7 Ways Meditating Has Helped Me

Jon Kabat-Zinn - Time By Yourself

I love meditation.

But I feel like that’s a strange sentence. It’s kind of like saying “I love sports.” There are a million different kinds of meditation: Body scan, mindfulness, mantra, loving kindness, transcendental, breathing, visualization, contemplative, affirmations, etc. Meditations ranges from the very scientific to the very spiritual, from the very basic to the very ritualistic, and from the very thought/idea-filled to the very quiet/empty.

There are also so many different purposes in meditation: Releasing stress, freeing yourself from constant judgments, slowing down, finding peace, appreciating life, building confidence, accepting yourself and the way things are, feeling present and thankful, increasing physical or mental health, and the list goes on.

So to say I love meditation is to make a very broad statement. I’m not sure I want to narrow it down much, though, because I haven’t yet found a type of meditation that, when truly embraced, doesn’t seem to provide some good and some peace.

I personally have done more mindfulness meditation, breath awareness, mantras, and contemplative meditations than other kinds, so that may be worth knowing when I share a few of the ways meditation has helped me. But at the same time: I’m not you. I encourage you to try (“try” might be the worst word to use about meditating) various kinds meditation with an open mind and see if one helps you. Keeping in mind that many kinds of meditation will not feel like they “work” for a very long time, if ever. In fact, for some kinds, not having to “work” or “make a difference” is the exact point.

I’m no guru or yogi and it’s not like I spend hours every day meditating. But meditation has become a pretty regular part of my life, and I’ve found that it has helped me in more than a few ways. Here are just seven ways it’s helped me that I hope might pique your interest:

 

1. Releasing physical tension and pain.

I’m starting with an interesting one, because I have found a lot of peoples’ experience with “spiritual” and “out there” things has turned them off to meditation: It’s too weird. It is weird, but it can help even the most down-to-earth realist (which used to be me).

Meditation has actually made a significant difference for me with chronic headaches and muscle tension. Like many others, I “carry my stress” in my neck and shoulders. Massages and hot showers help because they relax tense muscles. In the same way, meditating can help by relaxing your tense muscles. Body scans and deep breathing have been especially helpful for me in calming and relaxing tense areas, and they often provide quick relief. Other meditations that help with developing peace and acceptance also provide more lasting help in relieving the stress that causes physical tension.

2. Stress relief and management.

People have a million different strategies for “stress management.” Stress seems to be a universal part of the human experience. For me, meditation has done more than almost anything else in the world to release stress–both in the moment when worked up or anxious, and longer term through regular practice.

Often mantras, chants, and other similar meditations which reflect on a hopeful, calming, relieving truth or idea really help to reduce stress. What has been especially helpful for me in this area, though, is mindfulness meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn has created an entire program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has been used in work places, hospitals, and more to help people reduce stress, which in turn leads to many other health benefits. One of the key aspects of mindfulness meditation is the incredibly simple allowing and accepting of things, relaxing from the constant strain of wishing everything was different.

For those of you who experience times of intense stress (so, all of you), various forms of meditation can be very helpful in the moment to calm down and regain clarity.

3. Getting through anxiety

I’ve dealt this last year with a lot of anxiety, and mindfulness meditations, deep breathing, mantras, and guided meditations have definitely been in the top three or four things that have helped me deal healthily with and find hope and peace during anxious times. I know anxiety can be a very dark and scary and draining experience, and I hope that if you sometimes experience it, you’ll try some meditation for yourself. I’d encourage you to look up some guided meditations Thich Nhat Hanh or Jon Kabat-Zinn and try it–see if it gives you a little break and helps you find some peace and strength in your anxiety.

4. Getting and staying in touch with myself.

All of life is crammed full of noise, ideas and thoughts and emotions being forced on you, people trying to influence you, events shaping your mood and impacting your mental health. I bet you totally get when I’m saying when I say it’s all to easy to lose touch with yourself.

Meditation can be extremely helpful when it comes to regaining self-awareness and staying in touch with yourself–your emotions, your dreams, your desires, and your own thoughts. Body scans and contemplative meditations have been very helpful for myself in this area. A lot of people think that meditation is about trying to get rid of all thoughts, but many types are not. In fact, some meditations are all about providing space for your mind to wander and think thoughts it doesn’t usually have the time or safety to think. One of the most helpful practices I’ve ever incorporated into my day-to-day life is sitting alone in silence for ten minutes with no agenda, just allowing my mind the time and space to run free.

5. Noticing the little things.

Meditation is a really great way to slow down your mind. It is hard not to get carried away in the fast pace of daily busyness, constantly having to worry about a hundred things and keep track of a hundred more. One of the healthiest, happiest things you can do is slow down enough to start noticing and appreciating the little things around you again. Meditating has really helped me with this.

