By Amy Kim, Psy.D.
People have become more drawn to the ancient practice of meditation out of desperation to feel calmer and happier. But the common belief that meditation will immediately make you relaxed is misguided; meditation does not make you more relaxed, at least in the beginning.
The purpose of meditation is to go inward and get to know yourself – including all the ins and out of your mind’s processes, the thoughts that are constantly churning, and the multitude of sensations and perceptions that often go unnoticed. The point is to get to know your inner workings. Why is this important? Without knowing yourself (and everything that’s going on inside of you), you can’t possibly be in charge of yourself, which means you’re not in charge of your life. Meditation helps to increase awareness of your thoughts, feelings, tendencies and habits that, left unaware and not managed, lead to tension, stress, sadness, fear and irritability, among other things. But for many, the thought of a formal lotus-position meditation practice is intimidating or downright unappealing. Here’s what you can do instead:
Find a moment or moments throughout the day to simply DO NOTHING. Here is one definition of how to be mindful and meditative: PAY ATTENTION. Here is another one: JUST NOTICE. Even while driving, take a few moments and sit before you start the engine. Pay attention. Just notice your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions within and without. Before you get out of your car to walk into your home at the end of the day, take a moment, sit, and practice being still; see what you notice. If you’re sitting in an Uber or Lyft, instead of looking at your phone, take a moment to pay attention to your breath, your thoughts, your feelings. Before you check your phone or get out of bed, take a moment, be still, and see what you notice – thoughts, feelings, sensations. Before you turn on the tv, sit, take a moment, be still, and pay attention to what’s going on inside you and around you.
These are micro-moments where you can start to get to know yourself. By getting to know your insides better, you can start to make choices that work for you; perhaps you notice tension or pain where you didn’t know any existed. Perhaps you notice the same racing thoughts that cause a lot of discomfort. Perhaps you notice that you can’t sit still and are always fidgeting. Perhaps the same fear-based thoughts afflict your every day. Perhaps the same behaviors keep you feeling depressed and tired. Only by taking moments to be still and tune in to what’s going on can you notice these habits and then actually do something about them. Effective therapy can guide you through this process but the awareness part cannot be skipped. First, notice what’s going on in an open, curious, nonjudgmental, and compassionate way. Then, decide what you want to change. And only then, will you be equipped to make positive changes that can transform your life.