Learning To Meditate – How-To

A Rose

Discovering Meditation

In late 2008 I was working in an IT job.  I worked Monday through Friday, was off by 4pm and had my own desk.  Unfortunately, this type of work just isn’t what I’m passionate for.  I was often stressed out working with someone who was constantly worried about not getting jobs done on time or that the boss wouldn’t be happy.

One particularly stressful day, my co-worker (there were two of us in the IT department) left for lunch in a panic.  Looking back on it, I cannot even tell you what they were so upset about.  My heart was pounding and I was feeling wrecked.  I went online and looked up stress management techniques.  I found a short how-to type website that told me to close my eyes and just try to breathe and think about inhaling and exhaling.  It told me to do this for five minutes.

So I set a timer and for fine minutes I did my best just to think about inhaling and exhaling.  After five minutes I felt like a new man.  I felt like my energy was back and my stress had been released.  I was blown away that I could calm myself down do easily in such a short amount of time.

Developing My Practice

I started, in the next few weeks and months, to research this technique more and more and found that this was meditation.  I had heard about meditation my whole life but had always thought it was just for hippies to sit around and chant “om” and be lazy.  I had no idea what meditation was for or how to do it.

In 2009 I started a new job in a new state and decided to learn how to meditate more effectively.  Meditation would become an on again, off again relationship over the next few years. but when I was diligent in my practice I felt great.  Since my practice has been fairly steady for the past many months, I contribute this practice to my mental well-being that I have been experiencing.

Most Common Concerns

The most common thing I hear people say when I suggest they meditate for stress and anxiety relief is “I don’t know how to do it”, which was my problem years ago.  The second thing I hear is “I’ve tried it and I couldn’t make my mind stop.”  Let me address both of these concerns for you right now and hopefully you can start a practice of your own.

Meditation 101

Here is a step by step how-to guide to meditation:

  1. Sit comfortably somewhere where you wont have many distractions. Background noise shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Start repeating a mantra (a word or sentence that you choose, can be literally anything) in your head over and over.
  4. Focus also on your breathing.
  5. When thoughts pop in your head, think of them being taken away on clouds and go back to steps 3 and 4.
  6. Stop after a few minutes when you start to feel better.

That’s it.  That’s meditation.

But I Can’t Stop My Brain

Meditation is a “practice”.  You don’t “do” meditation, you practice it.  The first time I tried shooting a basketball I missed.  I miss 50-60% of the time still after 30 years.  This doesn’t’ mean I should stop trying to shoot a basketball.  It just means I wont hit the shot every time.  You will have thoughts in your brain that come a lot more often than you wish during your meditation practice.  Just remember step five and practice, practice.  Maybe after many years you’ll be meditating like a monk.  Until then, you will feel the benefits.  I guarantee it.

Be well. Be positive.

The Anxiety Paradigm

Anxiety, to me, was always about an empty hole that needed to be filled.  If only I could see a doctor, if only I could get medication, I could use therapy, if my financial situation changed… then I would be free from anxiety.  The problem with this idea was that the anxiety was never caused by lack of those things.  Anxiety was mostly about the worrying of not having them but once I would get them there was always something else I would need to really fix my anxiety problems.  Let me share with you a couple of the “if onlys” in my past.

1. If only I had a better job

A new job wont necessarily release you from anxiety.  You may make more money but you may also move in to a higher standard of living.  When I moved back to Florida from Michigan in 2009, I went from living in a place where my rent was $425 per month to a place where we paid $850 per month.  An increase in pay gave us more square feet to live in but it didn’t mean I was putting thousands of dollars per month in a savings account.  It just meant I was spending more for things so I could live the same way.

2. If only I could move somewhere new

In 2002 I moved from Michigan to Florida.  In 2005 I moved back to Michigan.  In 2009 I moved back to Florida.  A change in scenery didn’t take my anxiety away.  I often hear people say “if I could only move to a better state, then everything will be ok”.  I often tell them that if they want to move then go ahead but don’t expect it to solve your problems.  99% of our problems are us and we take ourselves everywhere we go.  You can’t expect to move and leave yourself behind.  You and your problems will go with you, trust me, 1100 mile moves didn’t change a thing for me.  They just added to my frustration of not finding what I was looking for.

3. Once I get a new car, I’ll be able to get a job

When you don’t have a job, it’s because you aren’t willing to take the necessary steps to get one.  I know a LOT of people who walk and/or take the bus or ride a bike to their jobs.  Sometimes it isn’t the stellar career path you imagined and there certainly wont be a red carpet but I’ve had some pretty lowly jobs at times that have gotten me to the next step in life.  Looking back on it, aside from work, these were some of the best times of my life.  I remember all the good times I had and have very little memory of the foreclosure or my utilities being shut off.

So What Is Anxiety Then?

Anxiety comes from many places.  At it’s root it comes from that empty space you believe you have.  Some call it desire, others call it ego but we create in ourselves an empty space in our hearts for things that we don’t have.  We believe if we can just get one more thing in our lives that we’ll be ok.  The truth is, as Glinda the good witch said, you had the power all along to beat anxiety.  There are times when stress and pressures of life will give you anxiety.  Yes, I’ve been there.  I nearly lost my home at one point.  I ended up having to move my pregnant wife and child and I in with my parents for a couple of months.  I’ve seen friends lose everything.  I’ve also see homeless people who are happier than anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s all relative.  I do, however, hope you are not homeless.

The anxiety I felt came from an empty place of desire and constant want.  Worry of what would happen to my kids, would I get sick, what if the cashier at the grocery store didn’t like me?  For the record, even on some of my worst days, the cashiers have been very friendly to me and I wish I had been friendlier back.  If I had stopped worrying about that then I could have relaxed and just enjoyed the experience of shopping.  Yes, even grocery shopping can be joyful.

