Monday, January 17, 2011

My Experience with Meditation

By Maria E. Roldan, RNCP, ROHP, NNCP
This is not an article to explain to you how to meditate. I just want to share my experience and hopefully capture your interest so that one day you give meditation a try. It made a big difference in my life once I started practicing it and I truly believe that we can all benefit from this simple yet profound practice.
When I first started meditating, I just wanted to relax. I had the idea that my mind needed to get to a state of perfect quietness. I thought that my mind would go “blank”, my body would relax completely, and then I would finally be able to say that I experienced that wonderful feeling a lot of my yoga teachers where talking about.
I know that a lot of people have the same expectations when they decide to give meditation a try. We think that we have to be like the yoga sages or Buddhist monks that stay in lotus position meditating for hours . Well, let me tell you that this is not necessarily true. Anybody can meditate. Anytime is good to meditate. And no, your mind does not have to go blank, nor does your body need to be perfectly relaxed to meditate. You can achieve relaxation while in meditation but being relaxed does not mean that you are meditating.
I learned all this when I was introduced to “Mindfulness Meditation”. A concept introduced to the West by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn but that has been in the core of the Buddhist tradition for centuries.
In 2009, in an effort to fight the battle of stress, I took a program that was suggested to me by my psychotherapist. It is called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) and was also designed by Dr. Kabat-Zinn. It was life-changing. Two exhausting months where I would have to meditate every day for at least 45 minutes, do some homework, read a book the size of a brick and go to a weekly 3-hour group session. Lots of work but it totally paid off.
The definition of meditation that I was given at the orientation session of the program was: to pay attention, on purpose, focusing in the moment, and using the breath as the anchor. Yes, the present moment is the only true and powerful reality we own. It is a simple concept but we make it difficult because our minds don’t like the present moment. Our thoughts constantly wander between the past and the future. Those “what ifs…” that love to hunt us.  
I learned that it is in the nature of the mind to wander. We cannot stop our thoughts from happening but it is what we do with those thoughts that matters and that is exactly what you learn when you practice mindfulness meditation. By paying attention to those thoughts, you take away their power. You come back to your core, to your essence.
In one of his books Dr. Kabat-Zinn says:
"The habit of ignoring our present moments in favor of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person: how we are connected to each other and the world around us."  
Try to sit still for 10 minutes and focus only on your breath. Very soon you will discover that your mind is constantly bringing to you either memories, or things you need to do, people you have to call, groceries you need to buy, etc. Once again, think of meditation as the training that will teach you what to do with your thoughts. Actually, I can tell you right now what to do with them: nothing. Yes, you read it right – you don’t do anything, you just acknowledge them as thoughts and then move on to focus on your breath again, on your present. You do this one hundred times if needed….two, three hundred times. It does not matter. Trust me, with time you will see how this practice of mindfulness helps you live to the fullest without worrying too much about everything.
I could go on and on about this subject but I don’t want this post to be too long. I invite you to do some research (there is a lot of information online), find a class, a book (that’s how I started) or go back to it if you’re one of those that like me in past, had failed to meditate by having the wrong expectations. Let me say it again: it was life-changing for me. I hope one day it makes a difference for you as well.
My favourite mindfulness meditation books by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Wherever You Go There You Are”
“Full Catastrophe Living – Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face, Stress, Pain and Illness”
Link to the MBSR Program I took in Toronto:
For meditation classes, check with a yoga studio as most of them offer them on regular basis.

Maria E. Roldan, RNCP, ROHP, NNCP

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