I’m sure you’ve heard it before. People bring up mindfulness and meditation ALL THE TIME. And I get it, for someone who’s never tried meditating before, or who tried it once or twice and came out of it feeling like they didn’t gain anything, meditation is really, really weird. It can be hard to see why it’s beneficial. It can be hard to understand what meditation even is. Now, I’m definitely not an expert at this. I’ve only been practicing mindfulness for a bit more than a year. But being new to this, I may be able to explain what mindfulness is and why you need to be practicing it, in a way that at least sort of makes sense to someone new to the practice. I’ll also point you in the right direction for getting started.
What is mindfulness/meditation?
I’m sure mindfulness means different things to different people, but very broadly, it means to be aware of the present moment, and focused on what is happening right now. If I take a second to be mindful as I write this, I notice that I can hear the dishwasher running. I hear a car engine outside. I feel that some of the muscles in my upper back are sore from going to the gym this morning. I feel that I am full. My thoughts are currently focused on this writing, and not drifting off to think about other things. I’m not worried or feeling anxious. I feel warm. I feel content. I also notice that I have a pimple on my chin that hurts, and I wish it would go away. Mindfulness does not mean reacting to any of these things. I don’t need to do anything about my back being sore, just notice it.
Meditation, again, means many things to many different people. For me, meditation is me-time that I use to focus just on myself and my thoughts. Maybe focus isn’t the right word. I use meditation to notice myself and my thoughts. Meditation is extended mindfulness. When I meditate, I focus on my breathing, thinking “in… out… in… out” and observe as any thoughts come into my head. As thoughts appear, I acknowledge them. Maybe I’ll be worrying about a meeting I have at work on Monday. I acknowledge that I feel worried about the meeting, and then I let the thought drift back out of my mind. If it comes back, I acknowledge it again, and let it go again. Sometimes I’ll get lost in thought for a bit, playing out scenarios in my mind or planning dinner for tomorrow, but when I notice what’s happening, I acknowledge the train of thought, and let it go again. I practice meditation regularly in order to become better at noticing what thoughts I’m having and how they are making me feel.
Why should I meditate?
Regular meditation allows you to become aware of how you are feeling and what you are thinking in order to acknowledge thoughts for what they are and let them go. This applies to both positive and negative emotions. If you are prone to overthinking, mindfulness will help you to notice when you’re overthinking, acknowledge that overthinking will not benefit you and isn’t helping you live the life you want, and then let the thoughts you were having go. If you find you are often anxious, mindfulness allows you to notice when you are having anxious thoughts, breathe through them, and let them go. They’ll likely return, but just repeat this until, finally, you feel better. Mindfulness allows you to notice when you are procrastinating. It allows you to notice that you’re thinking about how you need to do the dishes, but are instead sitting on the couch eating chips from the bag. Mindfulness will allow you to acknowledge that thought, rather than ignoring it, and realize that, if you want to keep your apartment clean as you promised you would, you should go do the dishes now. And then you do them.
Mindfulness also helps you to notice positive emotions and be grateful for them. Gratitude is another practice that I weave into my life that brings me great joy. If you’re sitting on your couch in the morning, drinking coffee and relaxing before you start your day, mindfulness will help you to notice that you are feeling at peace and let you appreciate that feeling, before letting the thought go.
Yes, meditation will feel weird for quite a while before it feels helpful. There’s a reason it’s called a “practice”. You actually need to practice it. It won’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything until suddenly, you find yourself practicing little bits of mindfulness in your everyday life. I still don’t feel very good at meditating, but keep in mind that the goal is to become aware of your thoughts, not to avoid having any thoughts at all. So while it’s not a requirement for learning self-discipline, I highly recommend a regular meditation practice in order to live a more mindful life. Mindfulness allows you to determine how you truly feel and what your true wants are, and live a more peaceful, balanced, and happy life.
Beginning meditation without knowing what you’re doing can be very difficult, so I recommend starting with guided meditations. I still use guided meditations almost daily. Some of the best that I’ve found are the Calm app, the Insight Timer app, and the Meditation Minis podcast. I’ve also heard good things about the Headspace app, though never personally used it. Find something that works for you, and work to incorporate a few minutes of intentional meditation into your day to day life.