Creating a Meaningful Life: Vacation Meditation

Vacation is over and it's back to the daily grind. I didn't get in as much guided meditation as I would have liked, but I did have lots of calm, relaxing moments to focus on my breath and on how lucky I am to live the life I'm living. This hammock in the water in Bermuda was my favorite place of reflection. I hope I can carry the sense of calm I felt in that moment with me for a long time.IMG_3986

Creating a Meaningful Life: Vacation Meditation

After three weeks of running around CA visiting family, we got some downtime in Santa Cruz before heading back to the east coast. My meditating hit a bit of wall over the weekend so it was nice to get it back on track this week.     The wind blowing through the trees and the smell of eucalyptus made a great backdrop for focusing my breath.

Creating a Meaningful Life: Learning to Meditate

meditationMeditating went much smoother this week. I had far fewer moments of frustration than the previous week and I am attributing that to the technique I tried this week. I still focused on my breath and used the counting method to hold my concentration, but I also listened to soothing sounds while I meditated. I was surprised when a friend mentioned that you don’t need to be in total silence to meditate. People listen to gongs, repeat a sound over and over, and even listen to another person guide them through the meditation. I was hopeful at the beginning of this week that listening to a calming sound would help me find my focus again. I started the week by using a sleep machine app and was lulled into concentration by the sound of waves. I instantly felt a difference. I used headphones to listen to the waves and having that tranquil sound in my ears helped me tune out any thoughts that tried to get in. My main focus was on my breath, but having the waves in the background allowed me to reach a new depth of concentration.  After a few days of waves, I tried using the sound of heavy rain. This sound didn’t produce as much success and I am not sure why. My only theory is that the steady sound of the rain was easier for me to tune out than the varying sounds of the waves pulling back and crashing.

I also tried meditating on my subway ride to work a couple of times. I never reached the same sense of lightness as when I meditate lying down, but I achieved a level of focus both times that I have only reached while lying down a couple of times. I suspect I didn’t reach a full state of meditation because, while the thought that I would miss my stop wasn’t at the front of my mind, it was there. The lull of the car on the tracks, and the din of conversation all around me, helped me tune out thoughts and focus solely on the sounds around me. I was able to go a few stops, probably equal to 5-7 minutes totally zoned in on the sounds around me without even the wisp of a thought penetrating my concentration.

My favorite sounds (which also happens to be the one I had the most success listening to) were the waves. They helped me keep my focus on my breath through multiple counts to ten. I also loved having the added visualization of being at the beach and now I can’t wait to try meditating on the beach when we visit CA in a few weeks.

In the coming week I am going to try listening to a few different guided meditations. I found a few in my initial research, but plan to find a few others as well. I am excited to have someone tell me exactly what to be doing and focusing on. Hopefully that will help me think even less!

What sounds did you use to meditate this week?

Creating a Meaningful Life: Learning to Meditate

meditationI’ll be honest - meditating this week was frustrating. After sporadically meditating for the last six weeks, I buckled down and did it seven days in a row. That wasn’t hard. I would either wake up and meditate right away, or meditate after my workout. What was discouraging was how hard it was for me to keep my focus during the meditation. This week I gave all my attention solely to using a beginner’s technique of being aware of and counting your breaths. Sounds simple right? Not for me. I learned about this technique after some research on the internet. The idea is to sit or lay down, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Count each breath until you reach 10 and then start over. If a thought pops in your head, start the count over from one. Unfortunately, I would consistently only make it until two or three before some random thought floated in. I would get farther in the count if I visualized what my body and lungs were doing with each breath or if I thought in my head “breathe in, breathe out” with each breath. But concentrating for the entire six minutes (I decided to work my way up to 10 minutes) proved almost impossible. And it was a vicious cycle. I would get angry about my lack of focus, which would make it even harder to focus, which would make me more angry.

A few days ago I re-read the article to try and figure out what I was doing wrong and a sentenced jumped out at me that I hadn’t taken in before. “During your meditation, you may experience feelings of frustration, boredom, fear, anxiety, pain or anger — this is all normal. Acknowledge them, and then let them go…. ‘Your job is to not react,’ he (Todd Goldfarb) says. ‘Your job is to witness the process … and be OK with it.’” (How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide)I had been obsessed with not letting any thoughts in, but that isn’t realistic. I am human, I have thoughts and I can’t turn them off completely. During my meditation in the days following that realization, I was less hard on myself when my mind wandered. I would acknowledge the thought, sometimes even laugh at the truly weird things that popped in my head when I was not actively thinking, and then send it away and refocus on my breath. I still wasn’t able to focus for an entire six minutes, and getting all the way to 10 was still a struggle, but I was less irritated and kinder to myself which I will consider a win!

So, this week I learned that fixating solely on my breath might not be the best way for me to meditate, at least at this stage in the learning process. I also learned that I prefer laying down to sitting. It is easier for me to relax my entire body when I am laying down and that helps me zero in on my breath. I also learned that while it was hard in general for me to concentrate when I meditated, it was much harder to concentrate when I meditated as soon as I woke up. I thought being half asleep would help me focus because my thoughts hadn’t had a chance to be thought yet, but I was wrong again. My brain felt like it went into overdrive and I couldn’t quiet it down. Meditating after my workout, while I am lying down is my most successful practice of meditation so far.

For the next week I am going to continue focusing on my breath, but I am going to add in listening to a repetitive sound like waves, rain or a gong and see how that goes. I have a sleep machine app that I am going to use to produce various sounds that I think are relaxing or meditative.

Did you try meditating this week? How did it go for you? Any tips you learned during your practice?