When you just be quiet and sit in silence, your mind is sometimes able to calm down further and further, to let go of some of its intense stress about the past or about the future. And then, at least in my experience, the Present around you suddenly comes to life. You remember that there is a giant world full of beautiful present moments all around you, every day, a world that you don’t usually see. And the more frequently you get quiet enough to see it, the easier it becomes to find.

6. Developing the ability to quickly re-center or re-focus when needed day to day.

Somewhat related to the last one about finding the little things in this present moment, getting in touch with the Present also helps find perspective that we are too often missing. Slowing down and stepping out of the mind’s busy cycle of manufactured stress offers helpful reminders that everything really is okay, that life is more than our current chaos and worries, and that we are safer than we feel.

The more frequently you visit this place of perspective in quiet meditation, getting practice stepping outside of the constant rushing mental stress cycle, the easier it becomes to access this perspective and peace at any time you need it during crazy day-to-day life. The more regularly I have practiced meditation, the easier it is for me to refocus and regain a big picture perspective when I’m busy stressing about little chaotic life things. Stress has a way of completely blinding you, and meditation can help you to keep a clearer head.

7. Becoming more compassionate toward myself and others.

Meditation has a way of making you feel very deeply human. It strips away outer layers of styles and plans and accomplishments and messages and everything else that we see and judge every day. Mindfulness meditation particularly has really helped me accept things just the way they are without needing to constantly be judging–myself or others. It is an active practice of observing without judging, of fully accepting. Learning this and practicing this makes being compassionate to yourself or to other people very natural.

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.” – Sylvia Boorstein

 

So what do you think? Have you tried any kinds of meditation? What has it done for you?

I hope that if you haven’t already, you give meditation a shot. Or that if you’ve tried and been discouraged by distraction or invisible results, you’ll give it another shot. I hope that if you try meditation, you find it helps you as much as it has helped me. If you want any suggestions or pointers on where to start, let me know!

12 Little Ways to Find Magic in 2019

magic - roald dahl
A picture of magic I took this last year

“Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Every winter the day comes when we box up the Christmas decorations and close the door on the last little reminders of the wonder that the holiday brings. It won’t be long before I start looking forward again to the next first snow and the accompanying cheer. Whenever I’m asked my favorite Christmas movie, I have to say it’s The Polar Express, because it’s about a kid who learns not to outgrow magic.

As well as being a time for magic, jolliness, snowy walks, and hot chocolate, December is also a time where a lot of people who should feel love and belonging instead feel especially alone, confused, and hurt. Maybe your holidays are a mix of both. We’ve all just made it through the holidays and as we return to working full time through the cold, short days of winter, many people are left aching a little more than usual, a little more numb to the possibilities of joy and hope. Seasonal depression is ready to kick in. January can leave us feeling like, “Where did the magic go?”

As we get older and experience more stress and disappointments in a big and confusing world, I’m afraid we tend to lose sight of the little bits and pieces of the world that are beautiful and happy. The constant drip of stress rewires our brains and we might find ourselves daily a bit more “Bah humbug” about it all.

But guys… the magic is still there. I think no matter how much we grow up, if we look and listen closely enough, we can still find it. I promise.

If you’re struggling to find the magic you knew as a kid, you’re not alone. Here are a few  places I’ve learned I can find magic. And maybe these will help you also find magic this year–if you look closely…

1. Watch a nature scene for a while. There are beautiful sights all around you. Bumblebees buzzing around flowers, leaves rustling in the breeze, fish jumping, storm clouds rolling in, little spiders, soaring eagles, and silly squirrels, the smell of rain and the burning warmth of sunshine… Nature is free. And beautiful spots are closer than you might think. Open Google Maps and zoom in on the sections shaded green. And if you need any recommendations, let me know! The only catch is: You have to sit still long enough to still be watching when the magic moments happen.

2. Learn to give someone a massage. Even if you don’t go to massage school and become a pro, there are lots of easy books and YouTube videos to teach you some basics in giving someone the gift of a relaxing massage. And honestly, just giving it a shot without any help will still be worth it. The soothing and caring touch of massage can be a comforting and relieving experience. The simplest massage can be an amazing gift for someone you appreciate, and giving that gift can be just as gratifying as receiving it.

3. Read a story from history. Our planet’s history is colorful, intriguing, and downright entertaining. Take a break from the modern world and immerse yourself in tales of Montezuma’s bustling old city of Mexico, fierce raids by the Vandal tribes, or the beautiful arabesques of the old Arabic world. If you don’t know where else to start, try E. H. Gombrich’s book A Little History of the World, which reads like a fairy tale.

4. Cook a recipe from a different cuisine. If you can read and if you can be patient with the slow, imperfect process, you can do this no matter how little cooking you’ve done in your life. And you may find it a delightful (and tasty) adventure! I especially love the idea of experiencing the creation of a meal like another culture traditionally does it. With thousands of recipes online and a variety of ethnic cookbooks at your local Barnes & Noble, and with a little help from Google in deciphering the weird ingredients and tasks–this can be an awesome experience. For Christmas this year we made a few traditional Italian country meals, like linguine with lentils and pancetta. I’m no chef, so it took a few hours, but how much fun (and what a delicious celebration)!

