I know you’re supposed to approach new things with an open mind. No expectations, no pre-conceived ideas, no judging a book by its cover. All that stuff. But still, I struggle to keep my mind open. I do judge books by their cover, or rather by their spine; if a book has a pretty-looking edge, I’m so much more inclined to read it. I’m hesitant to try a new food if there’s absolutely anything questionable about it. And I fully expected to outright hate meditation.
But for some reason, I decided to give it a try. I downloaded the Headspace Mindfulness app onto my iPhone, and set my expectations real, real low. I kind of had visions of my phone being flung across the room in frustration at some point. The thought of sitting, doing nothing, for ten whole minutes felt like torture, but the promise of a calm mind and better mental health was pretty tempting. Maybe mindfulness was like spinach – you hatehatehate it, but it’s good for you, so you just suck it up for the sake of being healthy. (Okay, all honesty: I love spinach, so bad example, but you know what I mean, yeah?)
So….Headspace. It’s basically just an intro to the practice of being mindful. I decided to commit to the ten-day basics course, in which a calm, lovely/strangely-accented voice leads you through ten minutes of mindfulness each day.
The first day was mostly about paying attention to the breath, counting with the breaths, and letting any distracting thoughts just float on by. Easy – in theory. In practice, my mind zoomed off to anything but my breath, only snapping back to attention when the voice started clueing up the whole thing. Whoops.
The next day, there was a focus on noticing how the different parts of your body felt, physically. Not trying to change anything – just noticing, and sitting with it. It was interesting to let myself sit in stillness, and notice what that was like. Just sitting isn’t a thing I (or many people these days) am used to doing – we’re more often multitasking a half dozen tiny things.
After the ten minutes, both days, I felt kind of underwhelmed. I don’t know if I had expected some kind of epiphany or what, but I thought I’d feel different. But no, nothing life-changing. I did, however, feel slightly less anxious, less twitchy to jump up and move on to the next thing. A nice change, for sure.
As it turned out, it was a good week to try out this meditation thing. Work was an absolute mess, and I was a bag of stress. If I ever needed to be less anxious and twitchy and stressed, it was this week. Helllllllo, Headspace.
I’m surprised to admit it, but it helped! I continued my ten minutes of just sitting, listening, feeling, breathing each morning. The voice led me through more or less the same exercises each day, but it got easier as the days went by. Ten minutes began to pass a whole lot faster than I ever expected it would. I started finding it easier to settle into a deep, slow breath, and to let myself relax into the floor beneath me. My mind still wandered, a lot. At one point I needed to pee, and somehow that made me start thinking about monks, wondering how they meditate for hours on end. And from there my thoughts went to the monks I saw taking selfies when I was in Cambodia. And from there to travel plans, thinking of possible next destinations. Just in case you wanted to know what goes on my head when I let it roam. My brain is a weird place to be sometimes.
Anyway, despite my free-range thoughts, I finished each daily ten feeling calmer than I’d begun. Even if I couldn’t empty my mind, my thoughts weren’t the usual anxious chatter, but just swirly, passive thoughts. When I forced myself to just sit and breathe, it kind of blocked out the outside world and its bullshit and exist just inside my body and my mind for a few minutes. Taking the time to be still and mindful and breathe deeply was enough to get rid of that buzz of anxiety, at least for a little while. That ten minutes of just being had power!
Would I recommend the app? Maybe. I mean, it helped me, even if I probably “did it wrong”. It might be better suited to auditory learners – I tend to lose focus, leading to the wandering thoughts, whereas a better listener might benefit more from the actual narration.
I don’t know if I’ll continue a daily mindfulness practice, but it is a good tool to poke away for when I need it. It’s nice to know when I’m rattled that I can take a time-out and find a little bit of calm.
Between this and yoga, I should be practically Gandhi soon, right?
Errrr…maybe not, I drink too much coffee to ever be that calm!