My relationship with myself began eight years ago when I started to meditate. Until that time, l was on autopilot. Moving through each day, checking off the to do list –throw in a laugh here, a smile there, parties, running an errand, a homework assignment, brushing my teeth, exercising, celebrating a birthday or a rite of passage– all blurred together. However, through all that time, there was one person I ignored, almost forgot, and that was me.
I have written of my wake up call, the mold. How my sickness drove me to explore alternative medicines and how I came to find myself on a road to wellness. In case you missed it, link here.
But what also happened at that juncture of getting well and healing was a budding new relationship with myself, warts and all. I examined fears, insecurities, anxieties, jealousies, obsessive tendencies, over thinking… Luckily, I had help and guidance– a phenomenal women with incredible intuitive, healing abilities. Let’s just say, she is VERY connected to the universe and she shared her connection. She guided me to clear the cobwebs. I was a bit like Humpty Dumpty and with her help, I reassembled the pieces and many ways set them right for the very first time.
Everything we want to do well in life requires work, commitment, and determination. Getting to know oneself is no different. Avoidance is easy like keeping oneself constantly busy, but doing what? How many times have you heard– “I am so busy. I never have a moment to myself.” But, if you were to analyze that person’s day, is the “busy-ness” a cover? Is it an excuse because being still, going within, can be scary even intimidating? What might you discover about yourself in stillness? Will you find that you like yourself?
I remember when I first started meditating. I got comfortable. I took some deep breaths and tried to quiet my mind. Didn’t work. The ping pong of thoughts were rampant. I probably gave up hoping to try again the next day and then the next day and the day after that. However, with some effort, I started to be able to breathe. I started to watch and feel my breath. I started to relax and I started to connect.
I would intuitively ask…what do I need to know? Wait..wait…wait.. I usually did not get an answer, but often I felt a pit in my stomach, that no doubt what the universe had to say was negative. I had done something wrong or I was not good enough. Like when a family member calls and leaves you that message of…”I need to talk to you” and you think, ugh, what did I do? This was my conditioning like a dog trained to heel.
However, that was my initial experience. It was like all that darkness inside, the fog of insecurities were surfacing and clearing. I never heard an actual voice in my head that said anything yay or nay, but I did have many moments out of mediation where what I asked, was answered. Like a wave of information washing over me. Sometimes the messages were obvious– like duh, I should only be friends with people who respect me, but you would be surprised with how much changes when you truly internalize a message. After that, I watched as some friendships faded and new ones emerged.
Since those early days, my meditation practice continues to evolve. It has taken many different twists and turns. Just last night, someone asked me what is my practice? Who is my teacher?
I always find those questions hard to answer. How do I label something that is so internal, so me? Yes, I have had many teachers. I have practiced many forms of meditation– Transcendental Meditation, or a technique taught to me by a taoist priest–circling the breath in my body and counting each breath. I recently learned Vipassana meditation– another breath meditation.
I love guided meditations especially ones recorded by my healer. She encodes her energy facilitating a deeper state of relaxation and release. To sample, link here.
I have done standing mediations, moving meditations, mantras, visualizations. I set intentions sometimes hourly, by the minute– sending my positive thoughts out to the universe. It is almost for me like choosing what to wear. Which one is going to serve me best or suit my mood or help me to shift? In the constant evolution of Mara, no doubt my key to unlocking me, is meditation.
However, no matter which meditation I choose to practice, I make sure to practice daily and I TRY to never judge good or bad. Good– where I go into a full trance and literally float out of my body. Seriously, who needs drugs when you can experience a meditative high? And not so good, when my mind races like a monkey. I try not to judge because either experience is equally beneficial. Often mental chatter is meditation stirring up stress and anxiety to come to the surface to be released.
Meditation clears my head, helps me to focus, regulates my moods, elevates feelings of love, kindness and compassion and helps me to release crippling fears enabling me, for example, to step out of my comfort zone to start a blog.
It increases productivity and is restorative; like a nap, but much more restful. It allows me to take notice and yet take no notice. It is a way of detachment. And while meditation is supposed to quiet the thoughts, it also crystalizes thoughts. It brings clarity. I can not write without first sitting in meditation. My favorite intention is for clarity of thought and articulation.
