Holiday Meditation Challenge: Wrapping up

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Today I’m concluding the Holiday Meditation Challenge, and I hope that you’re walking away with something. Maybe you’ve re-committed to a meditation practice you’d left behind, or perhaps you’ve discovered meditation for the first time as a tool for grounding, calming and connecting to yourself.

I would love to hear how your meditation practice has developed over the past month, what was helpful, and/or what could be improved or changed about the challenge.

Last assignment:
By now, you’ve probably figured out what the optimal amount of time is for you personally to sit and meditate. Set your timer for that length of time — be it 5 minutes, 10, 15, 20. Listen to a guided meditation by Tara Brach, Ron Siegel, or anyone on YouTube you’ve discovered (or in an app if you use one). Or sit quietly if you need space to be with your breath and observe the thoughts passing through your head.

If you have any interest in expanding your practice to include group meditation experiences locally, try Dharma Refuge: http://pxlme.me/o12zepOa (there’s a silent retreat coming up in January, and they have weekly practice times on Wednesdays and Saturdays), or get in touch with me for any mindfulness/meditation workshops I might have coming up. My contact info lives here: http://pxlme.me/VDFV4wcb

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HMC Day 20: Meditating with children

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Children don’t have to be an impediment to your meditation practice!

If you have a baby ages 0-1: You can meditate while holding your baby, rocking him, carrying him in an Ergo, etc. Make the baby your focal point! Stay with the physical sensations that accompany being with your child. Looking after babies is a very physically demanding, tactile, olfactory experience, so lots of room to introduce meditation practice here. (This will probably be easier if the baby is sleepy/sleeping and not requiring you to intervene or do anything specific like change a diaper or feed.)

If you have a toddler ages 1-3: This may be the toughest age to incorporate children into meditation, because they’re mobile, but not really old enough to understand the basics of sitting still and paying attention. You can introduce your toddler to some mindfulness-based concepts, though: help her identify how she’s feeling, ask her to describe sights and smells when you’re out and about or even at home. You could engage in a dynamic play meditation of sorts with your toddler, where your focal point is the play — and your child — paying close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up or take you away from the moment. This may end up being more mindful presence than meditation, per se, but still a worthwhile activity. And you can save the undistracted meditation for when your toddler is asleep 

If you have a child ages 3 and up: Beginning around age 3, many children are capable of following instructions around taking deep breaths/noticing breathing patterns, sitting still with eyes closed, and listening to a guided script — even if it’s just for a minute or two. As your child gets used to brief periods of meditation, you can add on a minute at a time, until your child is able to sit still for 5 minutes or more at a time. Playing a guided meditation recording would allow you to meditate along with your child. Meditation can be a wonderful ritual to add to your child’s bedtime routine. It can help with relaxation and unwinding, and you’re also setting the stage for your child to develop physical, mental and emotional self-awareness.

Assignment:
If you have children, experiment with incorporating them into your meditation today. You may decide to carve out separate time for your own private meditation at another time in the day. If you don’t have children, consider sitting for 20 minutes in honor of Day 20 of this challenge.

HMC Day 19: Meditation for grief

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 19.pngHoliday time can bring pain and comfort in equal measure. This happens in part because holidays are steeped in ritual, and each ritual houses years of vivid memories. A ritual is like a snowball, gradually increasing in size each year as more and more memories layer on top of each other.

Our memories can be heightened around the holidays because of the power of ritual, and so we might find it easier to access both warm and sorrowful memories. Losses can feel more acute, as loved ones themselves might be tied in to our holiday rituals.

If you feel overwhelmed by the pain that the holidays evoke for you, you might try a structured meditation for grief.

