HMC Day 10: “What’s the point?”

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 10.pngMaybe your meditation practice has proven to be instantly helpful in getting you unstuck from a personal problem, or finding greater clarity or relaxation, or mitigating anxiety/stress symptoms.

But let’s be honest: Most of you probably haven’t seen a gigantic effect just yet. When it’s time to sit down and practice, you may notice thoughts like, “ugh, what is the point of this?” or “is this really worth it?”

My answer to the second question is an unequivocal YES! It’s worth it, even if you have not seen measurable/noticeable effects yet. You have to give meditation time. You wouldn’t expect to go running a few times and see dramatic changes in your body. Meditation, like any habit, takes time, repetition and patience to make an impact.

As for “the point” of meditation, that’s hard to summarize. (I think the fact that the point is difficult to summarize is actually a big part of what turns people off from meditating in general. There’s no short and sweet way to explain what it is and how it helps.)

A few things I’ll say on this:

🌟 The point isn’t the same for everyone,

🌟 You can’t understand meditation by reading about it — you have to experience it first-hand, and over the long haul

And, most importantly,

🌟 If you focus too much on trying to achieve any particular outcome, this effort will sabotage your practice, since by definition you’ll be trying to get somewhere rather than being in the moment.

So notice any thoughts you have that threaten your commitment to the practice, and notice the corresponding feelings of frustration or annoyance. Then pause. Decide what to do next. Remember, you can have thoughts and feelings and choose to do WHATEVER YOU WANT with them — including, in this case, continue sitting down and meditating despite your doubts.

Assignment:
Sit for 8 minutes and practice breath awareness. Notice where your mind drifts to, and bring it back, again and again, to your breath. If you find it very difficult to tolerate a silent meditation, feel free to turn on something guided.

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! To receive a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/holidaymeditationchallenge.

HMC Day 9: Stick to your timer

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 9.png

Even seasoned meditators sometimes think, “Am I almost done?”

It’s normal to wonder about how quickly time is passing, and experience the urge to check your watch — especially if you’re having trouble settling down during your meditation, or you’re encountering difficult emotions like boredom, sadness or anger.

I’m here to encourage you to refrain from checking the clock, and DEFINITELY refrain from quitting early.

In some ways, the idea of “stick to your timer” is an extension of yesterday’s post about the pause (click here if you missed it) It’s always useful in meditation to notice urges and choose to wait them out rather than act impulsively on them. Why? Because our true power lies in the space between the urge to do something and the corresponding action. We always have a choice. Meditation teaches us to notice this space more, to have more awareness of the distinction between thought and behavior.

Checking the clock or ending early are both urges that run counter to what you set out to do when you sat down to meditate and chose a duration. Don’t engage in a bunch of self-analysis during the meditation itself. Instead, redirect your attention to whatever you set out to focus on at the start of your session. Afterward, you might reflect on the desire you had to escape meditation, particularly if this urge constitutes a pattern for you.

Assignment:

Set a timer for twice as long as your average meditation time over the last week — for most of you this will be somewhere between 10-16 minutes. This uptick in duration will likely prompt some restlessness during your session. When you notice the desire to see how much time is left, label the thought (“I want to stop” or “I’m thinking about when I’ll be done”) and then redirect your focus to the narration, your breath, your mantra or whatever your focus is today. Journal for 5 minutes after your session is done — on a scrap of paper or in a note on your phone, whatever’s easiest. What emotions go along with thoughts of wanting to stop meditating? In what other circumstances/situations in your life do you notice an urgency to stop what you’re doing ahead of schedule?

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! To receive a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here.

HMC Day 8: the pause

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 8

Welcome to your second week of being a real meditator!

Today’s post is a brief exploration of what I like to call “the pause.”

One of the most profound benefits of meditation is learning about your particular desires, impulses and urges simply by observing your own mind. In this process, you’ll also become aware of your ability to decide, deliberately, whether/how to take action or wait with regard to a particular impulse.

As Viktor Frankl famously wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So much of what comes up in meditation is uncomfortable in one way or another. A feeling or thought we don’t want to have, a physical sensation that’s unpleasant or even painful. In the span of even a 5 or 10 minute meditation, you’ll likely experience an urge to attend to pain, itching, numbness, etc., or feel like you want to judge or banish a difficult thought or emotion.

I challenge you to pause for a moment after noticing the physical or emotional discomfort before you make a change. You can do what you need to do, but discomfort provides an opportunity to practice that pause between awareness and action. Try not to react on autopilot.

Assignment:

Sit for 8 minutes, selecting one of the meditations we’ve talked about over the last several days. Whenever discomfort arises, practice “the pause” before shifting your position or attention. Label the discomfort in an objective way (i.e. “throbbing sensation” or “feeling of sadness”) and then decide whether you need to do anything specific to make it stop, or if it’s possible to tolerate its presence for a while.

