I picked the right month to start meditating

cat-explosion

On January 1, a particularly gross hangover inspired me to resolve that I was going to cut back on my drinking. On January 2, I realized this was going to pose some problems for me, as trying to relax sans my nightly glass(es) of wine was proving pretty dang challenging. (I will write more about this, but in another post.)

So that’s when I decided I was going to try meditation.

I’ve tried meditating in the past and it has always been a disaster.  Either I’d get bored and lose interest, or I would fall asleep.  And I could never quite get the hang of what it was exactly I was supposed to be doing.  Am I supposed to be clearing out my mind of all thoughts?  How do you even DO that? And why did it seem like the harder I tried to do that, the more impossible it became to do so?

It felt like my brain would see that I was trying to not think, and so it would take the opportunity to serve up every stinking thought it had in storage, from a work assignment that’s due tomorrow to the shitty thing I said to my friend in eleventh grade that still makes me burn with shame to this very day, twenty-one years later. My brain is such an asshole.

This was all in the pre-smartphone days, though, back when an “app” was the plate of potato skins you ordered to eat while waiting for your actual meal. This time, when I tried, I decided to do so with the help of meditation apps.

I tried two apps – Calm and Headspace – and I ended up going with Calm. Headspace was nice and I liked Andy’s British voice very much, but the lack of background sound in his guided meditations usually meant I fell asleep while listening to them, which is nice but not what I was looking for.

The guided meditations in Calm have a little bit of natural white noise in the background, which helped me stay alert.  I also like that it has a function where you can just breathe in rhythm with some soft chiming.  It’s good for when I need a quick calm-me-down but don’t have a full ten minutes to dedicate to a guided meditation.  I ended up buying a year subscription to Calm, and I consider it one of my better discretionary purchases.

One of the things I learned right away was that I’d been trying to do it all wrong in the past.  Instead of fighting my brain by playing a frustrating game of Wac-a-Thought, I followed what the nice lady told me through my earbuds, focused on my breathing, and let my thoughts go.

So I started meditating nightly – and drinking herbal tea, which made me feel really nice and cozy and also helped me overlook the fact that I am slowly turning into a kale-eating, athleisure-wearing, kombucha-sipping fitness cliche – and did it almost every night for the month of January. Here’s what happened:

  • Right away: Meditation did wonders to help me fall asleep. That was good. That was what I wanted. That was the whole point.
  • Within about a week: I noticed the effects of my meditation seeping into my waking life.  I’d have moments of frustration or anxiety, and my mind would almost reflexively detach itself from the rising emotional tide and say, “Hey, you’re feeling frustrated right now. Let’s sit with that for a second and feel it, and then we’ll let it go.”
  • Two weeks in: During racing, my mind would slip down the spiral of suck but I would catch myself before I went too far, and I could bring myself back by focusing on my breathing and counting to one hundred, over and over again. I told Brian I thought this might be key to helping me develop mental resilience for my upcoming races, including Ironman Florida.
  • Three weeks in: I no longer needed to listen to the car radio to distract me from traffic during my commute, and that I was OK just sitting in silence while trying to navigate gridlock.

They’re all small changes, but I like those small changes. It’s been enough to keep me going, to see if I can continue to develop some degree of discipline over my mind and heart.

Up until January 20, I’d primarily focused the benefits of my meditation on what it meant for me: how it helped me be less anxious, how it helped me sleep at night, how it helped me be more present and resilient as an athlete.

And then January 20 happened, and like a lot of us, I’ve spent most of the 13 days since trying to cope with the tsunami of shocking and upsetting news coming out of the Trump administration.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’m afraid to look at my NYT push alerts because I’m afraid to find out what shocking thing has happened next.  It really seems like anything is possible, and when you’re talking about geopolitics, that is not a good thing.

It was a few days ago that I realized my newfound meditation practice could very well be my biggest tool in resisting what’s going on. I don’t think it’s accidental that the Trump/Bannon administration is hitting us with so much stuff in such rapid succession.  I think it’s deliberately intended to confuse us, emotionally overwhelm us, and leave us exhausted and drained and eventually incapable of resisting.  It’s meant to burn us out so we can’t fight back.

I see that happening to me too. At least once a day I have a moment where I look at everything that’s happening – stripping environmental protections, muzzling scientific agencies, blocking refugees and immigrants, Betsy fucking DeVos, Trump’s shameful speech about Black History Month – and I feel like it’s too much, there’s no way I can do anything about all of this, I should probably just give up and be grateful I have no children who will have to suffer through the world we’re creating for them.

But meditation has taught me that whatever I’m feeling will pass, even feelings of crushing existential despair.  It has taught me that I have the potential to be focused and disciplined in my thinking, even though it’s still quite hard for me. (Thirty-seven years of mental habits cannot be undone in a single month, no matter how awesome the app may be.)

And it’s showing me that the best thing I can do right now to resist is refuse to be overwhelmed into paralysis and to not let my emotions be hijacked by the autocrats in charge. It’s showing me that I can fight back by refusing to be manipulated by “shock events.”

This is especially true since I’ve taken steps to get involved with community organizing and local activism. (I went to my first Organizing For Action meeting last night! Getting trained by the ACLU next week! Having a ladies’ activism potluck at my house this month!)  I don’t want to burn out. I want to be in this for the long haul, and the first step is making sure I can do so in a way that is emotionally and psychologically sustainable.

