Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Meditation for the Flighty and/or Chronically Thoughtful (or the mothers of small children)

The benefits of meditation are applauded by spiritualists, psychologists and doctors.  It helps relieve stress and deal with anxiety, depression and fear.  It decreases blood pressure and releases endorphins.  Of course, if you can't clear your mind and relax, all of these benefits don't really matter.  My doctor had recommended repeatedly that I take up yoga or meditation to deal with stress, depression and spikes in my blood pressure.  I tried to learn repeatedly, with much frustration and little success.  Through trial and error, I have learned how to get the benefits of meditation without the silence.

I am a terrible meditator.  Really.  My mind is never quiet and relaxation is a rare luxury with two boys and a husband.  I can't clear my mind on command and, unfortunately for my children, my hearing is rather good, so I usually know what's going on around me, even with my eyes closed. Everything around me seems noisy and full of movement.  Which makes instructions like "quiet your mind" and "be still" frustrating. Thoughts come in and out of my mind frequently.  Traditional mediation is of no use to me.

The solutions I have found are simple, fairly inexpensive and they work well for me, my kids and many other people I know.  Start by discarding the image of Buddhist monks sitting calmly and invincibly in lotus position while chanting "om".  The people you this works for are not the people I'm addressing today.  I admire them, but I don't understand where they get that level of clear mindedness.  I envy them.  Give yourself permission to reduce your stress by calling this time something else.  One friend of mine calls them "mental vacations".  Try guided meditations, guided imagery or self hypnosis tracks.  Amazon.com has tons of them for $.99 each.  I also have a pretty DVD of music and celestial images that works really well for settling my kids down before bed.  Sometimes, i will just close my eyes and imagine being somewhere else, like the beach or in the woods, or I will spend some time imaging a place I've read a description of in a book.  Float in the clouds or through the stars. Whatever speaks to you is fine.

I like to lay down on the couch, the bed or the floor (or sit in the corner of the couch cross legged).  My mp3 player is a useful tool for having a mental vacation.  Mine is loaded with quiet instrumentals, chants, guided imagery tracks and self hypnosis segments.  Depending on the noise level, my available time and how busy my mind is, I choose a track.  before I start, I get comfortable and take a few, really deep, slow breaths.  Fill your lungs.  Pause, and then, exhale slowly.  Then I start the track; if it is a self hypnosis or guide imagery track, I simply follow along with the narration.  I find the act of focusing on the words, helps me relax and clear my head of noisy thoughts.  The pretty images painted by words are a nice plus.  Most of these types of tracks are 15 to 45 minutes long.  Self hypnosis can also help you work on other issues in your life, like weight loss, anxiety or confidence. (I will provide a list of my favorites in case you'd like to try them.)  My last favorite mental time out is coloring.  The act of carefully coloring in a picture is very relaxing to me.  I use colored pencils and pretty images I download from the Internet.  Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of websites and books devoted to adult coloring pages and mandalas.

When I finish with my quiet time, I find that I am calmer and more able to deal with things like whiny kids or a sink full of dirty dishes.  My blood pressure is down and my energy up.  I also don't feel that everything has to be clean and quiet and perfect to take time out for my meditation. Paradise frequently occurs on the couch while the kids watch a movie or play.  I used to feel guilty for taking this time for myself everyday, but I have come to feel that this time benefits not only me, but my entire family.  I'm less irritable, which means I snap at the kids less and they throw fewer fits.  Guided imagery is also a great way for the kids to calm down after a busy period.  To me, meditation is about finding ways to escape the stressful parts or life for a moment and regain my sense of balance.  The methods don't matter as much as the outcome.