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! To receive a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here.

HMC Day 7: Mantra meditation

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 7

In mantra meditation, you essentially calm your mind by giving it something to do, i.e. think the same word, sound or phrase over and over.

The repetition of a mantra creates a tunnel of awareness that is really helpful for those who find their minds wandering endlessly during other types of meditation. You are allowing your brain to think, but about just one thing — the mantra. You can’t recite a mantra AND think about all the tasks waiting for you at work.

Of course, mantra meditation is no more a cure-all for a wandering mind than breath awareness meditation or the body scan. There’s always the likelihood of the mind periodically drifting away into thought. But for some, the concrete task inherent to mantra repetition is very effective. As soon as you notice any extraneous thoughts, your task is 100% clear: return to the mantra.

A mantra can be anything you want.

  • Think about what you’d like more or less of in your life and select a word that encapsulates this,
  • Consider sayings that already carry meaning for you, or
  • Go with a sound or an ancient Sanskrit word that will lull you into peaceful trance

Some ideas: “Right now it’s like this,” “I am love,” “Be here, now,” “Shanti” (Sanskrit for peace).

Assignment:

Choose a mantra. Sit for 5-7 minutes and chant the mantra until your time is up. Notice any thoughts or feelings that arise during meditation, and be sure to shift your focus back to the mantra whenever possible.

>> If you’re feeling bold, say your mantra 108 times. The number 108 is a sacred number in Hinduism and appears often in meditation and yoga traditions. A full set of mala beads (pictured above; similar in function to Catholic rosary beads) will help you keep track!

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! To receive a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/holidaymeditationchallenge.

HMC Day 6: Breath Awareness

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 6

Breath awareness is a building block of most meditation practices — partly because it’s so simple. As long as we’re alive, we’re breathing, and so our breath is always an available anchor. It’s a reliable source of calmness, stability and grounding when used intentionally.

Breath awareness meditation is about noticing your in-breaths and out-breaths. Some people like to choose some facet of the breathing process to focus on, like the rising and falling of the chest, or the coolness of the air as it enters through the nostrils. Others simply mark the in-breath by thinking, “in” or “breathing in,” and the out-breath by thinking “out” or “breathing out.” You don’t have to breathe with any specific pattern, rhythm or pace.

And… that’s about it! Here’s the catch: Your mind WILL wander away from the breath. Often. Even if you’re sitting for just 5 minutes, your mind could easily drift into daydreaming, planning or worrying dozens of times during that period. You might notice feelings of irritation or boredom.

The key is to return your attention to your breath over and over, without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up or debate whether you’re cut out to meditate (or if you do, notice what you’re doing, and drop it so that you can refocus on your breath). Rest assured that it’s the process of redirecting our attention that constitutes the heart of meditation. The skill is the noticing and the gentle shifting back to our original focus.

Assignment:

Sit in silence and focus on your breath for 5 minutes. If this is your first time meditating without a recording, you may notice more feelings of anxiety or restlessness during the practice, and that’s OK. Whatever occurs to you — whatever the thoughts and feelings may be — accept them all, and drop them in favor of focusing on your breath.

>> If you’re a more experienced meditator, increase the time to at least 10 minutes.

 

HMC Day 5: Loving Kindness

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 5

This is one of my favorite meditations.

A loving kindness meditation is about sending warmth and love into the world and toward yourself. It’s a way of cultivating compassion, which over the long run is a key component to feeling happy, balanced and at peace.

It’s sort of a variant of mantra meditation, which we will explore in more depth soon. In loving kindness meditation, you repeat the same series of phrases over and over, gently shifting your focus to different individuals or populations as you go. If you are a tough self-critic, you may want to put yourself last in order and work up to sending the love your way. If you have trouble with others (or with a specific person!) save them for last.

I’ll put a typical script here:

May you be well

May you have peace

May you be kind to yourself

May you be joyful

May you be safe and at ease

You might first think about someone you love very much and have no problem wishing well, like a child. Then, shift attention to a neutral person, maybe a neighbor, then to someone with whom you don’t always agree, then to someone who really tends to irritate you… then to your neighborhood, your city, the world, and yourself.

This is a fantastic exploration of the loving kindness meditation by Jack Kornfield: https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-on-lovingkindness/

Assignment:

Practice loving kindness meditation for at least 5 minutes.

Try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjfCS88Gc7Q

>> Keep in mind that 5 minutes goes really quickly for this one. We will return to it later in the challenge and devote more time to it; in my opinion, it’s a little more effective if you can slow it down and sit for longer.

>> If you’re up for more, Tara Brach’s 12-minute version is here: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-metta-lovingkindness/

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! If you’d like a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/holidaymeditationchallenge.