I think the first time I tried to meditate I was on a Metro bus in Seattle. It was the 1990's, I was working at the ABC radio affiliate KOMO AM 1000 and was exhausted. Rain outside caused heavy condensation on the inside of the bus windows. I was warm and cozy in my seat but my mind was agitated by the stress of working in radio news. Somewhere along the way I'd picked up that meditating would quiet my mind. I closed my weary eyes and imagined I was sitting among fog enshrouded Douglas Fir trees. I slowed my breath and visualized the limbs of trees, the individual needles and the smell they produced. I was amazed at how quickly I calmed down.
That was just one experience in hundreds perhaps thousands of days of stress and spaziness where I would, instead of meditating, turn to overeating, over-drinking and eventually smoking cigarettes. Slowing down enough to meditate was not yet in my vocabulary. It was something I aspired to but couldn't quite slow down enough to attain. I began a practice of yoga well before I was able to settle into meditation. In the 90's, I lived in a world where self-care still wasn't part of my routine. The notion of self-care is still something I'm defining for myself.
Nearly a decade would have to go by before I came to a more steady meditation practice and even then I would have stretches where my A-D-D mind would take over with something way more “important”. Meditation takes a level of discipline many in our culture aren’t willing to settle into. The odd catch is that when you do commit and start to feel the effects of meditation, you can’t see your life without it.
There are many styles of meditation. I tried Zen, Insight, Kriya and probably several others I can't remember right now but finally settled on Transcendental Meditation. I really just stumbled into it because my boyfriend did it and knew a teacher. A group of us committed to go through the training which made it a lot easier. Meditation alone is great but meditating with a group can be even more powerful, especially if there are experienced meditators with you.
Your mobile phone can now be your meditation teacher. Meditation apps abound. They’re a great place to start and play around with different techniques.
What does it mean to meditate? For me it's how I get grounded, get centered, get focused and get in contact with my higher power. When I'm going through my day my mind comes across all kinds of negative emotions and thoughts from others, from myself and situations where I find myself. I can then become sidetracked into things that aren't important. Meditation allows me to ask, "What is it I really need to be doing today? Where will I focus my energy?"
Along my travels I've heard that, "Praying is asking God for what you want and meditating is listening for his/her answer." Just recently I've really started to adhere to this notion. I get quiet so I can listen. I then take note of what messages am I getting and how can I put them into play. When I do this consistently my life just runs better.
What's happening while I'm "in there?" Getting the mind to settle down takes time. It never truly disengages. I believe we just learn to direct our awareness in other ways. We pay more attention to our breath or how we're feeling in our bodies. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield has a seminal book on meditation (A Path with Heart) where he likens the mind to a puppy we're training to "go on the paper." We must constantly be vigilant to direct it back to where we want. But be vigilant in a kind and not punishing way. I watch my mind go astray dozens of times in a meditation session and gently bring my awareness back to my breath. When I'm successful, I arrive at a sort of "no-place" neither here nor there, a place of no time passing. My mind and body relax deeply but more impressively, my mind seemingly disengages from chasing thoughts hither and thither. To be clear, this doesn't happen instantly for me. I probably sit for a good ten minutes before my mind is finally able to release itself from spin mode. This is probably why I have such a tough time meditating in the afternoons. I am so fully engaged in the day that getting my mind to let go for 20 minutes seems insurmountable. It's my next big hurdle.
I’ve meditated in cars, airports and on airplanes, on ferries and on beaches. Today I often sit in a comfy living room chair, light a stick of incense and meditate while the sun is coming up. I focus on my breathing for a couple of minutes and then consciously make myself available to “hear” my higher power. My mind will attempt to hijack me into something momentarily fascinating and as soon as I notice it, I come back to my breath, maybe visualize one of my chakras, say my mantra and get quiet again. This repeats and you kind of get used to it once you understand how the mind works.
Here’s what I know; meditation helps me slow down in a world that’s going ever faster with no intentions of slowing down. I have no need to go that fast and when I do I inevitably hurt myself either physically or emotionally or both. When I slow down, I see the world more clearly and make better, more elegant decisions in alignment with my deeper desires and needs.