Mindfulness meditation: making time
One of the biggest barriers to incorporating mindfulness meditation into my life was thinking it was going to take FOREVER. Who has hours to sit around and breathe? I worked a 9-6 job, I was studying my Master’s degree, I had to fit in regular exercise, hobbies, managing a household, maintaining relationships and living my life.
What I didn’t realise was that by rushing from place to place, project to project, and person to person, I wasn’t giving anything my full attention. I was anxious, exhausted, and never truly present. When I exercised, I had my headphones in, or I was reading or texting, or doing anything but being aware of my body or my environment. I was thinking about something that had happened in the past, or rehearsing what I would do in the future. I played out entire scenes and conversations in my head, repeatedly.
“by rushing from place to place, project to project, and person to person, I wasn’t giving anything my full attention. I was anxious, exhausted, and never truly present.”
‘Step outside, feel the sun,’ a colleague challenged me one day when I could not stop crying, could not stop panicking.
‘But I can’t! I don’t have time!’
It sounds ridiculous, but I felt terror when I imagined what might happen if I simply stopped: what if I couldn’t get started again? I had so many commitments, so many deadlines, so much I never quite got around to doing.
My psychologist had mentioned mindfulness to me, but I filed it away in the ‘when I find the time’ section of my brain, and didn’t think much about it again.
That was until my life was turned on its head. At 35, I had a major health scare that forced me to put my life on hold. It took some time to get back on track physically, and my mental health lagged behind. This time when my psychologist suggested I learn mindfulness, I was ready to try anything to stop crying, to stop feeling frightened, angry and anxious, and to feel I could cope with living my life again.
“I was stuck thinking I couldn’t afford to just sit around and meditate, that there wasn’t time, that I should be doing something more productive.”
I tried reading a few books on mindfulness, purchased some meditation CDs, and signed up for Headspace, an app that takes you through some daily mindfulness exercises. It was a start, but I struggled to schedule regular sessions. I was stuck thinking I couldn’t afford to just sit around and meditate, that there wasn’t time, that I should be doing something more productive. I even tried listening to the CDs while showering, or making my breakfast, simply to fit them in.
After a few months feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere on my own, I signed up for a ‘Mindfulness for Beginners’ training course. I knew that by attending something structured once a week, I had to commit. It worked. Everything I had struggled to read on my own began to make sense. Not only did I learn to meditate mindfully, I learned how to incorporate mindfulness into my life in practical, seamless ways, which meant after the classes stopped, my practise didn’t. I discovered meditation doesn’t have to be a chore, and that living mindfully isn’t only about meditation. I also learned that while mindfulness as a practise is agnostic, if you are seeking something more spiritual or philosophical, mindfulness allows for that, too.
“I learned how to incorporate mindfulness into my life in practical, seamless ways, which meant after the classes stopped, my practise didn’t.”
Best of all I started to feel calmer, more in control of my emotions: more accepting. The feelings didn’t disappear, but I could cope more easily when life threw me a curve ball or three. I felt more grounded, present to the present, and that meant I had more focus, energy and attention for my loved ones. It is impossible to be there for someone when part of you is busy panicking about everything going on in your own head. Even if I could live with feeling anxious or depressed, it wasn’t fair on the people around me.
You can read all the scientific literature on the effects mindfulness has on the brain and all the ways it has been proven to help, but for me it is about the subtle changes I experience every day. Practising mindfulness doesn’t take precious time away; it gives me time by allowing me to be more present with the time I have.
“The feelings didn’t disappear, but I could cope more easily when life threw me a curve ball or three. I felt more grounded, present to the present, and that meant I had more focus, energy and attention for my loved ones.”
I would love to hear about your experiences of mindfulness or meditation, what you have found works, and any tips you would like to share.
Christine Priestly is a mindfulness coach and clinical hypnotherapist in Byron Bay. She works with individuals and groups to make positive changes that last.