This time of year can be very stressful. Last weekend, I decided to be proactive with my holiday anxiety and research the calming effects of meditation. On Saturday morning, I sat down with a newly purchased “Meditation for Dummies” book to learn how to meditate.
I read that meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique — such as mindfulness or focusing their mind on a particular object or thought — to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. If this wasn’t enough to sell me on the idea of meditation, there was an extensive list of additional benefits that included: harmonizing your endocrine system, increasing your levels of dehydroepiandrosterone, reducing your free radicals, creating greater communication between your two brain hemispheres and improving your performance in athletic endeavors. I wasn’t sure what most of this meant, but if there was something I could be doing to raise my bowling league average by a couple of points, I was all in.
The book explained that meditation was so simple the technique could be learned in minutes, and practiced for a lifetime. The most basic form of meditation entailed just four steps. I decided to give it a try.
First, I found a timer and set it for 20 minutes. Then I sat in a comfortable chair in my bedroom, put my feet on the floor, rested my hands on my thighs, took a few deep breaths and closed my eyes. Next, I started at the top of my head and scanned my body for places of discomfort. Lastly, I started to pay attention to my breathing.
Twenty minutes later, I woke up on the floor drooling on a pile of dirty laundry. I realized this might take a bit more work than I expected. I went to the kitchen, downed a good sized cup of coffee, and went back to the chair to give it another try.
I reset the timer, sat, relaxed, scanned my body and started to pay attention to my breathing. I noticed the air as it entered my lungs and then gently left my body when I exhaled. I could feel my ribcage expand with every breath, and heard a slight whistle as the air entered and exited my nose. The more I concentrated, the louder the noise became. Soon the whistling was so deafening I had to go to the bathroom and trim my nose hairs.
They say “third time is a charm,” so I returned to my chair to give meditation one more shot.
One of the main benefits touted in the book was that, along with relaxation and stress relief, meditation could increase a person’s focus. The author said it would take practice to get to this point. “Inevitably, your mind will wander,” he explained. “This is one of the first lessons of meditation. When you notice that a thought has distracted you, let go of it and gently return your attention to your breath. Over time, you’ll learn to just observe the thoughts.”
Not to brag or anything, but I didn’t have to worry about my mind wandering. I am the most focused person you will ever meet. A lot of people tell me I am focused. Many, many people tell me I am focused. Hugely focused. Nobody is more focused.
On my third meditation attempt, I relaxed and started to pay attention to my breathing. I sounded a little congested. I hoped that I wasn’t starting to get sick. I started thinking about how this time of year everyone is so touchy-feely, hugging and kissing. It was just a matter of time before I came down with something. I got my flu shot, but I heard that sometimes they don’t work. What if my flu shot doesn’t work? This time last year, a co-worker got the flu, even after she had gotten a shot. She had to drive herself to the hospital and her car went off the side of the road, and they didn’t find her for three hours. I’ll bet she had bad snow tires. Maybe I should get new snow tires so when I get the flu and have to bring myself to the hospital, I won’t drive off the side of the road. But snow tires are so expensive, and first I have to buy a Christmas tree. And I have to do all of my Christmas shopping. And wrap all of the presents. And plan a big meal for Christmas Day. Jeez, I almost forgot the stockings. I’ll need to pick-up stocking stuffers. And send all of those packages to family out of state, and …
I’ve got to tell you, I’m really not convinced meditation works. When that damn timer finally buzzed, I was more stressed than I have been in weeks.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.