I tried – again – to meditate just now.
I’d give myself a score of 6 out of 10 on form (though I guess meditation is not the sort of thing you’re supposed to score yourself on?), though the outcome was surprisingly good.
I’m not good at sitting still and turning my brain off.
Like many people, I have a brain/thought meter that is always set to “High.” I operate as if my life will implode if I am not using every free minute to “accomplish” something … for work, family or my impossible to-do list. And of course, with the ADD-inducing 24-7 online connectivity via my iPhone, I can get sucked into a vortex of “activity” over and over during my days and nights without actually accomplishing anything.
I’ve always been both a news junkie and a sucker for odd, cool and/or poignant feature stories, and there is an endless supply of enticing headlines to suck me in and suck up any free time I might otherwise have for meditation or other brain-stilling habits.
And I really need to still my brain. Even when I overindulge my natural night-owl wiring and stay up way too late, my brain is usually still churning when my head hits the pillow, no matter how tired my body is. I’m sure you see all the same headlines I do about how crucial sleep is to everything.
Friends of all stripes tell me that meditation has been life-changing for them, so every few months, I resolve to try again.
This afternoon was my most recent attempt. Sadly, I Googled ‘basic meditation’ (despite reading a slew of meditation articles over the years), and watched a short video that suggested starting by counting breaths. That seemed simple and doable.
Of course, my mind wandered — and I know that’s normal.
And I was bored.
Also normal, I know.
Eventually, I found myself going back to a tool that has seemed to help me during meditation attempts and yoga classes in the past. It’s helped me let go of obsessing over specific stresses at the very moment I’m trying to let go of them.
I’m sure the serious practitioners would call it visualization – and that’s what it is – but the jargon-hater in me isn’t crazy about that word. Often I think of places and landscapes that feed my soul (like the one in the photo, from a favorite stretch of a road trip I take often) or somehow picturing the stress leaving my body/brain.
When I tried this fix again today in my bored, distracted desperation, the thought went through my head that this was a little like making up a picture book in my head to help my meditation.
I like that description better.
Today’s picture book went like this:
My helpful Googled meditation video said I was supposed to breathe in from my belly (not my lungs/diaphragm), something I have practiced doing while running. So I imagined a big clear vat of stress sitting in my belly. Because I don’t like making myself queasy on purpose, I didn’t choose to picture my stress as some horrid, bubbling witches’ brew of bile.
Instead, it was a pile of thick, tangled threads, each one representing the elements of my unique recipe of stress (no need to share the details of that). The threads are different colors, but none are a color I like; they are all dull or muddy versions of the basics.
As I obediently but impatiently sat and counted my breaths for the 12 minutes I’d assigned myself, I imagined that each time I breathed out for six counts, some of that pile of stress traveled out with my breath.
But then my literal, picture book-conjuring self got tripped up.
Where was that dull, tangled yarn of stress going to go when I breathed it out? I didn’t want it to float out of my breath and into my house or even my yard. Or the atmosphere.
I thought about it for a couple of minutes and another picture began to float into view. It would go from my breath into a Dr. Seussian machine (think The Cat in the Hat), where it would be converted into a stream of something golden and light and glorious that streamed out of the contraption and into the universe.
As out there as this meditation picture book sounds (I told my 12-year-old about it, and she stared at me as if I had three heads at first, but did seem to get a kick out of it), it actually left me feeling less stressed out.
Hard to believe.
Of course, in my 12 minutes of stop-and-start meditation, I only managed to breathe out and convert about a sixth of my (imagined) current stress reserves, so I’m going to keep trying.
I like the idea of converting all that accumulated stress into sweetness and light – and I think I’m going to come up with a name for my Dr. Seussian contraption, too.
I wonder if Oprah and Deepak Chopra might want to design a 21-Day Meditation Course around my Picture Book Meditation strategy?