Mindfulness is a misnomer. While “mindful” is defined as “conscious or aware of something” – having a “mind full” of stuff is exactly what you don’t need if you are trying to be conscious or aware of the moment. And that’s where my journey of mindfulness meditation begins: with a brain bursting at the seems with rampant thoughts.
After reading approximately 8 million articles about the benefits of meditation, I finally decided to give it a try. Well – to force myself, really. My mind is the opposite of still. Its default setting is warp speed, and I often feel like there are 20 different channels of thoughts going on all at once. Add to this an ever-present blanket of general anxiety (GMOs! Dying Alone! Donald Trump!) – and my mind was a non-stop roller coaster ride.
Whether I chalked it up to my diagnosis of ADHD, or the inevitable result of the pace modern life – I knew I needed to make a change, and I thought meditation might help.
Meditation Is Torture
There was only one problem: meditation felt like pure f***ing torture to me. Being quiet? Torture. Sitting still? Torture. Throughout my entire childhood, teachers told me to sit still constantly. Now we now that sitting still can kill you (take that Mrs. Beasley!) – but apparently calming your body is a crucial component to calming your mind.
And then there was the whole “blank out your mind” thing. That transcendental thing. The bliss supposedly brought on by mindfulness meditation – which was exactly the opposite of what I experienced.
Baby Steps: Five Minutes of Mindfulness
Still, I was curious about the ancient practice – and desperate for its highly touted benefits. So I set a small, doable goal: I would meditate for five minutes each day.
Five minutes. I could do that, right? First, I created a calendar chart to keep track of my progress with stickers, my go-to incentives since first grade. Then, in the middle of the day – some days – I forced myself to sit down and close my eyes and try to meditate.
For the first few months, about 4 minutes and 59 seconds of that time would be spent with my brain full of random thoughts. And it amazed me how many days I thought that I couldn’t spare five minutes to sit still. Five minutes to focus. Five minutes for myself.
Meditation Is Still Torture
Slowly – very slowly – I was able to calm my mind for at least 10 seconds during each five-minute session. I got better at meditating almost every day, even though I hated it. And I wasn’t seeing any benefits. Where was my Zen, dammit? SERENITY NOW! But I stuck with it: five minutes a day (I really wanted those stickers).
I also decided to lay down to meditate. Movement is essential to my being, and sitting still felt like anathema to every once of my hyperactive spirit. But lying still? I do that every night in bed. The position felt more natural to me, and I fought against it less. I’m not sure if pro yogis would approve, but I’m not sure I care.
Fast-forward a year and a half: I am indulging my usual need to ruminate incessantly over a problem when I realize that hey wait – why don’t I calm my brain instead? I realize that I can turn off those thoughts. That I can find the silent, still place inside of me. And I do – for at least five seconds.
It was a revelation. Aha! So THIS is what everyone has been yammering about. I had been practicing the ability to still my mind for months and months and months – and finally, my skills were becoming useful. Incredibly useful.
I decided to go all out – and increase my meditation to SIX minutes a day. That was about two years ago, and now I am up to eleven minutes of mindfulness meditation – most days of the week. I still ruminate. I still get anxious. My mind still races like there is a wild herd of bulls playing rugby inside my skull. But I am much better at calming my mind than I was before – and I am getting better every day.
How I Find Zen
I get in the zone by first going through my five senses, asking myself: What do I hear right now? What do I taste? What do I smell? Feel? See?
And instead of trying to focus on nothing, I focus on my breath. In and out. Up and down. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. What are the dogs destroying now?!? In and out. In and out. My leg itches. In and out. Up and down. Did I sound like a bitch in that email? In and out. In and out. And so it goes.
Focusing on your breath is called “beginners meditation” by many, and maybe someday I’ll be able to blank out my brain and go all transcendental. I still spend the vast majority of my meditation time with random thoughts filling up my head – and about 10 percent of the time focused on my breath.
But did you see that? I’m getting better at calming my mind. And that is the point – that is the journey. That is my journey. And today, meditation is no longer torture. I actually look forward to my eleven minutes on the couch, quiet and still, wrapped in a blanket with my breath (and usually, with two dogs on top of me). I have found my Zen.
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