On a recent trip to a health retreat, one that focuses on overall health and well-being, I took a class on meditation, something that has always intrigued me, and, I’ll admit, intimidated me.
All I really knew about meditation is that it involves clearing your mind. Considering that my mind wakes me up at 5:00 a.m., already racing, already reminding me of everything I need to do, I’ve never been able to fathom slowing it down. Stopping it entirely? Well, that just seems like an impossibility.
And it is. At least for most of us. Monks who practice this for hours a day are able to achieve it, according to their own accounts. But the vast majority of us don’t have the time, the discipline, and the patience to reach that pinnacle. And biologically speaking, we truly don’t have the capacity to stop our brains from thinking.
What we do have, though, is the ability to exercise our minds just as we exercise our bodies, to slow the racing, to control and even reverse the thoughts that have a firm grip on us each day. We can loosen that grip, I learned, through meditation.
Why is this important? Well, for starters, too many of us allow ourselves to become prisoners to our thoughts. Lisette Cifaldi, Director of Behavioral Health at Hilton Head Health, says, “Thoughts can be tyrants, and we need to learn how to be fascinated by them, rather than attached to them. When you meditate, you create distance between what’s going on around you and your reaction to it.”
She points out that there are many ways to achieve this, and they don’t all involve an effort to sit in silence, hands upturned, battling with your mind. Christians will be happy to hear that prayer is, in fact, a form of meditation, explaining at least one reason why we often feel so much better after our time with God.
“You can do this anywhere, including during a daily walk, or sitting in your favorite room of the house, or kneeling in church,” says Cifaldi. “All you need is 10 minutes a day. Meditation carries the biggest return on investment. The benefits are proven and include building a resiliency to stress, creating a more positive attitude, and discovering that you can control how to expend your energy.”
As children, we were taught prayers that we recited regularly. Remember “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep”? The rhythm and rhyme of that piece is soporific and calming. Ever wonder why the ocean immediately takes your stress level down a few notches? The steady motion of the waves has the same effect. Repetitive, regular movements are known to calm, so praying while walking is especially effective in bringing a feeling of well-being and peace.
The beauty of these findings is that you don’t have to be afraid of meditation. You can blend meditation and prayer to draw even closer to God. By using the practices of meditation, you can quiet your mind and focus only on Him. Being able to reduce distractions and interruptions is crucial, and it helps to know that you don’t have to undertake this feat for an hour. If you are able to achieve quiet communion with God for just 10 minutes a day, the quality of connection is much greater than distracted, half-hearted attempts throughout the day.
So don’t let meditation scare you. It is not the antithesis of prayer – instead, it can bolster and deepen your prayer life. Need more information or some extra help reaching a zen state? Check your phone, where you can choose from hundreds of meditation apps to suit your style. If you prefer a group setting, meditation opportunities abound at community and prayer centers, gyms, and churches.