August 15, 2013

A Habit of Peace: 21 Days of Practice. ~ Dana Gornall & Catherine Monkman

Dana invites her daughter to try meditation—which of them lasts only 25 seconds?

I’ve tried meditating many times.

In years past, I have attended a few meditation workshops, purchased and read books on the topic (including Meditation for Dummies) and had a one on one instruction session at a Buddhist temple. Occasionally I have a fleeting sensation of what meditation is—sort of a light, drifting, peaceful feeling. However, most of the time my brain is fraught with inner chatter.

I have been told this is completely normal and that I just need to practice more. However, as a working mom of three children, making time to practice can be almost downright impossible. I usually set a goal of meditating for 10 or even 5 minutes every night. I start off actually following through with this for a few days or so and then I have a crazy bad day.

Perhaps my teenager is grouchy or comes home late from curfew and I am riddled with frustration and anger. Maybe my son has a friend over to spend the night and they are rowdily gaming on the Playstation and leaving potato chip crumbs all over the living room. Possibly I’m just exhausted from running like a mad woman from work, to cooking a somewhat healthy dinner and dashing off to karate or tumbling class.

Whatever the reason, at some point I forget or just collapse in a heap on the bed. And then I realize, this is why I need meditation more than ever.

I need to find a way to commit to a practice. So I presented myself, and my friend Cat, a challenge. Following along with Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe, I plan to form a meditation practice.

With Cat practicing with me from thousands of miles away and in a whole different country, I feel like maybe I will accomplish some kind of routine. Then maybe the next time my daughter arrives past curfew, I can yell talk to her mindfully.

To start, I like the way Puddicombe presents this material. He uses storytelling to instill the bare bones of meditation, which keeps my attention throughout the book. Let’s face it, most of us are at least slightly ADHD so I can appreciate this and it cements the lessons further into my mind.

He suggests setting aside quiet time to begin practice, but I found this especially challenging with kids around. To maneuver through this snag, I asked my youngest to try it with me. We set a timer and simply sat for one minute with our eyes closed. There was no pressure to meditate or say a mantra—just sit. About 25 seconds into the minute she belts out, “This is boring!” and stormed out of my bedroom. Oh well.

One minute of peace is better than none and I’m thinking if I can make time for one minute I can make it 5 the next time around.

The Challenge: 10 minutes a day of meditation for 21 days. I’ve always heard that habits can be formed in 21 days and that if you want to start something new you should enlist the help of a friend or support system. This seemed like a good way to start. With fingers crossed, a meditation manifesto is born.


Cat does not get what she expects when she tries meditation for the very first time.

I’ve never laid foot on a yoga mat and the thought of meditation would result in scoffing, laughter and accompanied by an exaggerated roll of the eyes.

To me, meditating sounded like a waste of time; a half-nap that could be better spent getting things done.

Up until about a year ago, I’ve led a fairly unhealthy (mental and physical) life, filled with uneasy thoughts, anger, depression and anxiety. With my exposure to more eastern schools of thought through elephant journal, I started to wonder if maybe I would simply feel better if I had an open mind and gave some of these things, like meditation, a chance.

Enter Dana with her lovely tales of learning meditation from one little book and in just 10 minutes a day, I’d be on my way to a perfectly happy and peaceful existence.

I envisioned my mental self sitting cross-legged inside of my brain, absent of thought, grey matter transforming to an imaginary field of butterflies and a sunny, breezy sky around me. Basically, I saw myself in the middle of every beautiful image titled “meditation.”


The reality is that I was completely wrong about what meditation actually is and on the very first day, I encountered some dark and stormy waters.

The book is divided into four sections and in the first, you are directed to try out some simple and short exercises, just to get the feel of sitting quietly and being aware of yourself. The author loaded the book with anecdotes and personal stories which makes it easy to relate to and follow along. It’s honestly, for a self-help type of book, especially user friendly.

The first exercise asked me to sit, comfortably, with my eyes closed. I was just to experience my thoughts as they floated in but the goal was to sit still and experience “not doing.”

I cried.

At first, it was just a few tears, but as one followed another, they built momentum and I was suddenly pouring and grabbing for tissues.

As far as I know, meditation is not meant to make you cry, it’s meant to calm. Here I was: a completely teary mess.

The answer for why lies in how oblivious I was to my mental state.

In sitting, for just a few seconds, with my eyes closed and my husband on the sofa next to me, I was suddenly aware of myself. I was aware that he might be aware of me. And that I must look silly to him, sitting there with my eyes closed for no particular reason.

I started to think about how much I dislike anyone paying attention to me. The thought of anyone noticing me was terrifying. Don’t look at me! Don’t notice me.

My thought process rolled from one anxious thought to another and as I allowed that to happen, I realized how little worth I place on me. On who I am. So, I cried. It felt like I was releasing the self loathing.

I realized that I needed, so desperately, the clarity and calm that comes with observing and being aware of one’s own mind.

So, here I am, ready (excited, even) to develop what was initially just a fun little “see where this takes me” collaboration and challenge with Dana into real, living and breathing meditation.

The goal: to be able to meditate consistently each day for 10 minutes.

After reading the above mentioned book, I hope to further the practice so that I can meditate anywhere, any time and reach a state of calm and clarity before I ever get to a point of upset.

Dana and I have each read the first two sections of the book and we’ve done the exercises suggested in the book. Admittedly, I’ve struggled with making time to practice these exercises more than just the once.

They say it takes time to develop a habit and my hope is that the benefit of this adventure will cause me to make it more of a priority in my day.

Keep an eye out for the next post from both of us after we’ve had a chance to gain some momentum with these exercises. For anyone interested in following along, you can purchase the book here.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman & Dana Gornall

Photo credit: Pixoto

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