Can you remember a time when you were lying in bed, wrestling with a problem and the entangled emotions surrounding it? Have there been nights when intrusive thoughts and difficult memories keep you tossing and turning? Despite long hours, hard work, and cutting edge technology, we often find ourselves grappling with the unsolvable. In actuality, many feelings of dread, hopelessness, and self-doubt come from being overwhelmed, with no skills to regulate our mood and discomfort. Our modern challenges require specific tools to create mental resilience and clarity to guide us through difficult times. When we learn to do this, we make better decisions, and become an anchor for others to do the same.
One way to create mental resilience is through meditation. Similar to physical exercise, regular meditation strengthens the mind. Meditation does not take away negative feelings. However, it fosters the ability to tolerate negative emotions, and directly choose how to respond to them. Too often, we react to disappointment or confrontation in stereotypically deleterious ways. A regular meditation practice can help you experience a spectrum of thoughts and emotions without mindlessly reacting or engaging in avoidance and damaging behaviors. Over time, this becomes a skill that translates "off the meditation cushion" as well.
Meditation sounds a lot scarier than it is. Here are the basic steps to develop a practice.
Find a regular time and place to meditate. Commit to meditating at the same time, each day. Choose a space that is quiet and comfortable. You do not need a sacred shrine. Simply find a protected spot temporarily free from interruptions. Many people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning because there is less internal and external chaos. The time of day is not important. Whatever time you choose, commit to a regular practice. The only way to "fail" at meditation is to not do it.
Find a comfortable position. You do not need to tangle yourself into the lotus position. Start by sitting upright, and pretend there is a piece of string gently pulling at the top of your head. This will help you straighten your posture, but not to the point of discomfort. If you are flexible enough to cross your legs, great. If not, rest your feet flat on the floor. Relax your shoulders, your jaw, and settle into your seat. Rest your hands at your sides or on top of your legs.
Take a few deep breaths. Start out by taking 3-4 deep breaths. Experience where you feel the breath the most. Perhaps it is where the breath enters your nostrils, hits the back of your throat, or the rise and fall of your abdomen. Rest your awareness where you sense the breath the strongest.
Focus on the breath. Now, allow your breath to return to normal while resting your focus where you feel the breath the strongest. Direct your focus to the inhalation, exhalation, and the pause between breaths. The point of this type of meditation is to focus on the present. Using the breath as an anchor is one of the most accessible ways to stay in the moment.
Do not judge yourself. After a few breaths, your mind might begin to wander. This is completely natural. Whenever you notice your focus has wandered, whether it is 1, 5, or 20 minutes later, bring it back to the breath. No judgments. The point of meditation is not to be singularly focused, but to recognize when your mind wanders, and to bring it back to the present. Each time you bring your mind back, you are building your attention, focus, and self-awareness. This is an especially grounding tool during times of difficulty, when our brains become overwhelmed by a negative stream of thoughts.
Start slowly and build up. Even five minutes a day can produce results. You will begin to tolerate longer periods over time. Eventually, you might build up to 20 minutes. However, any amount of regular practice has a positive impact.
Meditation does not provide overnight relief. However, with practice, it enables a deeper understanding of your emotional process and thought patterns. This translates to a higher level of maturity and problem solving in the real world. Your newly developed mental agility will not only help you reach your aspirations, it will also increase your ability to enjoy your success.