Friday, September 15, 2017

Calm

Positive Feedback works

A couple of years ago in an effort to manage the stress of my newish job and caught up in the annual ritual of bettering oneself, I attempted to learn how to meditate.

First I signed up for a free, introductory program promoted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. I settled into a a relaxed but upright position in an easy chair and tried to follow along. To say it was a struggle is too mild. To sit in silence was hard. To try to be still? Harder. To reject the pleas from my over-brimming brain to get up and do something, do anything? Impossible.

I think I managed three of the seven days provided by the free program. Maybe.

Next I found an app for my phone called Calm. I used it a few times, but again found the act of sitting still for 10 minutes at a time and concentrating on the very calming voice of Tamara Leavitt to be too much. Too much sitting still, too much thinking, too much attempted calm. I don't think anyone who spent much time around me in the past would have hung the word calm on me.

Looking back, the changes in my life may have been too fresh to allow me to set aside the guilt and fear and well-worn self-loathing to be able to focus within. I did not like sitting with myself. I could not stop my mind from constantly wandering back to my lifetime of mistakes, my trunk load of regrets, my unresolved anger. Staying active was my coping method. 

I kept myself mentally distracted like my brain was a toddler in church. Some kind of audio stimulation accompanied my every waking hour and even some of my sleeping hours. The background noise of the TV while I worked from home, satellite radio in the car, an audio book playing from my back pocket as I did housework, prepared meals, walked the dog, and gardened. I went to bed with one earbud in so that I could continue to pump sound into my head. Anything to keep thought and self-examination at bay. The more occupied my mind was, the better I felt.

Fast forward to the end of July. I was at a work conference and learned from colleagues that I wasn't using one of the most important features on my new, ridiculously gigantic iPhone 7. I wasn't using the Health app. 

Someone showed me where it tracked my steps and other features. While I was horrified at the idea of actually putting my weight and other body measurements into the app, I was intrigued by the mindfulness section.

I reloaded the Calm app onto my phone and started again. It might take me a long time to fully grasp the understanding and benefits of the practice of meditation, but now I am ready to commit. I added a second mediation app called Simple Habit.

I've spent most of my adult life in motion. Not healthy motion, necessarily, but the motion of doing. Doing dishes, doing laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, wiping up, wiping down. Being a parent, being a wife. My house was clean. My car was clean. Not just clean, but Paul Hewitt clean. Sometimes even the garage had been vacuumed. Those were bad days. No clutter gathered dust. The dishwasher was either fully loaded or completely empty. Children were ferried to various activities, cats were fed, litter boxes were clean, blog posts were written, commutes were made, jobs were done, the career ladder climbed. Every day was a race to get it all done, prepare for the next day, and fall into bed exhausted.

My measure of success had to do with how clean my house was and had I checked everything off my list that day.

I'd be healthier today if I had tried to physically outrun whatever demons seemed to pursue me, but no. I do, however, have an amazing set of cleaning and organizing tips on on Pinterest. Today I have become a reformed productivity junkie, you could write you life story in the dust in this house and I can't remember the last time I washed my car. 

I am pleased to report that I am now better suited to the practice of meditation.

I look forward to sitting quietly, the solitude, the breathing. I am not trying to do anything. The only thing I am trying to accomplish is to be calm.  And while I am struggling, as always, to tame my mind, I do find that meditation is helping.

I can focus for longer periods of time on the breath. I can focus on the guide's voice. I can still myself and my magpie brain for five minutes at a time and, generally speaking, rest with myself.

This is a very big deal.

Of course, I'm also having to learn to not make meditation a competitive sport with myself. My need for perfection is still a driving force and I have a long way to go. 

Case in point; I composed much of this blog post as I attempted to meditate this morning. The idea came to me and while I tried to focus on the breath, I couldn't stop the phrases from coming at me. I was able to corral them until I finished, but I'm here to tell you that it was not easy.

I thought about how to phrase things for this post. I thought about how meditation has actually helped me to come back to writing. I thought about my somewhat addictive personality, if somewhat is even a plausible qualifier for the word addictive. Can addiction be qualified? Is there a sliding scale?

What I do know is this - I'm all in. I want to surround myself with the equipment of meditation. I realize I am just skimming the surface and I have more varied practices and much reading and learning in my future. I don't want to be a dabbler because I have already seen results and I like them.

I relish the daily ritual of the morning meditations. Where once I could only fall asleep by distracting my brain by listening to television shows I've seen so many times I could recite the dialogue, I now look forward to the nighttime meditations with the deep breathing and body scans that help me to relax enough to just drift off and stay asleep.

I've asked for wind chimes for a birthday present. My YouTube channels are now crammed with Native American flute music and Tibetan singing bowls and black screen 11 hour sessions of calming music, birdsong and ocean sounds. These all may be trite accoutrements and embarrassing cultural appropriations for which I am sorry, but they work. They help me to set the stage to relax and sit with myself without the old dread, the fidgeting, the mental begging to please, please, please get up and do something.

The day I realized my meditation flow wasn't broken by my left arm being humped by a little white dog, I knew I was on my way. I was making progress.

But meditation, like everything worth doing, is going to take practice and perhaps that's the point. 

12 comments:

  1. love. a big calming 20 secondish hug for you
    2 mistakes in paragraph starting "I'd be healthier..."

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    1. Aw. Thank you, sir! I fixed that. Hugs back to you.

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  2. I call it 'Wondering around the desert for forty years'...peace is never easy at first. Like everything else it's a journey. Kelly Keith

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    1. So true, Kelly. It's nice to see you here, friend.

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  3. It's great to read you again! I hope you get all the peace and love you deserve.....but not too much....I want you to have plenty to wright about!!!

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    1. Hi, Scott. Thank you. I'm glad you're here!

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  4. You had me feeling all calm and meditative until you said wind chimes. And then my teeth slammed together and my eyes rolled and my ears slammed shut. Oh, how I hate wind chimes. I am glad you're writing here again though. <3

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    1. I'm sorry. I know wind chimes can jangle the nerves. Literally.

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  5. Hey, at least your attempts at meditation are productive (I know they'r not supposed to be) my attempts at mindfulness and calm put me to sleep. Ask my therapist.

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    1. I must admit that there's some sessions that end with me waking up a while after the app has closed.

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