This script is adapted from the Chopra Center:

 Find a comfortable seat.
 Breathe naturally, and place your attention on how you are feeling—both emotionally and physically. Acknowledge any emotions and physical sensations that you notice.
 Imagine the face of the person, animal or situation you are grieving. You may think of the image as a manifestation of their spirit or just see it as a memory in your mind.
 Now, consider anything that needs to be said or forgiven and begin to have a conversation with them. Visualize this happening in your mind, now. Spend a few minutes saying whatever it is that you need to say from your heart. Then hear them saying whatever they need to say to you from their heart. If you are carrying resentment, consider whether you are ready to set this down and forgive. What would forgiveness look like and feel like for you? If forgiveness doesn’t feel right, that’s OK too.
 Next, focus in on any one of the most positive memories you can bring to mind related to this person, animal or situation, and immerse yourself in this memory. Relive the happy, fun times and the deep connections that you shared, knowing that what allows grief to release is positive, happy moments.
 When you are finished, refocus your attention on your breath, your body, and your emotions. Re-ground in the here and now. Sit quietly for a few minutes and bring your meditation to an end.
 Do this meditation as often as you need to and know that you can always return to this space whenever you want to feel at peace.

Assignment:
Try out the structured meditation above for 15-20 minutes if it seems like it could be helpful for you. If not, sit quietly or find a guided meditation that speaks to you. Remember that meditation is a highly personal experience and that you always get to choose where you sit and for how long, and whether to sit in silence or listen to a script. Once you make those choices, your only job is to refocus again and again on whatever it is you decided you wanted to focus on on today. Let go of the rest.

HMC Day 18: When holidays cause chaos

Meditation Challenge Day 18.pngThe holidays can wreak havoc on any routine — especially a new one.

Maybe you’re traveling to see family or going on vacation. The kids are off school. There’s tons of shopping and cooking and prepping and packing and organizing and coordinating to do. Old family conflicts resurface. Grief about lost loved ones can feel sharper this time of year. Even holidays filled with true merriment and joy can create stress just in the mere fact that they turn our day-to-day routines upside down.

Add all this together and you may watch your new meditation habit spin down the drain right when you need it the most.

While I’ve been sticking with my own meditation routine pretty well, I did notice that I missed a few days of posting for the Meditation Challenge this week as my own life began to feel hectic. Many of my clients are not scheduling therapy sessions for the next week or two because there’s so much going on. All of this prompted me to reflect on why the holidays invite such chaos and whether it’s possible to counter that even in small ways — to hang onto the promises we make to ourselves even in times of stress and upended routines.

In my own meditation, I’ve been opting for silence, and have gone with an open awareness approach: watching the thoughts churn through my mind, noticing the spaces in between, returning attention to my breath when I notice myself getting too caught up in worries or narratives. I’ve worked together with my husband to problem-solve some logistical challenges so that I can meditate each morning, as that’s the time of day that feels best for me to practice. I’m showing up every day whether I feel like it or not, since I know that it’s never any one meditation session that makes a difference but the string of practices put together that lead to a calmer, more grounded life.

This practice is an anchor for me. But in order to make it happen, it has to be a priority, and I have to be the one to give it priority status. It has to become integrated into my day in a reliable way. Otherwise it gets put on the back burner, and since it doesn’t have a direct benefit to anyone else in my life on any given day, I am prone to set it aside if I don’t have a plan. This is especially true over the holidays.

I urge you to take a look at your meditation practice and ask what you can do to give it priority status — even, especially, in the coming weeks as Christmas & New Year’s festivities pile up. What needs to happen so that you can’t NOT do it? Consider shortening your practice, waking up 15 minutes earlier, meditating in the bathroom where no one will bother you. Whatever you do to make it workable may mean that the practice is far from ideal, but who cares? The key here is to find a way to meditate at the frequency and for the duration that you want to, and not allowing external circumstances to sway you from what could become an anchor in times of stress.

Assignment:
Ask yourself what you need today. Five minutes of meditation? Ten? Twenty? Go with what your intuition says. Set your timer. Sit down and practice, regardless of what’s going on in your midst. Everyone around you will survive your absence, and you may find an increased capacity to be present with whatever complex experience the holidays bring if you make this practice a priority.

HMC Day 17: When you’ve missed a few days

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 17.pngWe’ve all been there.

You start a new habit/diet/hobby and for a few days or weeks, you are ALL IN. The novelty factor is high. You’re curious and motivated and know exactly why you wanted to start this new thing, whatever it may be.

And then…it starts to get old. The sparkly attraction is gone. It’s becoming another chore or obligation on your list. Some aspect of it is challenging, boring or uncomfortable. You have to make time for it. It’s not doing what you’d hoped it would do for your mood or your health or your happiness.

So you drop it.

