I’m a stress head, it’s no secret. I’m indecisive, a perfectionist, anxious, lacking in self confidence and put a ton of pressure on myself. I’m sure that sounds relatable to a few people and in the past it’s really been a burden on my mental health. Since studying Philosophy and Ethics at school meditation has always been something that I’ve found curious but never thought to try. I used to categorise it as some spiritual act in which people feel that they are connecting to something that, in my classic pessimism, I thought they could never connect with. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a bit of a farce and was only utilised by strictly religious or spiritual people. My mind changed when Maxim sent me some meditation music and whilst listening I felt instantly more relaxed. It was hard to describe but it felt like I was suddenly aware of every function in my body; hearing every breath and feeling every heartbeat. So, with a co-founder and best friend who practises meditation, and with the artists I have interviewed holding in such high regard the benefits that meditation has on their mental health, I decided it’s high time I give it a go. After all, if it really is as good as people say it is, then it should do wonders for me, right? Well, written below (in a more readable format) are the brief notes I took after each meditation session over a month. I will then give my view at the end as to whether it really helped me and whether you should give it a go yourself.
o I got some advice from Maxim to focus on my breathing, and I’m using the meditation playlist he made me as a background. I have to say, sitting down and not thinking about anything sounds really easy, but it definitely isn’t. I found it really difficult to turn my mind off and was constantly distracted. I eventually managed to gain some peace by focusing my eyes whilst they were closed, and staring into the darkness of the insides of my eyelids. It sounds strange, and it felt strange, but it was what finally managed to help me clear my mind. The music definitely helped as it blocked out surrounding sounds and was so peaceful in my ears that it helped me cool down. I tried to focus on my breathing as Maxim suggested and the music helped this too as I would time it with the music to keep it regulated. After I finished my first session it took me a while to become alert again, sort of like waking up after a long nap. It was as if my mind and body had all slowed and it took time to get them going again. I could definitely see why this may be beneficial as taking time for myself and shutting things out was a refreshing change. I don’t feel like I’m getting the benefits yet though as at this stage it was really quite hard work to stay on track.
It was a lot easier to switch off this time around. I think it helped that I was already somewhat sleepy heading into the session so I found it much easier to sit down and switch off without things buzzing around in my brain. I made the mistake, however, of trying to meditate when I was pressed for time and this didn’t help as I would have to periodically break my focus to check the time. I did, however, eventually set up a meditation song that was exactly the amount of time I had, and after this I was able to relax fully, knowing I just had to listen for the end of the song.
By this point my motivation to find time to meditate was somewhat wavering. At this early stage I still wasn’t seeing much benefit, and although it sounds easy to sit down and relax, it actually takes a lot of concentration. I’ve always been a busybody and I just find it difficult to sit down for too long not doing anything, and even more difficult to schedule in the time to do so. This time I meditated in the morning and it was my first really ‘unsuccessful’ session. I think I’m just too awake in the mornings and I really found it difficult to empty my mind and switch off so soon after waking up in the first place. Despite trying various techniques, I just couldn’t get into the zone and was constantly distracted and fidgety. I think meditating in the mornings has been ruled out from this moment. I did find this session really demoralising as I felt like I’d seen some improvements in the last session and this kind of sent me back to square one.
To be honest, it had been a while since the last session. After my failed attempt I struggled to get motivation to try again and was worried that I’d just keep having failed attempts. I did finally find myself some time and forced myself to get back on the horse – and it went much better. Like in session 2, I was already feeling sleepy and relaxed so that helped me and I found it fairly easy to clear my mind. I did have a few momentary lapses but I managed to keep them as just that. I am finding that it is quite difficult for me to meditate for too long as the sheer concentration I have to put into keeping my mind blank is actually quite tiring, and I can feel when I’m coming to a natural end in a session when I start getting distracted more frequently. I’m hoping I’ll get to a point where it’s fairly easy for me to just slip into that mode of focus and relaxation so that I can enjoy longer sessions, but for now it seems I’ll have to keep persisting to get there.
Like with session 4, I found it relatively easy to switch off. The playlist really helped and the music definitely kept me concentrated and relaxed. I had some slight distractions but stayed on track and didn’t let them break my focus. This was the first time I’d meditated in a week or so as I’d been more busy; and I did feel better for taking some time for myself afterwards.
So that was my month of meditation – did it help?
Well, the first thing you may notice is that in a whole month I only managed five short sessions. When I first meditated I had planned to make it a regular part of my weeks and envisioned that once every two or three days I’d settle down for a session. The reality is that we all have busy lives and as silly as it sounds it isn’t all that easy to schedule in a few minutes of not doing anything. Especially on those days that you have a lot on, I just found that it fell down the pecking order behind other tasks, and when I was busy I could never sit down and relax in that way as I’d just be thinking about all the things I needed to be doing instead. Ironically, it’s this kind of stress that is why I maybe need to meditate but it did make it hard to find the time. The other thing is that it’s actually really quite hard and this makes it even more difficult to schedule, because when I do finally have some free time I don't really feel like it. Before the first time, I thought that it would be pretty easy – I mean, it’s sitting and doing nothing, right? What I quickly learned is that keeping up this concentration and focus and trying to keep your mind away from any distractions requires a lot of energy. I don’t think I had a single session without at least one or two distractions and it even managed to ruin my third attempt completely. It kind of built up this thing in my head where instead of meditation being a helpful tool for relaxation as it should be, I’d kind of end up dreading doing it like it was more of a chore.
So I’m aware that so far I’ve been pretty negative about my whole experience – but I can reassure you that it wasn’t all like that! I actually found after most of my sessions that I did feel better. I’d be calmer and more relaxed and just feel a bit better about myself. I also really enjoyed taking a little bit of time for myself in this way because I don’t do it often enough, as I’m sure is the case with many people. I think for me I just need to stick at it because I could feel progress, and I’m convinced that if I can keep it up, there will come a point where I find it much easier to switch my mind off and have these moments of peace, and that I’d be able to have longer sessions and make it a more regular part of my week. I think the main thing about meditation for me is that it’s personal, it’s about you. For a busybody like me I found sitting and emptying my mind really difficult, but I did feel the benefits, and with some persistence and regularity I’m sure it would become even more beneficial. The stigmas I had over the practice and whether it really had any sort of effect whatsoever have definitely gone, and I can see why people make it such a big part of their lives. I think for me personally I get the same kinds of benefits when I exercise; it gives me time alone to be with myself and gets me away from distractions. I also find it’s much easier to schedule as part of your day, and even when life gets busy, whilst I’m running I can’t be doing anything else and therefore my 'to-do list' isn't eating away at me. When I interviewed Serena Ryder in Issue 3 of Mindful Melody she summed up meditation perfectly for me – “I’ve meditated almost every day for like two years then it started feeling like a job, like work … now a lot of my self care is going for a walk and playing with my dog. I also kind of moved my meditation to dancing; I put on my favourite music and I look like a complete idiot in my house but I just put my headphones on and jump around and move; but that has turned into what I feel I need.” Whilst I do encourage you to try the traditional form of meditation for yourself and see how it benefits you, I think the real takeaway for me is to find your own form of meditation – something that you enjoy that allows you to take some time for yourself in a busy life; whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, exercising or even something creative like writing or painting.
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