Now that I have completed the August Meditation Challenge, I wanted to share my experiences and lessons learned. At first, meditating daily for 31 days seemed like a very easy task, but I quickly realized how much dedication to practice, commitment to self and overall discomfort I would become well acquainted with. Some days I was super excited and looked forward to quiet time alone. Other days, the thought of sitting alone…in silence…sounded like the absolute last thing that I wanted to do. I learned that sitting alone quietly, can actually be quite loud. My thoughts can become deafening at times and I really struggled with teaching myself to push through these moments. However, day by day, I continued my practice and built forward momentum. Going on a week-long, silent, meditation retreat definitely helped my practice in numerous ways; I learned new styles, new postures, I learned to love myself in a new way, I learned to face some of my biggest internal fears, I learned to truly communicate silently, and I also learned that the goal of meditation is not to stop thinking.
I cannot stress that enough; the goal of meditation is not to stop thinking! I believe the goal of meditation is to direct your thoughts in a productive way and elongate the spaces and breaks in between passing thoughts. On retreat, I learned to accept that my brain is likely never going to be perfectly still or quiet, and that is fine. The brain was created to think. Your brain is constantly making sure you breathe, processing your surroundings for danger, keeping you balanced on whatever you’re sitting on, etc. At times, I found myself frustrated with the mirage of thoughts I could not escape from. That was until, I realized that there is no escape from my thoughts, and I began to accept and acknowledge each passing thought. However, this is easier said than done, so let me explain…
On retreat, we were given the visual of imagining each passing thought, as a soap bubble in our mind. Soap bubbles tend to be small and burst quickly. So, as each thought comes across your mind, acknowledge it’s presence (hello thought, thanks for stopping by), then simply pop the soap bubble as you move your attention/awareness back to the present focus and your meditation anchor (breath, body sensations, sounds, etc). Your practice may become a game of bubble popping, but to me, that is better than beating yourself up about nonstop thoughts. In time, I began finding it easier to bring my attention back to the present and had less bubbles to pop. I cannot say that the thoughts ever stop, but they certainly slow down. Through this technique, I have gained much more control over where my mind wanders.
Now that I’ve completed this challenge, I’m super proud of myself! I feel like I have truly integrated this practice into my lifestyle and am committed to carrying this forward. So what are some of the effects I have noticed during this month? I sleep a lot better! I normally struggle to sleep more than 4 hours at a time and am normally awake multiple times throughout the night. Recently, I have been able to sleep closer to 5-6 hours at a time and only wake up once or twice during the night. I also notice that I am kinder to people and have more patience in various situations. Overall, I feel more in control of my emotions and as well as my reactions. When I feel myself becoming overwhelmed or annoyed, I am able to not only identify and articulate what I am feeling but then I can take a few minutes to shift my energy to something more positive. When things inevitably trigger a negative emotion, I feel more in control of myself and more emotionally balanced. Furthermore, I have more energy when I wake up and feel less stiffness in my body. I cannot overstate the value of this practice and will continue to encourage others to engage. Meditation is simple, just do it!
Here are a few more physical benefits of meditation practice:
- Decrease IBS; a stress induced set of symptoms
- Improve psoriasis
- Decrease fibromyalgia
- Boosts the immune, nervous and endocrine systems
- Decreases insomnia
- decreases muscle tensions
- sleep better, longer
- Lowers blood pressure
- Decreases physical pain or impairment
- decreases brain sensitivity to pain
- decreases chronic and intermittent pain
- decreases pain from terminal illness