By Megan Krause
Take a deep breath in, and relax.
Did I pay the water bill?
Now exhale, and gently close your eyes.
I think I did. But I didn’t put in a work order for the guy to come spray for bugs.
Clear your mind of activity and focus on your breathing.
But they need to come on Tuesday, not Monday. Monday I have my meeting.
That’s it, just clear your mind.
It’s OK if it does. Most of us come into recovery with at least some practice in praying, but meditation? Not so much. We’re encouraged to do so not only by Step 11, but by counselors, sponsors and friends who are using it with great success. Mediation can help you:
- Reduce stress
- Connect with your Higher Power
- Think clearer
- Feel empathy and compassion
Not only that, but meditation is proven to lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system. A Harvard neuroscientist even found that meditation can increase the amount of gray matter in your brain.
That’s good stuff. But what do you do when you try to meditate, and your brain just won’t shut up? That’s precisely what this guide is about. There are numerous techniques, schools of thought and spiritual paths that can help you meditate. This article contains several basic tips to get you started.
Create a meditation space
You can choose to sit on a comfortable chair, lie down, or follow any of these meditation positions. Dim the lights. Make sure it’s in a distraction-free area—no TV, street noise, or conversations going on. Light a candle if you wish.
“I try keep my meditative time and space the same every time,” says recovered addict Darcy Van Dyke. “I do it either early in the morning or after everyone has gone to bed, so there’s less noise. I listen to soft music. It helps quiet my brain.”
Choose a focal point
You could focus on a single point. This could be:
- Following your breath
- Repeating a mantra
- Staring at a candle flame
- Listening to a gong
Since our inability to focus is the challenge, a focal point helps you, well, stay focused. When your mind wanders (not if, when), simply refocus your awareness on the focal point.
Recovered addict Taylor Boucher uses a mantra/breathing combination to stay present. “An easy mantra is ‘so’ as you breathe in and ‘hum’ as you breathe out,” Boucher says. “If that doesn’t work for me, I’ll go outside and focus on the sound of the wind and birds or cicadas. When you focus on cicadas, they become very loud, and it really clears my mind.”
Don’t expect to be a meditation guru when you first begin. You won’t be.
“I started with a minute—that was all I could do,” says recovered alcoholic Leah Miller. “A minute in the morning and a minute at night. As I had success with that, I was able to build up to two minutes, then three. I found myself wanting to meditate more.”
You don’t need to clear your mind
It’s true, you don’t. Meditation isn’t about stopping all thought; we think, that’s what our brains do. Watch your mind wander, and then gently bring your thoughts back to the matter at hand. Avoid frustration and negative feelings; this is simply part of the practice.
“Even the most disciplined minds wander,” says recovered addict Tyler Zucek. “The idea is to recognize that we are in thought, let it go, and return our focus back to the breath. It’s a practice, and with practice come results.”
Do a body scan
In a body scan, you focus your attention on one body part at a time, usually starting with the tips of your toes. How do they feel? Move slowly to the tops of your feet, your ankles, your calves, all the way to the top of your head. Stay with each body part for several seconds, examining the sensations there, and then move on to the next, over and over.
There are numerous videos and apps that can help you in your quest. If you type “guided meditations” into the YouTube search field, you’ll get about 3.3 million results. Try a few.
Julie Erb’s sponsor suggested she try the Insight Timer app, and she credits it with helping her make great progress in her mediation practice.
“I was good about prayer, but I was lacking in meditation,” Erb says. “I needed some guided practice to get me started, and the Insight app helped me immensely. It’s now a part of my daily practice.”
Others to try include:
Understand that the challenge is part of the process
Don’t be hard on yourself. The more you get caught up in trying to do it “right,” the harder it’s going to be.
“Trying to quiet my mind is like trying to get water to be still,” says recovered alcoholic Corey McMahon. “If I push back against the ripples, I’m just going to make more. If I just let them come and go, eventually they will run out of energy, and everything will settle.”
Keith Hegeman agrees.
“There is no wrong way to meditate,” Hegeman says. “If you’re trying, you’re doing it right. I used to think that if I wasn’t Buddha, the “meditation police” would come get me. Now, I count my breaths, and if my thoughts interrupt, I just start the count over. It works.”
Finally, say thank you
When your minute or two is up, smile and tell your Higher Power “thank you” for the opportunity to meditate. It’s not always easy, but keep at it, and remain grateful that you get to participate in life today.