The best way to eat. The best way to parent. The best way to train. Social media, news, forums, parents & friends: we are constantly flooded with these “best way” approaches to living. It can be consuming if we allow it. Instead of letting myself feel overwhelmed by dogmatic viewpoints, I have grown into a mindset that there are many right ways to do things. I’m constantly reminding myself to value various perspectives. Open mindedness is so much easier in theory than practice, especially when the beliefs aren’t too far off from our own. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my own set of values and ways that feel right for me. It just keeps me in check when I have an instant judgment about myself or how others are going about life.
Which brings me to meditation. When I was first introduced to the idea several years ago, I wrote it off as mystical voodoo. The prayer beads, the incense, and goddesses. Not for me. Big fat judgements going on in my head about the “type” of person who meditated. I quickly wrote it off and vowed to stay clear of the new age nonsense. But as I started exploring yoga, I realized that all these people I wrote off as hippie freaks actually had a lot to teach me. I started to appreciate their way of cultivating a present and content life and realized they weren’t such freaks after all. They were stopping long enough to be present. And so what if they had these rituals that weren’t for me. And whether or not it was a passing trend, they were on to something.
And so I started exploring.
Six or seven years ago, I first started dabbling in yoga and meditation. I came to it like so many others do. To find stillness in my monkey brain and to ease stress. At first I felt out of place and like a total impostor. I remember feeling uncomfortable sitting for so long in one position. I had run races so hard that I puked. I had traveled alone in foreign lands. But the thought of sitting still with nothing but my mind and my breath scared me more than anything I had tried. I’d fidget, get up for water, count the seconds in my head, and squint my eyes open toward the clock. But eventually something clicked. Once I realized that there was no competition, no right way to do it, no end goal, I was hooked. I started to crave this time.
Over the years, my meditation practice has evolved (maybe devolved?), but it has adapted to my life at each stage. It used to be routine, long, connected to a yoga practice. But now, with a totally full plate, I’m sure many purists wouldn’t call it a meditation practice, but back to my original point: there are many “right” ways to do things.
I do it because it makes me more capable of living my life. I meditate because I know that true happiness comes from internal peace. Not to say things won’t be noisy and messy and unfortunate around me, but I know that if I can have a baseline sense of internal contentment, unfortunate circumstances will have less of an impact on my overall contentment. I love all the scientific evidence that it can actually rewire how our brains respond to stress, that it makes us more productive, and allows us to ease our reactions. It’s why it’s as trending in Silicon Valley as it is at Wanderlust. But all that aside, for me, I do it because it helps me get out of my own way. I am able to see situations as they actually are, not just how I perceive them. I can say “yes” to whatever happens and to learn not to judge whatever the circumstance is at that time. The less combat, the more ease.
Here’s what my meditation practice looks like. I don’t do it every day, although maybe someday I’ll make time for that. Also, it was incredibly awkward and unsatisfying the first few times when I started a home practice. A few times a week, I wake up before my alarm, and I’m lucky if the kids are still asleep. I do everything to not pick up my phone or computer for a digital hit. Because then it’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of email and Instagram. I turn on the hot water (so I can have coffee ready right after!), put on my coziest sweats, fuzzy socks, and waltz into the living room half asleep and slightly grumpy that I’m awake. I roll out my yoga mat and prop up some pillows. I sit down on the pillow and start feeling my way into my body and the practice. I’m usually cold and a little fidgety when I first sit down. Then I allow myself to just be there with myself, my breath, my body. As I get more comfortable, I begin to follow my breath and watch it grow slowly and fully. I don’t force anything or put any time frame on it. I envision my breath like a revolving circle and this helps move my breath fully in and out through my nose as my stomach expands and my entire body relaxes. Sometimes I’ll last a minute and sometimes I’ll sit for 10 minutes. Eventually, I feel like the practice is over, and when I stand up, my senses are heightened and I’m calm and aware. Exactly what I need to carry me through my day.
Soon after the kids are up, breakfast is spilling everywhere are we’re all running out the door, but that imperfect, brief inward practice is enough to kick-start my day. It’s a space I can remind myself of throughout the day, no matter how out of control the outside world feels. Meditation is my favorite underutilized tool toward contentment, and I’m glad I was finally able to see past my own judgments to appreciate what the practice has to offer.