How I Learned to Love Meditation

October 21, 2016 Kristance Harlow
Praying woman hands

The world around me is loud, crowded, and smelly. Combine that with the obsessive thoughts that regularly run laps around my brain, it’s the recipe for a meltdown.

I live in the same city where I got sober. As much as I love the supportive community I’ve built here, I do not really enjoy living in the middle of a huge city. I grew up in the country, and it’s much easier to be an alcoholic in a city with 24-hour public transportation. Not to mention, a fifth of vodka could be purchased for cheap right outside my doorstep. Urban hubs were the ideal locales for this former drinker, they eliminated obstacles to the next drink.

I spent most of my life propelled by extreme emotions, as a kid I filled up on a diet of imagination and disproportional guilt. When I got older, I felt myself becoming splintered by an overzealous emotional pendulum. I didn’t know how to fill the cracks, so I flooded them with chemicals to keep anything else from getting in and infecting the lacerations. When I stopped using substances as a stopgap, I was left raw and overwhelmed.

I spent so much time dulling my senses with alcohol, it wasn’t until I got sober that I could appreciate the intensity of this city. The endless individual conversations going on at the same time. The millions of people rushing from one place to another—walking, slowly meandering, speeding with the attitude of a bulldozer, blowing cigarette smoke wherever they please. I go home and I stink of it. It is hard to quiet this intensity and the sensory overload knocks me off balance.

As my senses sharpened in sobriety, I realized I needed something to counteract how overwhelmed I felt. I knew people who said meditation changed their life. They said meditation quieted their minds and the outside world. So, I tried some guided podcast meditations. Other than when sleep meditations helped me slip into dreamland, meditation felt like it was a waste of time. Each attempt was adding one drop of cold water to a pot of boiling water. I didn’t think my meditation was anything more than a temporary distraction.

It isn’t easy to deal with stresses again without my old crutch of booze. It can really suck. The world around me is loud, crowded, and smelly. Combine that with the obsessive thoughts that regularly run laps around my brain—it’s a recipe for a meltdown. To my surprise, sprinkling in some meditations completely changed the mix.

No Nonsense Meditation Mix

1. Anyone can do it.

Meditation isn’t an esoteric spiritual practice reserved for enlightened gurus. Meditation is not even about spirituality—it’s just about shutting up. It benefits everyone and requires absolutely zero special skills or knowledge. It is that simple.

2. You can do it anywhere.

There is no wrong way to meditate. Depending on my mood and energy level, I’ll meditate in all kinds of weird places. If I have a migraine on the bus, I’ll listen to a guided meditation for pain relief. When I’m feeling really ambitious, I might stand in the morning sun and focus on breathing in and out. When I can’t fall asleep, and I can’t get myself to stop thinking about what I shouldn’t have said to that taxi driver who tried to rip me off, I listen to a meditation podcast called Evening Inventory. It guides me through the process of taking my own inventory, and all I have to do is listen.

3. You can do it alone or with others.

There are meditation classes with open enrollment. There are entire centers dedicated to meditation, and people go to groups to meditate together. I like to be as far away from people as possible, but I find it refreshing to know meditation has no limits or rules.

4. You get to be passive while meditating.

Meditation is about letting go. You aren’t supposed to empty your mind. The more you try to concentrate, the harder it will be to relax. Deepak Chopra’s meditation guide describes it beautifully: “Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as ‘the gap,’ this space between thoughts is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace.”

5. Repeating a mantra actually works.

Focusing your attention on something while meditating allows you to take a break from your usual thought pattern. It allows your mind to be aware. When a thought pops up that isn’t the thing you’ve been focusing on, you’ll know it. Acknowledge it, but keep on with your mantra repetition so you can notice the next thought that jumps into the fray.

6. It will double your investment.

Scientific studies have found that meditation improves the body’s reaction to stress. Lots of people report feeling decreased levels of stress after completing a meditation, and it certainly works that way for me. An instant fix is great, but an even greater fix is one that lasts. Meditation does both. Science hasn’t worked out the how just yet, but it is clear that meditation can make you healthier. It lowers blood pressure, improves how we react to stress in the future, increases concentration abilities, and can even boost your immune system.

Meditation has given me the gift of contentment. I now understand that there is a difference between contentment and happiness. Happiness is a fling and contentment is a long-term relationship. Contentment allows me to accept the moment I am existing in. It’s feeling like I don’t need anything more than what I have in that exact breath. I can feel at peace because I am capable of accepting at least one moment during the day for all that it is and all that it is not.

Published first on The Fix

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