You wouldn’t know it if you met me, but I’ve been anxious most of my life. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say I’ve spent a bucket-load of money on professional support. Learning to meditate wasn’t ever on my list. I’m a doer. I get stuff done. I couldn’t find the sense of sitting down and doing nothing for 10 or 20 minutes. And my busy mind agreed.
Three years ago, without being super vigilant about it and with absolutely no formal training, I had the idea to do a full year of meditation without missing a day. I have no idea if I did it “right” or not. I just started sitting down, once or twice a day and quieting my mind for 20 or so minutes, often following the soothing poetic voice of Sarah Blondin on the Insight Meditation Timer. Sometimes I enjoy it so much I’ll go 45 minutes and feel completely refreshed.
But somehow in my practice, just past the 200-day mark, I would wake up realizing that I had forgotten to meditate the day before! Augh! So I would start over at Day One. I didn’t trash myself if I had to start over, it was all part of it. I also didn’t really tell anyone what I was up to so there was no one to be accountable to other than myself. I was doing the practice for me, for my well-being, not for approval and recognition from others.
Here’s the surprising news. In a few days, I will achieve my goal (though it wasn’t really a goal as much as a loose intention) of 365 days of meditation, serendipitously on my birthday. I didn’t plan that. I just kept starting back over at day one until I got to day 365.
I’ve come to realize that my thoughts aren’t the best resource for undoing anxiety. My thoughts often aren’t at all helpful and occasionally they are downright exhausting. And so, I’ve been learning how to not follow them. I’ve noticed that when anxiety arises, a thought is often the source of that anxiety. Like, “This is too hard. I’m not equipped to deal with all of this chaos.” Or, “We’re all doomed.” Now, I stop and catch the thought. I do the work of Byron Katie and immediately ask myself, “Is it true?”
Meditation helps you to place your attention on something you choose – not the automatic thoughts, fears and concerns that come to you unbidden. I think of it like training a puppy to sit and stay. I want my mind to be well-trained and behave itself.
Now, as I look back on my year of meditation, I feel a sense of having done something that mattered – one full year of quieting my anxious mind, every day. I notice that I feel more happy and free than I have in years, maybe ever.
In light of the chaos of this year with the pandemic and the political and economic environment, I am grateful to have a solid habit of returning to solid ground. No matters what happens, I can follow my breath back to center. I can calm the raging sea of emotion by taking that deep breath that is central to my meditation practice.
This is a stressful time for many of us. Find your own practice and grounding. I promise you it will be worth it.