I'm just a dude who's tried this stuff for one week.
I take off my shoes. I empty my pockets. I take off my headphones. I sit on the floor in a comfortable position. That last part isn't easy. It can change from day to day or minute to minute, especially because of the injury I'm dealing with. While experienced practitioners might be able to sit in the same position for the duration of their practice, I simply can't do it. So I do what I need to do to be comfortable. All this takes place either in a dedicated room at my co-working space, or in a nearby meditation center with a free, 40-minute morning session.
Sometimes I sit against a wall. Sometimes I use cushions and blankets. Once I'm comfortable, I close my eyes. As thoughts enter my mind--work stress, holiday stress, injury stress, financial stress--I acknowledge them and let them pass. I know I have the rest of the day--even the rest of my life--to think about thoughts such as these. During this 40-minute window, I want my mind to be blank.
When you're stressed out, you carry tension all over your frame. Your jaw clenches, your breath shortens, your midsection tightens, your shoulders stiffen and lift. At various points during the 40 minutes, when I notice these things happening, I do what I can to loosen up. It's usually just a matter of body awareness.
Of course, it's hard to stay oblivious to everything around you: noises from outside of the room, phones buzzing, even your own curiosity about how much time is left in your sit. It's not the end of the world if you disrupt your sit to open your eyes, check the time, or even look around for a bit. Often, the short break will allow you to become even more relaxed when you close your eyes again.
The most immediate benefit comes directly afterward. While everyone around me seems to be hurrying here and there, everything for me is moving slowly. The difference between whether I reach my desk at 8 a.m. or 8:15 a.m. doesn't matter as much as it did before my 40-minute sit.
When I get to my desk, I am much more focused. It's as if I've already given myself a daily dosage of "me" time, where my inner drama and self-involvement have free rein. Now I'm ready to give myself to my employer and my friends and others whose paths I'll cross on this day.
More than I ever did before my week of meditation, I find myself aware of my tight jaw and shoulders during the day. They still get tight, but now--instead of not noticing it until it hurts--I seem to notice it almost immediately. I adjust how I'm sitting, I change what I'm thinking about, and my body becomes more relaxed.
While I'm more focused on my job, I'm also more receptive to happy sights and sounds that I'd otherwise not have noticed. It could be anything: the distinct color of orange paint on a wall, the jangle of a cubicle neighbor's necklace. These simple observations become sensory gifts, and they cheer me up the way a happy dog or smiling baby can cheer you if you're lucky enough to see one during a stressful time of your day.
The short of it is, I now plan to meditate each morning. For the 40 minutes you give to it, you get in return a relaxed body and outlook. In a world where many people pay loads of money to relax via vacations, massages, and various forms of retail therapy, I consider this simple benefit a wonderful gift to give myself. I easily "get back" the 40 minutes in the form of greater focus, which allows me to work faster.
Meditating also helped me realize that I wasn't giving myself enough "me" time each day. So now, in addition to my 40-minute sits, I take just 15 minutes to read some poetry or fiction. This little jolt of reading has become an instant shot of happiness. It gives me yet another small gift to look forward to every day. Just in time for the holidays.