I wrote a lot about resolutions in January. What I didn’t mention is that I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions.
This year I decided to though.
I’ve read and heard a lot about the benefits of meditation over the years, most recently in this fascinating interview with Jill Bolte Taylor, author of Stroke of Insight. Taylor is a neuroscientist. Several years ago, she had a nearly life-threatening stroke that wiped out the left side of her brain. She lost her ability to talk, read, and write. But without the left side of her brain functioning (that’s the part that thinks logically, names things, and worries), she felt an extreme sense of euphoria and well-being. Taylor believes meditation can teach the rest of us to quiet the left side of our brains and experience a similar sense of well-being .
I’ve also read about various studies showing that meditation can boost the immune system and make people happier.
I’ve practiced meditation occasionally over the years, but this year I decided to commit to 15 minutes every day. Like most people, I’m busy. I have a toddler, so solitary quiet time is a rarity. And when I have it, I’m usually feverishly working. So this idea of sitting silently for 15 minutes a day felt like something of a radical act.
What is meditation?
People use many different techniques to meditate. The general idea is to try to focus your attention on one thing. Some people say a mantra or “om”, some sit in front of a mirror, some dance or walk.
I simply sit in silence, close my eyes, and try to focus on my breath. When I inevitably find my mind drifting, I just try to bring my awareness back to my breath. I use the word “try”, because meditating is not as easy as it might sound.
Much to my surprise, in just one month, I’ve noticed some fairly huge changes in the way I think and feel.
• More focus.
I have not always been the most focused person. I partly blame the Internet, because I got used to jumping back and forth between ten tabs at once, skimming things, and clicking from link to link. Then I transferred that mindset to my daily life.
For example, I was reading a lot of books at a time. I’d have four or five stacked up on my nightstand. I’d read half of one, then pick up another, then go back to the first one, or pick up a new one. And even though I’ve always loved fiction, I got distracted from novels most easily, often putting them down after a few chapters.
I am thinking so much more clearly now. I’ve mostly eradicated multitasking from my life. I make a checklist and do one thing at a time. And I’ve been reading one book at a time start-to-finish and have finished a number of novels. (I imagine making checklists also plays a role in my new-found focus, but more on that in another post.)
• Just being, not thinking
It’s easier for me to just be, for its own sake, without over-thinking it. For instance, I can stand in my backyard and feel the wind, listen to the birds, hear the trees rustle, and smell my neighbors’ woodsmoke without even naming those sensations to myself. Meditating seems to be teaching me to feel without thinking, just as Taylor suggested.
• Emotional awareness.
When you meditate, you observe emotions coming and going. You’re supposed to just be aware of them, notice what they do to your body, and name them as they pass. “Fear, anger, impatience, etc.” After practicing this during meditation, I’m more aware of how I’m feeling when I’m not meditating. (This can be quite helpful when living with an irrational (but adorable) toddler.)
• Making peace with slow
I love listening to the radio and podcasts, but I also spend a lot of my days in silence. I find that I’m even more at ease with the silence now. Also when those inevitable slow times arise during parenting, i.e. waiting for a toddler to eat, get dressed, fall asleep, walk in the same general direction as you, etc., I’m seeing them more as opportunities to practice being present and aware.
Honestly this radical experiment I undertook last month feels a lot less radical now. I don’t feel good unless I sit and do nothing for 15 minutes. It’s starting to feel essential.
When I used to run four or five days a week, I felt an incredible freedom knowing that I could just run anywhere if I needed to. I feel a similar sense of freedom knowing that I can just be.
Do you meditate? If so, have you noticed changes in the way you think and feel since you started?