These days, my attitude towards meditation falls somewhere in line with the attitudes of vegans and Crossfit aficionados towards their respective passions. I can’t stop talking about it. You can’t make me stop talking about it. I think you need to try it. My husband and son should try it. All my friends should try it. Pretty much everyone living in this crappy world right now would benefit from a practice.
I’m super-annoying about it, actually.
I probably don’t have to to tell you that I’m not exactly the embodiment of the “loving acceptance” or “non-attachment” or “living in the moment” that meditation is supposed to cultivate. Even though I’ve managed to collect thousands of “mindful minutes” in the various apps I use for my daily sit, I’ve yet to emerge as an enlightened guru. I’ve learned one really important thing about meditation over the past few years of practicing regularly, though: it works.
And when I say it works, I mean both on a scientifically-proven level, and from my own experience. In placebo-controlled clinical studies, meditation has proven to be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure. There’s some less-solid evidence of its effectiveness for a host of other conditions (things like addictive behavior, IBS, and pain management), but those studies were either too small, didn’t involve a control group, or weren’t conclusive.
I started out a skeptic. I was one of those people who said, “Oh, going to the gym is my meditation.” I said a lot of things like that. “Reading is my meditation. Making things is my meditation.” Reading is my hobby. Making things is my work. I had actually convinced myself that working and exercising and distracting my mind were forms of meditation. They aren’t. They’re wonderful, good-for-you things in their own right, and any of them can put you in a flow state. That’s sort of like meditation. But only sort of.
I didn’t start meditating in earnest until I was desperate. Last year, my husband and I were living eight hundred miles apart after he’d started his new job in California and I’d stayed behind in Colorado to finish out the school year and sell the house. My son was a high school senior and we were planning for and applying to colleges with him. My dad had just had a stroke and was in the hospital on the east coast. I was so stressed out, I’d sometimes just randomly start crying. My right eye twitched constantly. My shoulders ached. My blood pressure, borderline ever since my preeclamptic pregnancy, began rising.
Meditation, it turns out, is way easier than it used to be. You just download an app or search up a YouTube video and find a comfortable place to sit. Actually, you don’t even really need the app or the video, but it helps with that nagging feeling that you might be doing something wrong. Plus, having a guide helps with learning techniques that make your practice more effective.
The first few times I meditated (and remember I was sort of in crisis), I found myself literally shaking and crying halfway through the ten minutes. I don’t think that’s necessarily a normal experience, but it doesn’t seem to be an abnormal one either. It wasn’t a bad feeling—it was almost like all the anxiety and stress was being purged from my system. And I felt better after, so I did it again the next day.
And again. And again.
I don’t meditate every day now, but I try to make a fairly regular practice of it. A ten- or fifteen-minute meditation is often enough to stop an anxiety attack in its tracks, especially since, also thanks to meditation, I’ve learned to be more aware of my body’s signals. Even more importantly, though, it’s made me a better person. When I’m practicing regularly, I’m slower to anger and less likely to judge. I approach the people around me with more kindness and less frustration. I treat myself with more kindness too, because when you give everyone around you the benefit of the doubt, when you embrace their imperfections in a loving way, it only makes sense to extend that same courtesy to yourself.
So seriously, just try meditating. And no, I’m not going to stop talking about it.
Like my content and want more? Every two weeks, I send out an email letter with tons of resources for slow and mindful living. You can read the most recent issue here, and then subscribe to get Mail from Jenn in your inbox.