Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Twelve minutes

On January 1st of this year, I committed to meditating three times a week. I've gone in and out of regular meditation practice many times, so I didn't have supremely high expectations that I'd succeed. To my happy surprise, though, I have meditated daily with the exception of three of four times where my days were extremely out of the norm. On January 15th in the New York Times, there was a great article, "Breathing In vs. Spacing Out" (by Dan Hurley) in which psychologist Amishi Jha described her research training United States Marines in mindfulness meditation. Jha found that, "getting as little as 12 minutes of meditation practice a day helped [the] Marines to keep their attention and working memory-- that is, the added ability to pay attention over time-- stable." I don't have any first hand experience with being in the military, much less being a Marine in combat, but I can imagine that having a keen ability to focus and concentrate is of the utmost importance.

In this blog over the years, I've written a lot about busy-ness-- my own, that of other people in my life, of the world at large. For many people, being frantically busy has become so much the norm that they don't even question it. But what if it really did take as little as twelve minutes a day? Would people actually squeeze out this time from their already busy day to improve their overall quality of life?

I have only myself as an example. Since I recommitted to a daily meditation practice, I have added to my already full plate: a major home remodel, a big business opportunity, and an online class in real estate. Here's what I notice: I am a better listener, I am less overwhelmed with the largeness of some of my undertakings, I am happier.

In Hurley's article, he shares other research by Yi-Yuan Tang who, in studying the effects of mindfulness meditation, found, "that it [mindfulness meditation] enhanced the integrity and efficiency of the brain's white matter, the tissue that connects and protects neurons emanating from the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of particular importance for rational decision-making and effortful problem-solving."

My renewed commitment to meditation happened before I read this piece in the New York Times. It was inspiring to read about improving the integrity and efficiency of my brain's white matter. I love knowing that a short daily mindfulness meditation can help soldiers develop better mental resilience in a war zone. But what I knew, even before I read that ground-breaking scientific research, was that my daily meditation was my gift to myself. There are days when it feels like I can't squeeze out my meditation time-- there are lunches to be made, laundry to be folded, flooring samples to choose. These are the days when I feel like I am disappearing into the details of life. Giving myself 10, 12, 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation every morning reminds me that, no matter what else is going on, there is still room for me. Twelve minutes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Don't think about that stuff, you're meditating.

Most of my life I have been a New Year's curmudgeon. I obnoxiously espoused how silly resolutions were, how absolutely unrealistic and empty they were. Im sorry if I offended anyone. This year, in an effort to help my 9-year-old daughter Lucia (still hopeful and optimistic) understand the concept of resolve, I made a "Goals and Dreams for 2014" chart. It's basically a big piece of butcher paper on our wall with a jar of sharpies next to it. It is an open invitation for anyone to write their goals and dreams for the upcoming year.

For some reason, introducing "Goals and Dreams" instead of "Resolutions" helped me. I found myself happily writing three of them: meditate three times a week; do sit ups; and stop eating sweets for the month of January. I felt different committing to actions that I perceived to be for me as opposed to resolutions that I historically viewed as punishments. All of the things I committed to on our Goals and Dreams chart were things that would help me, so even though they might be hard or restrictive, they were gifts (goals and dreams) that would make my life better. It is January 17th and I can proudly report that I've accomplished my goals and dreams successfully for 17 days straight.

The trick for me with the meditation has been to keep it really short and sweet. A short 5-10 minute meditation (depending on the rush factor associated with any particular morning) is what I'm committed to. About two weeks ago Lucia asked if she could meditate with me in the morning. I've mediated with Lucia a handful of times in the past but nothing regular. Now most mornings Lucia wants to do it. "Mom," she'll ask when she wakes up, "did you wait for me to meditate?!!" To my great surprise, Lucia really loves this morning ritual. We sit in the living room cross-legged, facing each other, set the timer, close our eyes and breathe.

I explained the first time we meditated together to try to just focus on her breath and keep her mind as clear as possible from other thoughts. Last week after the harp-tone of my timer alarm sounded and we slowly opened our eyes to see each other, Lucia said, "Mommy, while I was meditating, I kept thinking about other stuff, but then I'd remind myself, 'don't think about that stuff, you're mediating.'"

"That's meditating," I explained to Lucia. "You're teaching your brain to quiet down."

That morning after I dropped Lucia at school I went to take a yoga class. During Savasana I listened to Frani coaxing us into relaxation. "Inhale let your belly rise...." My mind, as it often does, wandered. I thought about the work ahead of me, scheduling piano lessons, toffee bars, and eventually landed on my morning meditation with Lucia. Wise words from a nine-year old helped me calm my brain down, "Don't think about that stuff, you're meditating."

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