I know it’s easier said than done.  I woke up two mornings ago at 5 a.m. and remembered that Trump had fired the acting Attorney General the night before and could not fall back to sleep, even with the help of my Calm app.  I know I’m going to have many more moments like this, but what’s important is that I now have a way to help me deal that doesn’t leave me feeling foggy and sluggish like alcohol does.

I can assure you, on January 2, it never occurred to me that meditation would become my most powerful tool in resisting what’s going on. But as we get further and further into the Trump/Bannon administration, it becomes apparent that this is exactly what meditation is.  If I cannot keep a clear head in the face of everything that’s going on, I’m no good to anyone – not to myself, not to my community, not to the world.

So yes, I’d say I picked the exact right month to take up meditation.

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25 responses to “I picked the right month to start meditating

  1. YES TO ALL OF THIS. I bought a Calm subscription back in November and it has changed everything about how I handle life and all that’s happening. I’m able to be effective instead of overwhelmed and reactionary (most of the time). Still have those moments, but overall, I’m able to cope so much better.

    • YES! I still have those moments too but I’m definitely better equipped to handle them. Which is so key because for a while there I was seriously on the verge – post IM, family medical crisis, 45’s election – and now I feel like I might have a shot at actually navigating all that shit.

    • Sadly I haven’t even been out of North America! Thanks for sharing your blog post – I’ll definitely read it later today.

      And I want to do better about a regular yoga practice but for some reason that has been harder for me than meditation. I think because I can commit to meditating for 10-15 minutes but my brain balks at 30-45 minutes for yoga. I don’t know why. It makes no sense, especially since I run and do barre and do a ton of other stuff.

      • I understand. For yoga, its best to initially join a yoga studio – you are more motivated with people around. Also it becomes a routine – we tend to get lazy at home all by ourselves.
        Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can do it at home. When you start seeing the difference in your health and mind, you wont want to quit 🙂
        All the best!

  2. I have tried a number of meditation apps, but landed on Stop Breathe Think for now as it is the one that I seem to go back to most consistently (though yes, I also love Andy’s voice on Headspace!). I’ve been dabbling in it for at least a year now but never as regularly as now and I can really feel the difference it is making in my life. Funny, I do the meditative counting to 100 thing while running for a while now! It really helps.

    • Ahhh isn’t it amazing how the counting thing can really help? I use it in races where headphones are not allowed and it really keeps me focused.

      I’ve heard good things about Stop Breathe Think but I haven’t tried it. If I ever get bored with Calm, I’ll give it a shot.

  3. I’ve been working on mindfulness throughout my days for about a year, and it’s made a big difference in my life. I’m much calmer and less panicked about everything. Finally, I found a way to stop the insane rumination I was going through daily! My mind is exactly like yours. “Oh, remember this embarrassing event in kindergarten? This stupid thing you did when you were 20? Why didn’t you behave a different way in that relationship?” Can it, brain.
    My next step is meditation; I really need to change my sleep habits so I don’t get burned out.

    • I wish I had taken this up when I was in news, and that was in the pre-45 days. I’m glad that taking up a mindfulness practice has been so helpful for you! I know you’ve been dealing with A LOT in many aspects of your life.

      Also, another thing that’s nice about meditation is having 10-15 minutes a day where it’s nice to just have time for myself, where I don’t have to be doing anything else at that time. I know that sounds dumb AF coming from a woman without kids, but I’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities, which means I have a constant thrum of a to-do list going on at all times, and so this has been a nice respite from having to think about those things.

  4. Okay, you’re convincing. 🙂 I’m naturally a non-stop, quick thinker and depressive and anxious tendencies run in my family. I’ve had so many people tell me I should meditate, and I’ve tried, but I’m also very pushy with myself. A guided app might do the trick, since lord knows I need it especially now! I’m headed to Alaska (!) over the weekend to visit a friend, but I’ll download Calm and commit to trying it every night for a week once I am back home.

      • Thanks, Alaska was great – cold but fun and interesting! I was actually stuck there an extra day because of snow in Seattle, ironically. I’ve only had three days to try Calm thus far. I’m still in the “I suck at not letting my mind wander” stage but on the other hand, the 10 minutes go by more quickly than I expected. I’m going to keep it up – I know it’ll take a bit to get better and notice changes.

  5. Have you read or heard about “10% Happier” by Dan Harris? Awesome read – he also describes the little inner voice as “the asshole in my head.” I think you might connect with his perspective.

    • HA! I haven’t read it but it’s on my Kindle. I’m about to go on vacation for a week so I’ll make an effort to read it during that time. Can definitely relate to the “asshole in my head” omg

    • I hope it helps! I definitely feel a lot more equipped to deal with my thoughts, which have a tendency to run wild in ways that don’t actually help me out all that much.

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  7. I’ve been dabbling with the apps (Calm is my favorite so far too), but never more than that–maybe once a week and then I forget about it, and I can’t rely on evenings. This post has convinced me to really commit to using it daily for a month to give it a real chance to make a difference.

    • Good luck with it! I made the commitment to try at least once a day for the full month and while I didn’t quite make it the full month, I did it enough that it had a noticeable effect on my overall mindset. It definitely helped me deal with all the bad feels I’ve been having lately.

  8. I need to try meditation apps. I’ve tried multiple times to meditate regularly but didn’t find anything motivating enough to make it a practice.

  9. I love Calm. Most recently I’ve been really digging the Winnie the Pooh series they posted. Also, the commuting meditations have made me actually enjoy my commute, which is saying something!

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