Everything comes in cycles. Sometimes the cycles are easy to spot, sometimes they aren’t, but I believe, well ok, most things come in cycle. I’m in a cycle at the minute of rebuilding a meditation practice after a few months hiatus.
There are spiritual benefits to meditation, of course. I’ve said plenty of other places that prayer is when we talk to deity, meditation gives deity an option of answering back. Or, y’know, saying something completely off topic, cos… deity. But I’m not talking about the spiritual benefits today. I’m talking about the mechanics (for me) of building up my meditation practice (again!) and the physical benefits I see from this.
A good night’s sleep is really a foundational aspect of my everyday health. If I get 8hrs, I’m good for the day, mostly able to handle whatever is thrown at me. My ability to deal with life decreases in proportion to the amount of sleep I get. If I’m down to 4hrs, unless it’s a very easy day, I’m going to struggle. (Actually, my team at work can back me up on this!) Falling asleep to a guided meditation is one of the best ways I have to a) ensure that good night’s sleep and b) start rebuilding my meditation practice. I’ve long been a fan of 2 of Jason Stephenson’s guided meditations on Youtube. I’ve yet to hear the end of either of them, which for me is brilliant. Of course, he won’t work for everyone, but there are loads of choices out there to try and see how you go. I’m at the point now where I’m wondering is it a Pavlovian response I have to these meditations, that I’ve trained myself to associate these meditations with falling into a deep and restful sleep. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which it is, they work! (for me – your mileage may vary. Individual responses to voice and music are well… individual!)
So that’s step one. I’m going to be open and honest here. I’ll probably keep at that for about a month before I add in anything extra on the daily to the meditation practice. But this is a really good first step for me.
Next though, I’ll be going back to a deep meditation around the time I start menstruating. This again serves two purposes. 1) It forces me to take some time out on the days I’m menstruating to relax and listen to my body. This won’t be a guided meditation, it will be one of my own visual meditations I’ve adapted and used over years. Usually it’s a visualisation of a journey to my womb or to check in with my womb and spend some time with her. Which leads be to the second purpose: 2) It helps me check in with my womb, afford myself the space to acknowledge what might or might not be going on either physically or spiritually with my womb and from there lead out into the rest of my body. This deep meditation (I call it deep because I usually need longer than my normal daily meditations and I make a bit of a fuss about it for myself – nice blankie, warm room, candles lighting, that sort of thing) is time for me. It’s time when I am called on to do absolutely nothing else other than be. There is no other focus for that time other than me. Now this can be uncomfortable when I’m not feeling particularly happy with myself, but it’s almost always worth doing.
The reason I’m going to look at my menstrual meditation next is because I’m due in the coming days, actually slightly overdue if I’m honest, but I have things ready to go when the blood appears. Now, not everyone menstruates and not everyone who does menstruate wants to acknowledge the event or considers it a part of who they are. Honestly – perfectly alright, no matter where you are with that. I would encourage you to look at some cycle, whether it’s a given day in the month or a moon phase or equinox/solstice thing or a fire festival thing – some regularly occurring event, where you can tie into it and spend some extra time in meditation to check in with your body. Again, checking in with the womb is probably not for everyone. Sure more than half the population doesn’t have a womb, so y’know, may not resonate at all. But the important thing for me, in this situation, is the checking in with myself. My womb is a part of my body I rarely think about in day-to-day life unless I’m bleeding, so it’s a good “way in” to the rest of my body. I can’t dismiss it as easily as I can an arm or a leg, I need to make the effort. Really – the liver, the pancreas, the appendix, the lungs, heart, stomach… any of the major organs would fulfil the same purpose.
Next I’ll be looking at morning meditation. This will probably happen in a month or 6 weeks, I’ll start adding “morning meditation” to my morning rituals again. This tends to be a more free form meditation. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone, have the sound of a blazing fire going, sit back, get comfy, close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. It’s a pain in the arse, I’ll tell ye know, when I’ve not done it for a while and to start with, I’ll be looking at 5mins and probably not achieving that every day. But if I do it, 5 days out of 7 (cos my weekend routines are different), I will get there. I find 20mins is a sweet spot for me on this. It’s short enough that I can fit it into the morning routine, even with my long commute but it’s long enough that I see real benefits throughout my day. As for these benefits? Well, I come out of most sessions feeling refreshed and capable. My mind is calm, or at least calmer. My body falls into that loose but prepared state and I feel able to move my body, get creative with my brain, all that good stuff.
If I’m starting off where even 1-2mins seems impossible for my morning meditation, it could take me months to get up to the 20mins again. But it’s worth it. And the progress is rarely linear, just as an FYI. Some mornings, it feels like I can meditate for hours (I don’t have time most mornings, but it’s a feeling of disappointment when the timer goes off). Some mornings, even after I’ve increased to 10 or 20mins, even 30seconds feels impossible and the time until the timer goes off seems endless. When that happens, sometimes I give up and sometimes I keep going. Quieting the mind sounds so so easy, but it’s really not and sometimes the only benefit I get is the resting of my eyes while I mentally mutter and fume my way through this “waste of time” (it’s not a waste of time, but some mornings it feels that way!)
Once I have my morning, night and monthly meditations up and running I feel like I’m in a good place with meditation and I will see the benefits. I’ll be calmer, better able to problem solve and be creative, better able to deal with people, better able to manage my life. Things that were insurmountable problems before become manageable or even small annoyances. Life is better for me when I meditate. I also use mindful movement and movement meditation maybe 2-3 times a week which helps keep me in tune with my body.
There are other occasions when I meditate as well – if I have a big decision to make, if there’s a massive problem I can’t see a solution to, if I need some alone time, if I’m in a lovely area, if the sun is just that nice on my skin and I want to slip into a mindfulness meditation just to enjoy it…. but if I have my morning, night and menstruation meditation practice up and running, things are on a good track.
Now, this is my approach and what works for me. No one size fits all though and you may find that this is way too much, way too little or just doesn’t suit you. What I will say is, if you are in doubt about the benefits of meditation, go have a search on Google Scholar for the benefits of meditation. Google Scholar is a great resource that searches academic works rather than general web pages. When I did a quick search there now, I got 322,000 results for “benefits of meditation”. Some of these will be behind a paywall, but if there’s an article you really want to read, most authors will send you a copy of their work if it’s a paper and if they still have it, once you ask them. I mean, y’know, don’t demand it, but a polite email works wonders.
If you’re starting from scratch or returning to meditation after a hiatus, as I am doing, it’s important to remember to build things up slowly. This is like any other muscle you work in the body – if you hit it too hard at the start, there’s a possibility of injury. Or in the case of meditation, maybe not physical injury, but meditation burnout maybe. As well, maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you pray the rosary regularly – that’s a form of chanting meditation in my opinion. Maybe you don’t think you meditate, but you take a daily walk where your mind focusses on the beauty around you and absorbs nature’s goodness – that’s a form of meditation in my opinion. There’s all sorts of different meditation, so if you’re interested, there’s bound to be something out there to help you. And remember, life happens and gets in the way sometimes and we all need to start again sometimes.
Start small, work your way up to where you want to get to and keep at it.