Most importantly, meditation facilitates a connection with myself and what I have discovered, a vast universe. As I go within, I essentially go out– discovering that life and living is so much bigger, more dynamic than we can ever imagine. Meditation is the practice of waking up.
Today, everyone seems to be meditating, especially celebrities–Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Rupert Murdoch, Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Simmons, Donna Karan. Even hedge fund managers like Ray Dalio who recently attributed his success to 44 years of daily meditation. Companies aware of the perks, bring in mindfulness coaches. Schools encourage meditation. Google offers employees courses like Search Inside Yourself, Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy— all just fun titles for meditation. Every article I read on happiness always mentions meditation. It may be trendy, but I am hopeful meditation is here to stay!
Fortunately, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. You will never be graded!! Thank goodness because meditation is not always easy and takes practice. We all need to work at being AWAKE. Ironically, for those busy people who can never seem to find the time, the more time I devote to meditation, the more “time” I seem to have.
Since I began meditating, I often think back to a favorite childhood book, Are you there God, It’s Me, Margaret? It is about a young girl searching for answers about herself and life. The title since I was little has always lingered. Maybe because Margaret and Mara share the first three letters, or maybe because I knew as a child that I too would one day ask a similar question. It took a long time to find the courage to ask, but I have and in stillness, I got an answer.
There is nothing greater you can do for yourself and while this has been known for thousands of years, modern science is now finally proving meditation’s qualitative impact on the mind, body and spirit.
Here is a synopsis of some research:
1. For years, meditation fans have said that the practice keeps them healthy. But a new study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in November 2012, actually tested this. For the study, 201 people with coronary heart disease were asked to either (a) take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or (b) take a class on transcendental meditation. Researchers followed up with participants for the next five years and found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death. It’s an initial study, but a promising one. [Time]
2. Is meditating a good way to increase creativity? Maybe, but it depends on what kind. Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands looked at the way two types of meditation — focused-attention (for example, focusing on your breath) and open-monitoring (where participants focus on the both the internal and external) — affected two types of creative thinking — the ability to generate new ideas and solutions to problems. In a studypublished in April 2012 in Frontiers in Cognition, they revealed that the participants who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show improved results in the two creativity tasks. However, those who practiced open-monitoring meditation did perform better at task related to coming up with new ideas. [Meditation Research]
3. Researchers at UCLA wanted to study the brains of people who had been meditating for years, versus those who had never meditated or who had only done it for a short period of time. They took MRI scans of 100 people — half meditators and half non-meditators. They were fascinated to find that long-time meditators showed higher levels of gyrification (a folding of the cerebral cortex that may be associated with faster information processing). In a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in February of 2012, they shared that, the more years a person had been meditating, the more gyrification their MRIs revealed. [UCLA Newsroom]
4. Distractions are everywhere. But can meditation help a person better navigate through them? A computer scientist at the University of Washington teamed up with a neuroscientist at the University of Arizona to test this. The pair recruited 45 human resources managers, and gave a third of them eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training, a third of them eight weeks of body relaxation training and a third of them no training at all. All the groups were given a stressful multitasking test before and after the eight weeks. In a study published in the Proceedings of Graphics Interface in May of 2012, they showed that the mindful-mediation group reported less stress as they performed the multitasking test than both of the other groups. [Washington.edu].”
5. Recently, John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, found meditation has a true biological effect not just on the brain, but through out the body. He used neuro-imaging and genomics technology to measure physiological changes in greater detail.
6. In a study published in 2010, scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn found that 12 minutes of daily yoga meditation for eight weeks increased telomerase activity by 43 percent, suggesting an improvement in stress-induced aging.
7. Taking some time to find some zen can really help anxiety in your brain — even brain scans say so. A study published earlier this year in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience showed that meditation training not only lower anxiety levels in people, but it also had effects on the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain regions (the former region controls emotions and thinking, the latter controls worrying).
8. A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness mediation. the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
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And have a very restful and peaceful holiday. Perhaps make meditation your New Year’s resolution?!!!