Hope all of you are enjoying the beginnings of fall and a new season. Time to cozy up with a warm blanket and cup of coffee or tea! Fall is my favorite time of the year with the cooler, crisp days and changing leaves. Although the weather hasn't changed much here in Reykjavik, the days are a bit cooler, there's certainly more rain, and the trees are beginning to turn and lose their leaves.
With the new season, I want to talk about a practice that I often struggle with but am attempting to get back into with the renewal...meditation. I was first introduced to meditation a few years ago and have gone back and forth between being very disciplined with my practice then not doing it at all for months. Recently, I had one of those dry spells and hadn't sat for well over four months. So, the other morning, I had a little bit more time than normal and decided to add it into my yoga session. An additional motivation was the struggle I've been having with attention and focus issues over the past couple months, probably due to all the stress and change, and knew that meditation would help bring my focus back.
So, why meditation? Why sit, not "doing" anything, just being? What's the point? These were big questions I had before trying it and ones I was asked constantly when I taught meditation to women in recovery from substance use. Let's explore it a bit, shall we? I'm currently reading Radical Dharma thanks to one of my amazing friends who gifted it to me when I left Boston. She is one of those friends whom you love dearly even though she pushes and challenges you pretty much every day, but that's precisely why you love her so much. And, let me tell you, this book is one that will challenge you. I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking to be a change agent and carrier of peace in this world. But, in the book, the question of "why sit?" is brought up. And, the short answer is that sitting can bring freedom, liberation. However, the book makes an important distinction here - freedom is not a means to an end but a path, a journey, and constant practice. Confused yet? Let me explain a bit more..
When I first came to meditation, I had the expectation that it would be a means to an end, that it would free me from the inner demons that frequently haunted my mind and soul. Meditation, I thought, would liberate me from the sadness, pain, and anger I held so deeply inside. However, my definition of liberation in this instance was incorrect. I had the right thought, but my motivation and expectation was skewed. I couldn't expect that being liberated would mean never feeling these emotions again or forgetting about my past. Rather, meditation serves as a bridge to get closer to those demons and emotions instead of removing them. It forces us to truly see them for what they are, befriend them, understand them, and finally accept them as an integral part of ourselves instead of separating us further. Freedom through bringing these parts of us closer and integrating them in new ways rather than getting rid of them as though they are worthless, only bad in nature, is the true nature of freedom.
As a social worker, and really just a citizen in this world, let's think about the atrocities that seem to be a daily occurrence. Hearing, seeing, and sometimes experiencing these horrible events changes who we are on a fundamental level. We are forever changed by learning that the world and the people in it are capable of things far beyond our imagination, and the more we see the worse it can get, the more beaten down and broken we can become. Feeling this often results in our desire to remove or distance ourselves from it. It's only human nature! We stop watching the news, talking to people about what's happening in the world, maybe even stop ourselves from leaving our homes as often. But, here's the thing, these efforts of distancing, separating ourselves from the evil, don't make any of it go away. It's still there, happening, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. We are only creating an illusion of peace and ignorance in ourselves, because that's the path to bliss, right?
Far too often, I see my fellow social workers fall into this trap, slowly becoming irritable, night terrors start to creep in, avoid seeing clients, and develop doubt that anything they are doing makes a difference. Heck, this has certainly happened to me..multiple times in my short career. And, I don't blame the individual or even the profession. We, and other mental health professionals, hear and see these horrors over and over for dozens of hours every week. It's easy to feel depleted and disconnected carrying all that baggage! But, how are we supposed to sit with others if we can no longer even sit with ourselves?
So, what are we left to do? Meditate, my friends, sit and just be for awhile. The same concept I described above applies here. We cannot make these events stop, at least not immediately, so we must find a way to take care of ourselves in order to fully face them. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to grow further and further disconnected from that which we believe we cannot handle and ultimately more disconnected from ourselves. If you want to be someone who creates change, or even just survive in society, you have to take care of yourself. Meditation is one of those ways. Meditation allows you to better understand the nature of the world, allows you to befriend all these evils, bring them close, and integrate them into your concept of the world. When we meditate, we are not looking for answers on how to change or fix the world but come to an understanding that there will always be bad in this crazy world, accept that these things are happening. This allows us to seek answers, understand suffering, seek connection with those who society has exiled. Our concept of both the world and ourselves fundamentally changes, but this time in a positive, healthy way.
So, I encourage each of you to take even just 5 minutes to sit and give meditation a try today. There are so many websites and apps out there with free meditations, and YouTube is always a go-to. So, if you're not sure how to get started, make use of our lovely technology. It may seem strange in the beginning, but I believe that is true for anything new we try. The more you sit, the more you practice acceptance of yourself and this crazy world, the more clear life will become. I'm not saying this process will be easy, on the contrary, at times it will be really freaking hard and sad and painful. But, what I am saying is all of that will be worth it.
Need more motivation? Meditation is also great for our mental health, specifically with alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Focus and attention span have also been shown to improve with meditation, because our minds are more clear and less riddled with anxious, buzzy thoughts. Studies have also shown an increase in grey matter in the brains of people who regularly mediation, which also means improved concentration and focus. Physically, mediation has been proven to lower stress levels, the pesky cortisol hormone, and blood pressure, which results in a healthier cardiovascular and immune system. Hello to less anxiety, more focus, better sleep, a healthier heart, and less time being sick!
Last thing, if anyone would like some guidance in starting a meditation or yoga practice, please reach out to me. I'm more than happy to answer questions, point in the right direction, or help with whatever you need! I've also been considering creating a section to the website solely dedicated to meditation. If this is something that would be of interest to you, please let me know either in the comments or through an email on my contact page. Also, let me know what kind of meditations would be helpful and which format you would prefer - recording, written scripts, etc.
May you find liberation
May you find the strength to take the harder, but more fulfilling path
May you befriend all parts of you
May you find friendship in all parts of others