Let’s face it. Thanks to COVID-19, mandatory self-isolation, and social distancing, there’s more bad news than good lately, and it’s taking a toll on all of us. Experts say we need to find healthy ways to manage stress while safely sheltering at home, but that’s a lot easier said than done.
If you can’t go to the gym or live in close quarters with a family, how are you supposed to tune out the news of the day? Believe it or not, you can learn to mentally calm yourself without lighting candles or sitting on a meditation pillow in a dark room. I’m talking about conscious meditation or mindfulness, and learning how to do it is simpler than you might think.
Back when I was a college student, I struggled to find ways to release the world’s grasp on my attention span, so I embarked on a mission to chill before imploding. As a writer, I’m more sponge than Teflon, so I sought help from an unlikely source: the local monks at the Mount Baldy Zen Center. “Meditation,” I thought, “that seems easy enough.” Ha! That first go was rough, but what I learned has served me well for more than three decades and may be of value to you, too.
True Seated Meditation Is Hard – Zazen unites the body, the breath, and the consciousness. I won’t lie. Just sitting still continues to be a challenge for me, and that half-lotus position (think sitting cross-legged on the floor with one foot on top of the opposing thigh) is more nerve-wracking than nirvana. FYI, while you may not truly be able to release your thoughts and cares while meditating, you will experience a renewed sense of appreciation for the flexible child you once were.
Walking Meditation Is a Real Thing – If seated meditation fails to calm your mind and leaves you cranky and frustrated, take a walk. Literally. Aim to coordinate your breath with your footsteps while appreciating the crispness of the air, the scent of the earth, and the forgiveness of its surface. You don’t even need to be on a quiet street or mountain trail to feel yourself aligning more with nature than the news. Just don’t count this walk as exercise because your aim is reflective not aerobic. P.S. Circling your living room works, too!
Write Your Own Rules – You know those inspirational posters with positive intention statements on them? Words like “Thrive” and “Success” spring to mind. Try silently repeating your own sequence of words in moments of stress or struggle. Words have power, especially when you choose the ones you want to be mindful of. I often choose words that reflect things I want to be, such as calm, strong, logical, happy, and healthy. Being mindful can prevent you from reacting impulsively. You’ll be better able to engage in the things that bring you joy, and it can even help with insomnia (which a lot of us, myself included, are struggling with right now).
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Looking back, I recognize that my experience with the monks at Mount Baldy shaped who I am today. Mindfulness is at the core of my waking life, as is humor. The connection I choose to make each and every minute is filled with an awareness that I am part of something surprising, substantial, and sustaining. So … where does – or will – mindfulness carry you?