Making a commitment to practicing meditation twice a day for a full year in 2018 turned out to be a meaningful game changer for me. It was the mental equivalent of gaining the benefits from diet and exercise — more energy, more resilience and more clarity.
There were a few reasons I wanted to give mediation an earnest effort. Mindfulness and Brene Brown’s teachings had really opened my eyes to my conditioned responses to various triggers in my life.
So understanding how I get “hooked” and how I might subsequently react was part one of my personal growth process. Part two is getting better at managing those responses and emotions. That is a role that meditation plays.
We’ve all had those times in our lives when inadvertently someone hit a “soft spot” and we reacted poorly — losing our temper, stuffing our true emotions, or numbing ourselves. We get triggered emotionally and react out of habit.
Not getting hijacked by our racing thoughts, not getting caught up in someone else’s negative energy and being able to have good emotional regulation under pressure — those are all great tools that enable us to better listeners, stronger support systems and resourceful problem solvers.
Practicing meditation regularly helps tame those racing thoughts and return to a place of calm. Where there is calm, there is clarity. We can make better decisions with a clear head.
What further motivated me was learning that we practice meditation for others. Does that sound strange? It did to me until I discovered that mediation helps us bring our best selves to each relationship and each experience. A lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings can be averted when we remain calm and are able to give our full attention to another and to the unfolding situation at hand.
Lastly, I have always been fascinated by the neuroscience of meditation and the positive impact that it has on brain health.
Consider this compelling excerpt from The Chopra Center Website: Over the years, studies from the University of British Columbia and Harvard have proven that meditation is more than just a simple relaxation tool… it can have life-altering effects on your brain! Fascinating discoveries have shown that regular meditation: increases tissue mass in the area of the brain controlling impulses and maintaining attention; Increases thickness in the region of the brain responsible for body awareness and stress management; and shrinks the amygdala which is responsible for processing sadness, anxiety and negative emotions.
Here are a few examples of how daily mediation has impacted my quality of life in a positive way:
No more rumination — I was the queen of rumination, reliving past experiences, with a lot of the strong emotions still very much attached to hurtful experiences. Always looking for answers to questions that will forever remain unanswered. I’ll confess that I have had many a sleepless night thanks to rumination. Today if I recall a memory of a painful experience I can reframe it, review it with the knowledge and awareness I have today and learn from it. The best part is that the strong emotions that were a driving force in the rumination process are not present in the review process.
Being emotionally aware — When I get triggered or feel a strong emotion, I take time to really feel it and then take a big pause before I react. In that space, I can make a better choice about how (or if) to engage. My integrity and intention will guide me not a knee jerk reaction. I feel more in control. I learned a lot about the benefits of being emotionally. aware from Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul. Meditation practice helped me learn how to do this in the heat of the moment.
Setting and keeping personal boundaries — As a born people pleaser, this was an area that I really needed to develop. I frequently gave in to keep others happy only to find myself unhappy, often feeling unappreciated and disrespected. I knew I was allowing this to happen by not having boundaries and it was fear that others wouldn’t like me or would think me insensitive that prevented me from setting them. That is no longer the case. I can articulate my personal boundaries to others clearly. Most importantly, I honor those boundaries myself — I have learned to say “no”. Oddly enough, it turns out that others actually respect you more when you do have personal boundaries. I will share that it was the guided mediation practices on the Headspace app that played a key role. The app offers a variety of courses in the Personal Growth section that help you dig deeper into those areas where you might be feeling challenged or uncomfortable.
Sleeping better – If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can stop my mind from heading onto the speed ramp of racing thoughts. Daily meditation practice has given me the skills to quiet my mind. Yet I think the real reason I am sleeping longer and more peacefully is due to the stress reduction throughout my day. Meditation is part of my daily self care routine — making time to sit quietly twice a day for the formal meditation practice. This really sets me up to be able to bring those skills into my daily life. So my days are calmer, less stressful, lighter and more productive. That’s a great way to go to bed.
I cleared out a lot of real estate in my busy brain thanks to meditation. It is much easier to be fully present to enjoy both the little and big moments in life when racing thoughts and triggered emotions aren’t distracting me.
Headspace app, developed by Andy Puddicombe
Seat of the Soul, written by Gary Zukav
As always, I recommend watching YouTube videos and Ted Talks by Brene Brown, Deepak Chopra, John Kabat-Zinn and Rick Hanson. Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Sundays on Facebook and her podcasts are also inspiring.