If you’ve missed a day or two (or more) of meditation practice along this journey, I wonder if this phenomenon might be happening with meditation? Or maybe you have the sneaking suspicion that at some point — even if it hasn’t happened yet — this will be you, skipping a few days in a row, and giving up on meditation.

I’m here to encourage you to recommit. Some people decide that meditation is not for them, and that’s perfectly ok. But give it a month! Make sure you’ve really tried before you decide it’s not worth it. Perhaps something is coming up in meditation that’s upsetting or unpleasant — and perhaps that’s a sign that you could use some help sorting that out. Perhaps you find yourself resisting the quiet, afraid of what it will be like to be with yourself. Again — what’s that about, do you think? Might it be worth exploring further in a journal, with your spouse, or with a therapist?

And if you get a little black-and-white with stuff like this, try to let go of that, too. You don’t have to meditate 7 days a week to get the benefits. Just as your mind tends to wander off during meditation and your job is notice what’s happening and bring it back to your focal point, your life might draw you away from meditation, and your job is simply to return to it, to find your seat and try again.

Assignment
If you haven’t been meditating for the last few days, sit today for as much time as you can muster. Even 5 minutes. Do whatever meditation you like best. Guided or silent; mantra, loving-kindness, body scan — anything. Scroll through past posts for ideas here: http://pxlme.me/2gLl6y5A

If you have been consistent, sit for 17 minutes in honor of Day 17.
For a 17-minute guided meditation, try this one by Tara Brach: http://pxlme.me/At0wsrNK

HMC Day 16: Acceptance

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A lot of people think acceptance means agreeing with something or condoning it in some way.

That is not at all what it means. Acceptance is not the same as approving of or liking a situation, and it’s not about allowing others to walk all over you.

Acceptance is seeing things exactly as they are — describing circumstances, behaviors and even people in objective terms. Acceptance means recognizing the inarguable truth of a situation rather than judging it, exaggerating it or avoiding it.

 “I’m fat” or “I’m NOT fat” becomes “I weigh 200 pounds”

 “What an entitled ***hole” becomes “That guy just raised his voice in a crowded waiting room”

 “My partner should do more around the house” becomes “My partner does the dishes but does not make the bed.”

What acceptance allows you to do is a) have true clarity and b) make a choice as to what to do next. You let go of fighting reality. Instead of wishing things were different, or refusing to face uncomfortable facts, you open your eyes and see.

Without acceptance, there can be no change. You can’t start losing weight until you accept that you have weight to lose. You can’t start recovering from addiction until you accept that you’re addicted. You can’t have a better marriage until you acknowledge that there are problems.

First acceptance. Then, a choice: a) learn to live with whatever it is, or, b) find a path toward change.

Meditation helps us develop a greater capacity for acceptance because in meditation we practice noticing thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without judgment attached. Meditation helps us see with an objective eye. It allows us to watch ourselves thinking, and let go.

Assignment:
If you can, set your timer for 16 minutes in honor of Day 16. Sit, and begin by following your breath. Allow your thoughts and feelings to emerge. Don’t analyze your thoughts and feelings, but notice them.

When your time is up, consider: Is there something you are hanging onto for dear life? What would it be like to accept that it’s not the way you want it to be? To surrender, to let go? To set down this burden so you can move forward?

**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 15: When you’re short on time

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There are many excuses/reasons people come up with as to why they don’t get around to meditating in a given day, but TIME should never be one of them.

“But I’m so(oooooo) busy!” you might tell me.

So is everybody! The most magical part of meditation is that it’s condensable. It can fit into a tiny, two-minute-sized corner of your day when necessary.

Sure, throughout this challenge, I’m encouraging you to increase your meditation “stamina,” so to speak. Mostly because it’s good to experience what longer meditations feel like. Some people are intimidated by longer sessions but find that they really get a lot out of them once they give them a try.

That said, you don’t NEED 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes, for meditation to be worthwhile. Taking two minutes to breathe, to find your core self, to connect with your body and observe the contents of your mind, is infinitely better than forgoing the practice altogether.

Assignment
If you have time today, sit for 10-15 minutes. But if you don’t, or you feel tempted to skip out, sit for 2. Check out this free resource if you need a short guided meditation to get you through: http://pxlme.me/3fBF5n8t

**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.