I have been meditating now over half of my life with a regularity that rivals brushing my teeth. Despite all the time I have spent sitting still on the cushion, I often zone out and follow pathways of thought that lead me back into the past, far into the future or fantasizing about what shoes might be on sale at Neiman’s Last Call. Other meditation moments lull me to sleep. Even worse are the moments when my legs fall asleep and feel I may never walk again. It’s all good meditation. Even in its imperfect state, meditation still works and it all counts. Meditation can take many forms but for me, meditation is best when it brings me mindfulness, self-compassion and gratitude.
My meditation practice has given me a way to listen deeply to my own thoughts and identify the inner critic. Maybe you’ve heard the nagging voice in your head. This voice waits for the fragile self to emerge, ambushing you when you get a new hair cut, try a new way of teaching or expand your blueprint for living.
“This voice would claim to keep you safe when really, the voice only keeps you from innovation, exploration and experimentation.”
I know my critic to have masqueraded as a critical teacher, fussy aunt or rotten ex-boyfriend. I observe these thoughts, identify the critical source and focus on something other than the awfulness of being judged. Have I stopped the negative chatter through hours spent on the meditation cushion? Heavens NO!
But, if you can tell Alexa or Siri to play music, you can instruct the critic with the words.
These phrases get my critic to shut her pie hole so I can meditate, enter a room of strangers or speak my peace with compassion when really I want to hide.
Meditation fuels living mindfully. A life woven with meditation on the cushion becomes mindfulness practice off the cushion and in the world. Mindfulness is a way of being fully present in the now. You are present, without trying to judge what transpires. When being mindful you won’t hide in thoughts about anything but the tea you are pouring, listening fully to the words of the person who is talking or feeling intensely the sun warming your face.
Meditation is a practice. Just as you can never step in the same river twice, your mind will shift and change when you try to still it. Throughout these years of meditation and mindfulness, I finally learned self-compassion after taking a course on Mindfulness Self-Compassion designed by Christine Neff. Because of self-compassion, I can frequently stop the voice that has me doubting everything from whether my natural deodorant has failed me to my use of proper subjunctive verbs while I teach meditation in Spanish (which is not my native tongue) at a local woman’s shelter. My meditation gives me the measure with which to gauge life’s vicissitudes and meditation fuels the decision to be grateful always.
“Do you have to go on a 10-day silent retreat and sit still for hours to meditate? No!”
Meditation can be approached through mindfulness about the present moment without drifting into the past or future. Each moment is a present! With meditation, you will learn to unwrap these little time treasures and identify the simple joys of good sleep, comfortable shoes and time to unwind.
So how do I meditate? I use an anchor of my breath. With each inhale and exhale, I touch the tips of my fingers with my thumb and the cadence of breathing in and out relaxes the mind. Although my meditation sessions begin with me focusing on my breathing, I often devolve into contemplations on what I shall eat for lunch or how I deserve to go shoe shopping instead of preparing invoices. These distractions prove alluring. When I discover that I have strayed from focusing on my breathing, I compassionately, patiently and lovingly guide myself back to the breath. I do this over and over and over and over again until the timer chimes and releases me.
Is meditation a perfectly still mind? For me, I succeed in meditation when I observe my thoughts in the moment and decide to be kind instead of flying into a rage. In fact, I shamelessly admit that my mind still wanders from thought to thought like a wayward, curious child when I meditate. The elegant meditation byproduct that I have at 50, is a robust self-compassion and the ability to disarm the critic. I speak directly to the critic and thwart the negative chatter.
Don’t be fooled, I do not meditate with the blissful calm of the Dalai Lama but I do practice mindfulness while off the meditation cushion and in the thick the day to day living. I mindfully focus on doing one thing at a time instead of multitasking. I mindfully focus on the barista at Starbucks, breathing while texting, appreciating whatever is before me whether it is anger, sadness or joy. This meditation and mindfulness leads me to be grateful in the now.
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