This week, we welcome the first blog from our own Sarah Land who joined us in December 2018 and is responsible for coordinating all of our Transformational Leadership Program™ and other Leadership Development programs. Sarah is a long-time seeker of personal growth and exploration, which has taken on many forms, including her study of yoga and meditation under various teachers. She is intrigued by our perceptions, limitations, potential and the human experience. Aside from her practice of yoga and meditation, Sarah is a singer/songwriter and enjoys time with family, outdoor activities/exercise and most recently, boxing!
Busy season means long hours, a never-ending sense of urgency and little-to-no time to rest and meditate. I know what you’re thinking, "There aren’t enough hours in the day and you’re suggesting that I sit and do nothing?" Precisely!
Whenever the topic of meditation comes up in conversation, I usually hear the same list of reasons as to why people aren’t meditating:
- I can’t turn my mind off
- I don’t have the time
- What’s the point/sounds boring
- I don’t know how
I can relate to these objections. I can also relate to being overwhelmed, burned out and in need of relief.
Busy season has the potential to drop you into constant fight-or-flight mode. Imagine the stress response of an antelope, in the moment of pursuit by a lion. Suddenly, priorities change. The antelope is only concerned with protecting his or her body; figuring out where to seek shelter and calculating how much time he or she has to get there.
In less dramatic fashion, but equally as stressful to your body, you may find yourself scrambling to meet deadlines, extending periods of urgency and uninterrupted focus required for hours and months on end. However, there is a major difference between you and the antelope. Twenty minutes post-pursuit, the antelope resumes his or her serene practice of nourishing himself, grazing in an open field. Humans, on the other hand, log and carry the residue of our constant stress-response and it gets heavy. Sure, there are ways to cope; scrolling through your phone, watching TV, taking the edge off with a drink after a long day. Let’s discern though, in these moments, are you practicing self-nourishment or simply a distraction? You may not have a wealth of free time right now, but in this blog, we’ll explore 5 strategies to increase the quality of your downtime.
So, what does meditation have to do with all of this? In survival mode, your body only knows self, surroundings and time. Meditation, even for just a few minutes, has the ability to render you selfless, outside of the constraints of time and space. You simply let yourself be...in a conscious manner. In other words, you have the opportunity to drop into a state of flow. There are certainly other ways to get into flow, usually some form of creativity like singing or dancing or body-mind connection like yoga. I propose you consider meditation during these busy times because you can meditate nearly anywhere, at any time and for just a few minutes a day.
Take these no-nonsense tips to begin your meditation practice right away:
- Create a routine that feels like a treat and is easy to repeat. You know yourself better than anyone. What time of day do you have the most discipline? When do you need relief the most? Where can you sit without being interrupted for a few moments? Since joining ConvergenceCoaching I work remotely, but prior to that, I had an hour-long commute to my office job. On days that I arrived 5-10 minutes early, I would meditate in the parking lot. I would turn off the car, set a timer, close my eyes and (re)gather my energy for the day. We experience all of these transitions during the day, like acts in a play, without an intermission in between. Intentionally letting the stress of a rush-hour commute dissolve before walking into the second act (work) is a tactic I highly recommend. This is just one example of something that fits well into my own routine. I encourage you to consider times and places that might work for you, as well as those “acts” in your life that would benefit from your taking a moment of stillness in between.
- Stop overthinking it. When I first started to meditate, I wanted to know what I was after. How would I know if I was doing it right? What was a successful meditation? What is the point of this? Listen, there are plenty of things in life that you must track, measure and assess. Meditation is not one of those things. What is the point of meditation? The answer to that question can vary and may be very personal to you. For some people, meditation is a spiritual practice, akin to prayer. For others, it is prescriptive, a time to soothe the central nervous system. It may be both. If you are a beginner, don’t worry so much about all of that. Treat meditation like an experiment. Approach it with a curious mind and release yourself of expectation. You really can’t do it wrong, and there are many ways to go about it. You will find what works for you, but for now, just start. Set the timer, close your eyes. Feel your body, feel your breath, let your mind run until it’s tired if you need to.
- Don’t try too hard. Meditation does not need to be so serious. Get comfortable. You don’t need to sit up straight as a rod with hands in a special position. Allow yourself to lean back a bit, cover your lap with a blanket, sit in your favorite chair if you can. Make this moment something to look forward to. If you fall asleep, you didn’t fail. Your body probably needed a mini-snooze and will benefit from that too.
- If all else fails, come back to your breath. When you first start to meditate, it can be a little alarming to close your eyes. It’s as if your mind says, “Finally, this body is going to stop and listen to me!” At this moment, your thoughts may run wild with things to do, reliving confrontation, planning for future conflicts, random tangents, etc. If you have 10-15 minutes to practice, I recommend letting your mind exhaust itself before you attempt any meditation techniques. Liken the mind to a small child that just wants attention for a moment. Let your thoughts run and they will calm. Go ahead, sweep all of those anxieties out of your corners. Then, see if you can catch the moments in between thoughts and hang on to them. Eventually, those in-between moments will spread out and you can settle into the void-like space there.
- Breathing is the one automatic function of your body that you can control. Paying attention to the breath has a natural tendency to calm you. Remember, no overthinking. Just notice the breath at first, notice the feeling of being in your body and notice your current state. If you need something to anchor your attention to, start to deepen and lengthen each breath. Then, you can notice the little pauses between inhales and exhales, perhaps even extending these suspended moments to further quiet the mind.
- Try a loving-breath meditation. Do I still have you? I know, it sounds cheesy; a loving breath meditation! However, I have found it to be one of the easiest techniques to drop more deeply into meditation and have heard similar experiences from other meditation practitioners.
- Close your eyes, feel your body, feel your breath, let the mind exhaust itself.
- With your eyes closed, imagine the periphery of your space first. Then, imagine the periphery of your body, your skin. Keep drawing your attention inward until you feel anchored within yourself. If this is challenging, make this practice of drawing inward the foundation of your meditation routine until it becomes second nature.
- Next, imagine a person/people you love dearly. Let yourself go into your feelings for them completely. As you exhale, imagine sending your love to that person or those people in your mind’s eye. If this is challenging, let this be your practice for a time; softening, giving love. You can even extend this practice, sending love to those with whom you struggle
- Keep the intensity of the love you have to give and allow yourself to receive it. With each inhale, feel that love. With each exhale, give yourself more. It might feel challenging to give and take love with each passing breath, but just keep trying, without judgment or overthinking. I promise when that timer goes off, you’ll be feeling centered and little more nourished than you did when you started.
While I am a proponent of meditation, I understand that ultimately, for some, the practice of sitting still may not be practical. Meditation is great for those times when time is limited, but if you’re hungry for the centering sensation, without all of the stillness, consider a “meditation in motion.” This could be running, walking, yoga, gardening, cooking, painting, writing, making music, intellectual conversation with a soul-friend; you name it. Again, come back to those things that improve the quality of time spent. Find something you can lose yourself in and do it often. Your work product and the quality of your relationships with co-workers, family and friends will be better for it.
Do you have a meditation practice in place? How do you increase the quality of your down-time during busy season? We’d love to hear from you!