As long as I feel like I’ve beaten anxiety, there are no more giants to confront in my life.  In the coming weeks and months I hope to share with you, my dear reader, some of the tools I’ve used to stay positive.  Thank you!

Be well. Be positive.

When The Wheels Come Off

I can feel it happening.  My head is starting to spin out of place.  I can stop it from happening, I know I can.

A couple of weeks ago my wife was in a car accident.  I’ve held up really well despite having to deal with the insurance company, doctors, lawyer, rental car and of course my wife (just trying to keep her positive).

Friday was a particularly hard day.  I was stressed out because one of the kids in my neighborhood had been hitting my 6 year old.  Then one of the other neighbor kids went missing.  Several of us parents searched everywhere for about an hour before we found out he was at a friend’s house down the street.

This sent me in to a downward spiral.  It exhausted me.  But I wasn’t able to stop there, I had to get some things for my daughters who were starting soccer Friday night and Saturday morning.  We had just signed up my girls for soccer and I had never met her coach before.  We ended up getting my eight year old to practice late because we couldn’t find her coach.  I’ve also had very little sleep this past weekend.

I’m fine.  There is nothing wrong.  My kid are happy, my wife has a great doctor… I just need to bring my self back to the moment.  I need to stop worrying about things I cannot change right now.

Change is going to happen.  Things, both good and bad, are going to happen.  If there was a way to stop them after they happened then life would be too easy.  I cannot change what has already happened so I need to accept it and keep moving.  Dwelling on the past, even the recent past, is going to be my downfall if I cannot being myself back to the present.

Be well, be positive.

When Actions Speak Louder Than Emotions

A few weeks ago I posted a video of a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy entitled “Your body language shapes who you are“.  This is one of my favorite TED videos and some of the concepts in it are helping me confront the giants in my life, mainly anxiety.

In her talk, Ms. Cuddy talks about how your posture often shapes your emotions and more importantly, the hormones in your body (such as testosterone) that determine many of your emotions such as stress or confidence.  Traditionally, we all knew that the way we feel affects our body language but Cuddy suggests here that we can actually affect our mind with our body language.

I have been taking the time each day to read some affirmations in the mirror.  While I read them I will open up my posture and spread my arms out and up to the ceiling.  I also take time to smile at myself frequently.  My goal is to release testosterone and have less cortisol, which is the stress hormone.

After doing this I have to admit that I feel good.  I feel good not only emotionally but I see myself more positively.  It gives me a sense of being less anxious and more confident.

Traditionally, I’ve always been very closed off.  I cross my arms a lot, I sit slightly hunched over and like to sit on the couch with my knees bent and legs pulled in.  According to the video, this will increase cortisol levels and reduce testosterone levels which will create anxiety and make me less confident.

Lately, I’ve been running.  Admittedly, I’m not a real strong runner.  I’ve had times when I did well but I’ve never been able to get past the 3 mile mark.  I’ve always felt as if running has been hard for me.  Lately, when running, I try to smile periodically.  I’ve found this simple gesture to be a tremendous boost that keeps me going when my legs are tired and I want to stop.

In her TED Talk, Amy Cuddy mentions that if you put a pen in your mouth it forces you to smile.  This is an interesting point as there are times when I’m having an anxiety attack and the last thing I want to do is smile, despite the fact that it will make me feel better.  Perhaps, this is one more thing I can do to stop an anxiety attack as it starts to happen.

Be well, be positive.

Traffic and Life

Today I got up early and went to meet a friend of mine on the other side of town.  He was in town from Michigan (where I grew up).  When I got on the highway I was suddenly trapped in grid locked traffic.  Since I had nothing else to do, I was watching the other cars as they weaved themselves in and out of lanes trying to find the best lane to get ahead.  In the end, no one really gets ahead, lanes stop as suddenly as they start moving and when you get in to the lane that is moving it stops and your previous lane starts.

This is a lot how people live their lives.  It’s how I’ve tried to live, always trying to get ahead by changing my lane in life.  For some reason it never seems to work.  There have been many times when I have moved forward in life but it was because of moves that felt natural.  At this point in my life I could change jobs and really be no more ahead than I am now but I would lose some of my vacation time.

Heavy traffic brings out the worst in people.  It brings out frustration and anxiety.  Why? Because people are so worried about getting to their destination and what they can attempt to improve their situation instead of enjoying the situation.  You may call me crazy, but I’ve had times when I’ve enjoyed my time stuck in traffic.

No, I don’t enjoy sitting on the highway but you can always make the best of it.  Today I watched the other cars and enjoyed the beautiful blue sky, the palm trees and my city.  Years ago, as a truck driver, I cleaned out my truck while dead stopped on a highway for two hours.  I once was traveling with a girlfriend and we were stopped on a highway for an hour without moving.  We chatted with other motorists and played soccer with some people in the median.

One of the most calming things, to me, is driving in a snow storm.  You cannot change it, so you have to slow down and just accept that there’s a snow storm.  No one ever expected me to be on time in a snow storm so there was no hurry.  Once I stopped and had a nice dinner because the snow was slowing me down and it had gotten so late that I was hungry.

These are some extreme examples.  Today, I was held up for about 15 minutes, but these 15 minutes I gave to myself to enjoy rather than stress out about.  I did change lanes once but that was because the right lanes were blocked off due to a truck losing his load of wood planks.  To be honest, I’d rather be stuck in the traffic than causing the traffic jam myself.  It’s as the old Monty Python song goes, “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Be well, be positive.