Creating space for meditation or mindfulness
Updated: Oct 3
In my last post, I talked about how I struggled to find 5 minutes a day to meditate let alone 45 minutes. We were also approaching the Autumn Equinox (Balance) and October being Mental Health Awareness Month. But most of all, I felt that if I didn't make a commitment to myself to prioritise some time to keep myself balanced then events throughout the autumn would just sweep it aside. To make sure I would stick with it, I had to do something I was terrified of doing; I would make social media my diary. With my friends seeing every post every day; I had to stick to it.
Even the most influential people to me on my own journey through sound and mindfulness will have struggled at some point sticking to a habit. Creating one is easy. We've probably all created a new year's resolution at some point in our lives and then 2 weeks later; it's ancient history.
I needed a way to make me stick to the habit so I drew up a few rules for myself:
I set a start and end date with which to commit myself to, and so my friends know that I'm only doing it for a finite time. It made sense to start at Autumn equinox and then finish 1st November; this way I run right through October (Mental health awareness month) and I support myself over what is historically one of the busiest times of the year in my line of work.
I would only post one black and white image a day because this reflects the lack of judgement I need to show myself in the time that I set aside for myself.
I would try different ways to achieve the same thing; partly because posting the same image every day is not going to inspire someone else, it's too easy to fake and it also gives me a chance to try new methods (like using a drumstick to control my breath in the picture at the top of this post).
I will summarise what I've learnt in November to see if I've learnt anything that I can help others.
The priority is to listen to myself, rather than to share my innermost thoughts. I might talk about why I'm doing what I'm doing in the moment being recorded, but I won't disclose my whole thought process. Sharing mental health experiences can fuel anxiety in others who already feel vulnerable and I don't want to add to that. The point I'm making is the importance to listen to ourselves, rather than to broadcast every thought in our heads.
I hate lists, but I've made one, so in for a penny, in for a pound..... Here are my tips for creating space to meditate or mindfulness to look after your own mental health:
Meditating is like playing a drum. It's a skill which you have to practice. You do it once; and man it's hard! Just like playing a drum; it takes a lot of effort to keep your focus on one thing. But meditation is not about failing or succeeding; it's about practicing noticing when your awareness has wondered off to do something else while you bang that drum, and then taking your awareness back to the drum or to whatever you're trying to focus on.
Mindfulness differs from meditation in that rather than withdrawing yourself to one thought, phrase, image or task, mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts and not really control them; just noticing them without judgement.
This is my personal experience; you may have a different experience or opinion, but for me, whether I choose to meditate or be mindful depends first listening to what I feel I need. If I really don't feel like I can sit and focus on one thing in a meditation; then I will listen to how I feel physically, emotionally and mentally (what thoughts come to mind). If my body aches or I feel depressed, then I will more likely choose to do some yoga or I will observe my thoughts and ask myself questions why I feel or think the way I do about something. If my mind is racing and won't settle or I'm anxious, or that I know full well why I feel like I do, I will use an instrument to help me meditate and find some silence and balance inside instead. Like I said, it's also down to personal preferences. Practice both and see what works for you and notice when you find it more effective.
Meditation and mindfulness take time so start in increments and build up. When do you feel more out of balance? Is it in the morning, after work, before bed? If it varies, choose a time which generally you feel more stressed and you think you have the most likelihood of making it a regular habit. Set a reminder every day to practice at this time and notice how you feel afterwards. Repeat daily for a week and notice any differences in how you relax, e.g. does it take you less time to feel relaxed?
Try different approaches at first to find what works best for you. Maybe you need to move to help you focus or to help you understand your thoughts, feelings and sensations; in which case, Shin-rin yoku (Japanese forest bathing) might be for you, or yoga. Maybe you find listening to a himalayan singing bowl helps you focus, or mala beads with a mantra or affirmation, a breath practice or drawing a mandala. I've even used household chores like peeling apples or grooming my dog as times when I take a moment to notice my thoughts, feelings and sensations.
It's not about finding a silver-bullet; one thing to sort you out no matter how bad you feel. It's about learning ways to help you cope when you really need it, like you're building your own mental health first aid kit.