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September 17, 2017

3 Things I wish I’d known before I Started Meditating.

When I first started a meditation practice, I was exhausted and time-poor.

My youngest daughter was only five months old. She was a challenging infant, and I had reached a state of emotional upheaval so strong that I knew that if I didn’t do something, I was going to break.

I had heard of the benefits of meditation, so I decided that I was going to try that.

My understanding of meditation was that you sat still, either in silence, with no interruptions, or with the help of a guided meditation, and tried to empty your mind. Needless to say, the first 18 months of my meditation practice was frustrating, unfulfilling, and less-than-disciplined. It was hard, and I hadn’t signed up for hard—it was supposed to be making my life easier.

Fast forward to the present, and I meditate joyfully and easily multiple times a day. It is a state I enter with grace and gratitude, and I completely understand now why it is effective as everyone says it is. The reason for this is that I found the practices that work for me.

If I had known about these practices when I first began meditating, I definitely wouldn’t have struggled so much to maintain a consistent practice.

1. Guided meditations can be just as soothing and powerful as sitting in stillness and silence.

If you struggle to sit for long in stillness and silence for longer than 30 seconds (just like I did in the beginning), you don’t have to! A guided meditation gives the mind a focus point so that you don’t have to keep bringing yourself back when you are unpracticed in doing so. It is much easier to refocus on someone else’s voice than it is to remind yourself to come back to stillness!!

2. Heart coherence is one of the most powerful meditative practices I have learned yet.

Heart coherence is short, so if you, like me, are time-poor, you can still reap all the benefits of meditation without the time commitment (in the beginning, anyway). It also has a super solid scientific evidence base behind it in terms of how it works and why it works. (HeartMath Institute has an excellent research library as a good starting point.) As an analytically-minded science geek, this really helped me to dive in to the practice whole-heartedly, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

The practice itself is a simple one:

Find a space where it is safe for you to close your eyes for a couple of minutes.

Close your eyes and place two fingers or the palm of your hand in the centre of your chest, telling your consciousness that this is where you want it to reside.

Take a deep breath in, and let it out with an audible sigh. Repeat this two or three times, signaling to your physiology that you are safe here.

Allow your breathing to return to its natural rhythm and start bringing to mind a list of things that make you feel gratitude. These can be big or small; the important thing is the feeling they invoke.

As you keep visualizing these incidences, feel the gratitude throughout your body. Feel it rise up until you feel fit to burst from the feeling. Once you have reached that point, sit in stillness, basking in that vibration for two or three minutes—or longer if you have the time and inclination.

Combining the feeling of gratitude with the deliberate physiological relaxation techniques, this practice covers the body, mind, and spirit in under five minutes. What’s not to love?!

3. The point of meditation is not to empty your mind or control your thoughts.

The point of meditation is to give us the chance to become the observers of our own thoughts. I am a recovering control-freak. I always felt like I could be happy if I could just control my life (and by extension, the lives of those around me) and make everything perfect. When I first decided to begin a meditation practice, I was completely gung-ho about the possibility that this practice might allow me to extend that control into my own mind and everything would change, and I would finally be happy.

When I realized I had been completely wrong, it felt like the earth had dropped away, leaving me floating aimlessly and terrified about what to do. But then, I realized: I don’t need to control my thoughts. They are not me. I have thoughts; I am not thoughts.   

Even more importantly than that, I can choose which of my thoughts I am going to believe and focus on, and allow all the others to float away like clouds in the sky. After I realized this, meditation became a much more enjoyable practice for me. I wasn’t striving to control my thoughts anymore—I was simply observing them.

I was being myself instead of being my thoughts.

I hope these realizations I had along my own path can help dispel the notion that meditation is overwhelming and scary, and that you can find the peace that comes with the practice in your own life, if you so choose.

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The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground. ~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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Author: Cassandra Hartley
Image: MaxPixel
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell

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Cassandra Hartley