Meditation and Mindfulness

man meditating, meditating man

Getty Image

Every morning (with rare exceptions) I start my day with the practice of  meditation and mindfulness. I go into the sunroom to meditate for 30 minutes and start my meditation by thinking of things for which I am grateful. The first one is always “I am thankful for this gift of a new day and for the health and strength and energy to enjoy it.”

This practice makes me aware of the many gifts in my life both large and small. Sometimes I’m grateful for having spent a day with my granddaughters or that my sinus infection has gone away so can breathe again or that I had lunch with an old friend. Others I’m grateful that it’s going to be a warm day and the sun will shine. Regardless, there’s always something to feel thankful for and positive about.

Not Thinking? Not Easy

Then I close my eyes and try to sit without thinking. This is difficult. My mind—like everyone’s—wants to be busy. That’s its job, after all. My mind wants me to start writing the day’s blog post or the next paragraph in the short story I’m working on. It wants to think about the conversation I had with my neighbor or the book I’m reading. It insists on mulling over problems or issues. I’m constantly sending the thoughts away and focusing on my breathing, only to have the thoughts return moments later like squirrels to the bird  feeder. What’s important is the process, not the end result.

In the winter I turn on the gas fireplace to both warm up the room and calm my churning brain with its soft purr. In spring and summer I listen to bird songs, especially when I can open the sliding door to the deck. How do I know when 30 minutes have passed? I set my internal time clock and it tells me when to create my intention for the day and open my eyes. A timer works just as well, though.

The Gears Start Turning

I can do this now but it would have been impossible during my high tech marketing career. Then my mind started working as soon as, and sometimes before, I got out of bed. It would fill up with things I had to do that day: meetings to attend, strategies to develop, budgets to balance, copy to write, Powerpoint presentations to create, and people to manage. I could not have wiped those demands away when all I wanted to do was get to work and have at them.

employment, interviewingBack then I tried to meditate at night when I was tired and it was easier to put the day’s thoughts behind me. I would sit in a dark room, light a candle, play soft music and put aside the household noises of the family around me. It was a small but important break in the constant turmoil.

Some days meditation is easy and my brain is happy to sit and idle. On others it ramps up from zero to sixty in nothing flat and I have to constantly rev it back. When I’m really tired I can slip into a state of deep meditation that’s indistinguishable from sleep. Regardless, it’s always worthwhile.

Simple, Cheap and Easy

I know not everyone “gets” meditation. Some people confuse it with a religious practice while others just find it too “out there” for them. Many people have told me they can’t meditate because they can’t quiet their brains. There’s an old joke in which a young person says this to an old Buddhist monk who replies, “How unfortunate for you that you are the only person in the world with this problem.”   The joke, of course is that everyone has this problem.

Neuro Hacking by Mike Rothman and Jennifer MInella at the RSA ConferenceIf you are technical, skeptical, or just firmly grounded in Western reality, I recommend Mike Rothman’s work on mindfulness in the workplace. Mike (@securityincite) is an analyst in the information security industry and as straight a shooter as you’ll find. He, along with Jennifer Minella, has presented on this topic at the RSA Security Conference, speaking to a very technical sudience. You can see or read their presentation here:

Meditation is simple, cheap, and easy. No special gear is required and pajamas are fine. You don’t have to make a tee time or a court date. You don’t have to attend a class or pass a test. No one will ask for certification. Exertion is minimal. And you can do it anywhere: oceans, sunsets and fields of daisies are optional.

Scientific and medical studies have reported a wealth of benefits with no side effects or adverse reactions at all. How many drugs or medications can say that? Meditation can help you to work better and live better. You can read a few of the many benefits for your mental and physical health here:

Just Two Minutes

lotus flower, mindfulness, meditationBest of all, you don’t have to commit 30 minutes a day to doing it. Five or ten will do. Even two minutes of sitting quietly and breathing calmly is beneficial. And everybody has two minutes, even harried mothers. Try these simple steps:

  1. Turn off the TV or radio. Put down your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Take off your Apple watch or Google glasses.
  2. Sit comfortably with a straight back.
  3. Take three deep breaths, paying attention to how you feel as the air goes in and out.
  4. Focus only on the breaths.
  5. There, you’re done.

Next week, try it for five minutes, then eight and so on. Eventually you’ll find that you enjoy it and look forward to your quiet time. And you’ll be happier and healthier as a result.