My mind is a very busy place.
It’s always busy, and right now it is especially active, which, given its normal state, is…saying something. And my outside life is also busy, which I think is probably why, when I stop long enough to pay attention, I feel a bit tired. Really mostly what I want to do is sit in silence, or with some chill music playing, and have someone rub my head. For hours. That sounds really amazing.
But since that’s not going to happen, I want to talk about something I’ve been doing for the last several months that, while not as relaxing as a prolonged head rub, is still pretty useful for staying grounded and coping with feelings of stress and uncertainty.
Yes, I have started meditating. I know. What has the world come to?
But lest you become too shocked by this news, let me reassure you that I am just as bad at meditating as I have always professed. I have no regular schedule. I have no regular duration. My mind wanders all over the place. Nala likes to jump up on me and try to lick me while I’m doing it, which is pretty much the most distracting thing ever. I have no real discipline. The idea of me talking to you about meditating is ludicrous, and I’d say I have impostor syndrome except in this case I genuinely am an impostor. In short, I am a complete disaster of a meditator.
It is so glorious to allow ourselves to be bad at something, and then do it anyway.
The type of meditation I do is called metta meditation. I learned how to do it in my early 20s from this book to which I still refer to this day: Lovingkindness, by Sharon Salzberg. I don’t remember how or why I have this book, but it’s maybe the most helpful nonfiction book I’ve ever read.
So here’s what I do. I meditate for one of two reasons: either I’m feeling kind of frazzled at some point during the day and I remember that meditating will probably make me feel better, or I’m in bed with the lights out and I’m not asleep yet. The second happens a lot more frequently than the first.
I get comfortable. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. And then I begin to repeat these metta phrases to myself, suggested by Sharon Salzberg:
“May I be free from danger.”
“May I have physical happiness.”
“May I have mental happiness.”
“May I have ease of well-being.”
I tend to stick to one phrase at a time and really dig into it before switching to another one, but I don’t think it matters much how you do it. My favorite one is the first one, so I end up spending the most time on it. Sometimes I only do that one phrase, and then I’m done. A few times, when I’m having particular difficulty with concentrating, I’ve even repeated the phrases out loud
In the last month or two, I’ve added one more phrase that’s helpful for me personally: “Remember who you are.” That phrase focuses me like nothing else. It reminds me to pay attention to my priorities, to what I think is important, and to be true to a deep part of myself. It also reminds me of how capable and resilient I am, which comes in handy when there’s a lot going on.
Metta meditation is also adaptable. I tend to do the self metta practice because that’s where I feel I’m the weakest and need the most assistance. But you can substitute “the world” or “everyone” or “all beings” for “I,” which is a great practice for feeling empathy and compassion for others. Or you can direct each phrase at a specific person. It can be particularly exciting to direct the phrases towards someone with whom you’re feeling angry, as one tool for moving towards forgiveness. (Which reminds me that I’ve been wanting to write a post about forgiveness for a long time too. Soon! I hope.)
My mind is still a very busy place. And I am still terrible at meditating. But this haphazard practice of mine has been very valuable. And I’ve carved out a little piece of quiet in the noise, just for me.