Meditation has become a buzzword these days. It seems like everyone is talking about it, writing about it, making videos about it, creating apps for it, teaching classes on it, etc. In fact, the simple concept and practice of meditation has become a big part of our capitalist economy. An internet search about meditation can bring on an onslaught of advice and techniques. And while the benefits of meditation are many, the amount of information about it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Of course, the purpose of meditation is the exact opposite. Meditation is supposed to help you quiet your mind, simplify your experience, and release stress. It helps you become at home with stillness. Let’s look at how it works.
(Note: we are very much aware that by writing this blog post about meditation, we’re contributing to the glut of information described in the first paragraph. Our hope is that this post will help distill the information so that meditation will seem less intimidating.)
What is meditation? At its heart, meditation is about making space: in your mind and in your life. When you sit still for a few minutes and gently tune in to your breath, you’re making space. You’re saying to the world around you and to your own racing thoughts, “Not now.” You’re saying, “Peace. Be still.”
When you practice this kind of stillness regularly, you start to gain perspective on the things in life that normally clamor for your attention. You start to realize that there is always time, always space, to pause and tune in.
Observe, Detach, Surrender
Depending on what you read, meditation can seem to come with a lot of rules: how to sit, where to focus the eyes, how to hold the mouth, whether to use a mantra, etc. In truth, meditation can be quite simple. All you have to do is remember three words: observe, detach, surrender.
- Observe – Your first task in meditation is to observe. Observe the breath. Don’t try to change it. Just notice its rhythm and depth. Be curious. When your thoughts jump in and distract you from the breath, don’t panic. Observe the thoughts. Where do the thoughts begin? How long do they last? Where do they go?
Thoughts tend to generate feelings. Maybe you start to feel anxious or sad or angry. Observe the feelings. How do they affect your posture? How large are they? Where do they live in your body?
- Detach – It’s quite possible that as you’re observing your breath, thoughts, and feelings, you’ll start to make judgments about them. My breath is too shallow! That’s not a rational or kind thought. I shouldn’t feel this way. Why am I feeling this way?? This is where you remember the second word: detach. You’re not here to judge. Again, be curious. If it helps, imagine yourself as a visitor to your brain. This visitor has no purpose but to watch what’s happening, with gentle compassion and, perhaps, amusement.
- Surrender – Sometimes (maybe often) the thoughts or feelings become so intense that it becomes impossible to detach. Suddenly you’re no longer sitting quietly and breathing; you’re in real distress. Does that mean the meditation is over, that you’ve failed? No. Think of this time as an opportunity to surrender. If you can’t control the thoughts or the feelings, let them flow. Cry, hit the floor, curl up and whimper. You’ll come to a point at which the power of the emotions lessens. Then comes the tricky part: not clinging to the emotions. What does that mean? Let’s take a look…
A Closer Look at Surrender
In her book My Stroke of Insight, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor describes what she calls the 90-second rule: “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens; any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
In other words, when we feel a powerful emotional response to something, that wave of emotion is, neurologically speaking, short-lived. This doesn’t mean that the problem or the feeling is done and that we need to move on. It just means that emotions are like waves. They rise and fall, and it’s beneficial for us to learn how to ride those waves.
For example, if someone you love dies, you’re going to be sad for a long time. But the episodes of intense grief will not peak for more than 90 seconds at a time. If they seem to last longer, it’s because we’re feeding them with our thoughts. You can probably tell when this happens. You get extremely upset, you have a reaction, and when you can feel that reaction starting to subside, you give it more fuel. You do this by continuing to tell yourself of how awful everything is.
So when we suggest “surrender” as a part of meditation, this means surrendering not just to the emotion but also to the release of it. Feel what you’re feeling. Then, as the thoughts start to perpetuate the feeling, return to the process of observing and detaching.
Meditation as a Complement to Professional Care
If you’re struggling with a mental health disorder, meditation can be a primary tool in your recovery. However, professional treatment is crucial. Our team Eagle View Behavioral Health is equipped to help you stabilize your mental health and to practice the tools you will need to go forward with confidence. Contact our Bettendorf, IA, facility to learn more.