I close my eyes and inhale… Exhale…This feels so strange. Is this what meditation is about? Am I doing this right? Wait, stop thinking. You’re not supposed to be thinking. You’re supposed to be meditating and clearing your mind. You’re not supposed to be thinking. Just stop thinking.
Inhale…Exhale…Inhale…Exhale…My eye itches. My knee hurts. I’m hungry. Do we have any good snacks? I could really go for some chocolate right now. I wonder what the weather is supposed to be like tomorrow. Stop thinking! Focus, focus.
Inhale…Exhale…Inhale…Exhale…Inhale…Exhale…What if…? Should I …? What about…? How come…?
I am meditating. Well, to be more accurate, I am learning to meditate. Or at least, I think that’s what I’m doing, but I can’t be sure.
Last month I launched the Stepping Out Series and made a commitment to step out of my comfort zone in one specific area each month in order to learn something new, to foster personal growth, to bolster cultural empathy, or to strengthen relationships. In other words, I am stepping out of my comfort zone in the hopes of finding the magic.
My first “adventure” out of my comfort zone was to make a diligent effort to meditate. My goals were modest: to meditate regularly in order to find a method that might work for me as a spiritual practice or a relaxation technique. To say that meditating on a regular basis has been a challenge would be a huge understatement – the act of sitting still and quieting my mind is not something that comes easy to me. But to say that the endeavor was worth the effort would also be a huge understatement – although meditation has not created some blissful, zen-like utopia, it does seem to calm my monkey mind a bit and create a few brief moments of magical serenity.
Moreover, the experience itself – the act of pushing through the discomfort in order to foster personal development – has also taught me a few things.
- A little is sometimes better than a lot. Some of my most beneficial meditation sessions were the shortest ones – a few seconds of mantra meditation in the car while my kids battled in the backseat or a stolen minute in the middle of the afternoon when I’m feeling particular stressed, tired, or weary. On the days that I waited until I could find 10 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time, I often didn’t meditate at all. But when I seized on those brief minutes or seconds when I needed to find calm the most, meditation happened easily and achieved its purpose.
- It is important to find what works for you, not what works for everyone else. After trying a few techniques, I realized that a short mantra meditation works best for me. I am able to mentally chant the mantra anytime, anywhere, in any situation and, like magic, the anxiety is alleviated (well, most of the time anyway). I also discovered that a visual mantra is nearly as helpful as a verbal mantra. By visualizing waves of energy moving through my body and mind, I am better able to release the extraneous thoughts as they arise.
- Avoiding excessive deliberation can lead to radical mindfulness and unintentional self-awareness. Though meditation is not necessarily a spiritual practice for me, nor has it become a replacement to prayer, the deliberate removal of excessive contemplation has lead to an inadvertent mindfulness and self-awareness. Sometimes, the solutions to dilemmas or the causes of stress would suddenly flash through my mind, bringing an obvious clarity to issues that had puzzled me for some time. Other times, certain people or issues would continue to pop into my mind, which signaled that it was someone or something that really mattered and needed more attention, and I could devote more attention to that person or issue than I had been previously.
- Going public is the first step to making it happen. I have made several efforts to meditate in the past, though none of them seemed to last more than a couple of days. But this time I decided that if I was going to do this I was really going to do this. Publicly announcing my meditation plan on this site created accountability and made me more mindful of my efforts. But even more than the accountability that was created, by going public with my adventure, I connected with family and friends (both online and off) in ways that I hadn’t before. So many people – family, friends, readers – shared with me their own plans to step out of their own comfort zone, offered meditation suggestions, and encouraged me along the way, all of which strengthened each of the relationships and facilitated a deeper human connection. And that, in my opinion, is a gift in and of itself.
Now that the month is over, I plan to continue to meditate as often as possible, preferably on a daily basis. While I have no intention of becoming a Zen master or meditation guru, I do hope to develop a routine practice and make my mental health more of a priority.
Next month I will step out of my comfort zone in a physical way by taking up yoga. Many of you might be shaking your heads and wondering how this could possibly be something challenging or uncomfortable, but if you knew how much I dislike yoga, you would understand. Why do something you don’t like?, you might ask. Great question. In fact, I’ve asked myself this many times. The truth is, as much as I dislike yoga, my body physically seems to be crying out for it – my knees and hips simply cannot take the running regime that I enjoy so much – and I want to avoid falling too far into a rigid mindset without really giving it a try. So, armed with a few yoga DVDs and a relatively positive attitude, I plan to ease my way into yoga with little hopes other than survival.
I also stepped out of my comfort zone in a BIG way this afternoon when I made my HuffPost Live debut and participated in a panel discussion on raising children with/without religion. And, in a few months, I will step out in an even BIGGER way when I (gasp!) lead a worship service at my church. While I am vociferously outspoken with the written word, I am silent and fearful when it comes to the spoken word so, like today’s HuffPost Live discussion, leading the worship service won’t just be a step out of my comfort zone – it will be a giant leap.
Thank you all for your encouragement and for sharing your own “Stepping Out” challenges and adventures with me. As I said in my original post, this is more than just a personal project, but a community project, as well. I welcome any suggestions, feedback, guest posts, encouragement, and advice. And I want to continue to hear about your adventures, as well. Let us step out and find the magic together.
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