Although some people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise. Meditation is about returning to your immediate experience in the present moment. Notice when your attention wanders, and then gently return your attention to a focal point for your awareness, such as your breath. Again and again and again. This process is key to the practice of meditation, since it exercises your minds’s “muscle.” Just as the repetitive motion of abdominal exercises can build your core strength, the repetition of noticing when your mind wanders and returning your attention to your focal point can build your power of awareness.
How can you make healthy food choices more visible? See healthy choices in your “mind’s eye!” Research shows that what people visualize is more powerful than what is actually in front of them. Instead of visions of sugar-plums dancing in your head, try visions of plums, apples, or other whole foods. Visualize the foods you will prepare, eat, or purchase before you arise in the morning and prior to mealtime, snack time, or food shopping. People’s thoughts have an enormous amount of power that can be harnessed. Instead of planning what you are going to eat, try planning what you are going to imagine eating!
It’s time for that summer vacation. Ahh. Lying on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves … there’s nothing like it. All your muscles relax and you forget all the stressors of daily life. But how can you take this feeling of relaxation back home with you?
See if you can develop a mind/body memory. At the time that you are most relaxed on your vacation, notice how you feel. What is the state of your mind? How does your body feel? Try to develop a memory of this experience to call upon when you get back home.
When you get home and are faced with the stressors of everyday life, have realistic expectations. If you resist these stressors and think “this shouldn’t be happening!” or “I don’t want to be back home!” you can create even more stress. See if you can call on that mind/body memory of relaxation—and incorporate that feeling into your daily life, simply by using your imagination.
Creating a “stress-free zone” at home can help you relax. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or music. If you’d like to listen to a short guided meditation, you can find one on this page: https://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/
Although many people think of meditating as sitting still and noticing the breath, there are countless variations on this ancient practice. Don’t like to sit still? Try a walking meditation. (Each time you take a step bring all your attention to the soles of your feet touching the ground.) Have a stuffy nose? Try a meditation using a smooth stone as your focal point. (Each time your mind wanders bring your attention back to the smooth stone in the palm of your hand.) Bothered by negative thoughts? Try a gratitude meditation. (Each time you notice another thought arising, silently say to yourself “thank you”.) Only have two minutes? No problem! Meditating for two minutes is better than not meditating at all.
The great part about these practices is that they can be done most anywhere, anytime!
Imagine coming home to a personal retreat space. A space where you can sink into the quiet of soft music, soft lighting, soft being. Away from the noise of the office, or the kids, or everything else in your life that cries loudly for your attention. Imagine a personal retreat space that is just about you.
All is takes is intention and a bit of creativity to create a place where you can regularly take a break from the business of your life. You can learn to associate this dedicated space with quieting your mind. Include a place to sit, such as a chair or cushion, and also inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or audio recordings. You could devote an entire room to your personal retreat space, or just a corner of a room. One busy mom carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a sacred space away from the kids. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a sacred space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. What to do in this sacred space? Meditate, do yoga, read inspirational books, listen to soothing music, or just breathe. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to go to a fancy spa in an exotic location (although that would be nice!). All you need to do is to enter your retreat place, take a deep breath and simply be.
Changing your awareness can change your physical response. Consider this: your body doesn’t know the difference between stress you imagine and real stress. If you are watching a suspenseful movie, your heartbeat may quicken and you may even find that beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. Your body is reacting to your mind’s cues.
But by bringing awareness to the content of your mind through meditation, you may be able to release tension in your body. If a woman is at the dentist thinking “I hate being here,” her body may be tensed up as a result of her thoughts. But by bringing awareness to her thoughts and to her body’s tension, she may be able to untangle mental and physical stress and bring her body to a more relaxed state – even though she doesn’t like being where she is.
Just as pulling aside the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” revealed that the Wizard wasn’t so powerful, pulling aside the curtain on what the mind is thinking can help reduce the power of thoughts, and the related physical stress.