5. Take a simple hiking trip. Guys, here’s the thing: Outdoor hiking adventures aren’t nearly as expensive or complicated as you’d think! Seriously. Big airport hubs like Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas often offer cheaper flights than you’d expect. Or you can rent a car with unlimited miles from Enterprise for a several day road trip. Airbnbs can be way more affordable (and way cozier) than hotels. Local grocery stores have the same food you buy every week at home. You can cover a lot of ground in just a couple days. And nature is not expensive! National Parks are a great place to start–guides and information on experiencing them are plentiful, their trails are well maintained, and park rangers are there to help. Some even have free entry, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An annual pass to all US National Parks costs less than a fancy dinner at a resort. And guys, once you get out into the nature and start moving… and seeing… the beauty you can find in nature is just indescribable. Hiking trips can become the most thrilling memories in your life. (Need any tips? Let me know!)

6. Make some new music. Don’t play an instrument? Can’t get one? Then sing! You don’t have to be a master musician to feel the magic of music. It can carry deep and powerful emotion and can move the toughest people to tears. Try picking up the guitar. Or the piano. It’s not too difficult, really. Or just turn up your favorite songs in the car and belt them out like there’s no tomorrow. Nobody’s watching, I promise. And if you can’t do any of those, find a beautiful piece of music and just sit down, close your eyes, and feel it. Music doesn’t have to become your “thing,” but maybe once in a while you can find magic there.

7. Find an epic make-believe movie. A lot of us adults decide we can’t like “kid stuff” as much when become older. Fantasy and imagination… aren’t those supposed to fade from our focus as we get older? But why not just embrace the fun and the artistry of it every once in a while? Epic visual story-telling can be a genuinely fun experience. Find some unique and enchanting animation. Shamelessly binge your favorite superhero movies and get excited about them. Why not? You can

8. Have a conversation with a child. Nothing will remind you of the magic all around you quicker than having a chat with a little kid. They see monsters and epic battles and plots and imaginary friends and amazing animals all around them. Christmas and Halloween are just out of this world exciting to them. Accidentally walking into a wall or leaves them in hysterics. Every little leaf is fascinating. And each day is a new adventure. Listen to them tell you about their magic.

9. Start learning a new language. How cool is it to hear someone fluently carry on a conversation in another language? Isn’t it fun to learn how to greet someone from a little country on the other side of the globe? And what a magical connection when you meet somebody whose first language you’ve learned, even just a little. Languages aren’t that hard to pick up. They’re hard to master, but a few basic greetings and common words aren’t too complicated. And it can be loads of fun! Download the Duolingo app!

10. Take a long, quiet walk. Detach. Leave your phone in your pocket, if not at home. Just walk out the door and keep walking. A quiet, peaceful walk can be a grounding experience. Have some you time–time to catch up with yourself like you’d catch up with a friend. Time to think and feel while you’re not racing around accomplishing things. Maybe even bring a friend or two. A long walk can reconnect you to yourself, reconnect you to a friend, or even just reconnect you to the earth that is your home.

11. Make an elderly friend. I love listening to people reminisce about their years and years of unique experiences and adventures, the people and places they’ve known, the happy, sad, or funny things they’ve seen. And I love hearing the perspectives and words of wisdom their lives have given to them. And I love seeing what is truly important to people towards the end of their lives. Try getting to know someone who has lived a long life they’re willing to share with you. Not only can hearing all their stories be fun, and listening to their advice be helpful, but it can be incredibly happy for them to have a friend to talk to when some of their own friends have started to pass on, and their accomplishments have started to fade into the past–it can be a magical friendship for both of you.

12. Try meditating. Just try it. There are as many different reasons and ways to meditate as there are people who do it. Two of the things I love to find in meditation are: A grounded connection to yourself and the real world around you; And an acceptance and “okayness” with the way things are. If you’d like help getting started, look up Jon Kabat-Zinn, who helped bring mindfulness meditation to the west. His books Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses were very helpful for me. His abridged audiobook version of the latter is a breeze. Or check out the Headspace or Calm apps. Or, if you’re brave enough, just take 20 minutes, sit quietly, and stop trying things. Just let things go. Observe. Allow feelings. Be still. If you’re not sure it’s “working,” you’re probably doing it right. Meditation doesn’t have to be about achieving some euphoric state. It’s more about learning to accept–that it’s all okay.

I hope this list has inspired you a little. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of these every month. They’re all easy and affordable adventures. And I promise by the end of the year you’ll have made lifelong memories and you’ll have tasted a little bit more of the magic this life has to offer.

Happy adventuring!

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl