Summer of Meditation: 8 Week Challenge

This summer I’m owning the responsibility for taking care of my nervous system. Just as Coleman navigated his way through the red flags of a community art project in the photo above– I can feel myself walking through a habitual veil of anxiety and peeking to the other side– a life with more clarity and peace of mind. The vehicle for this transformation? A daily meditation practice guided by a wonderful new book called Soul-Centered Meditation.

What is clouding your daily outlook?  fear… anger… anxiety… a need to impress… to fight back… or a swamp of shame or sorrow? Or maybe it is something more pedestrian.. a simple ache in your heart, churn in your gut or a sense that all is not quite as whole and full as it might yet be?

I hope you will join me this summer to find some fresh ways to resource yourself and literally change the wiring in your brain to enable you to be more stress-hardy in the face of life’s inevitable challenges. Sign up here for email updates including reflections on the 8 week meditation journey.

Just a couple of months ago I wrote a blog post about being on the spiritual equivalent of a toddler diet and nourishing myself through a fluid collection of practices (listening to a meditation CD in the car, reading heart-opening authors, an occasional yoga class). What held them (and me) together and gave the whole thing a kind of coherency was a weekly day of rest. For a year and a half I have been pretty hard core on Sundays: staying home, unplugging, not buying anything, and my favorite—abstaining from house work! This practice gave structure to my life and awarded an experience of deep rest. I might do seven loads of laundry on Saturday to make space for it but I took such comfort in a day to garden, hang out with my kiddos, and read with no guilt and nowhere else to be.

And as I explained:  “at the end of the day everything feels more shimmery—including my own heart. Its as if the margins of the page on which I’m writing the story of my life stretch way way out. And I relax into those wider borders.”

(Read the full toddler spiritual diet post here.)

Yet even as I wrote about enjoying a weekly practice– I sensed a shift beginning: a gnawing in my psyche and restlessness in my body which invited me to consider some new options. I had a few frustrating Sundays noticing that the day of rest wasn’t refueling me the way that I had come to depend on and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

This is normal. We ride spiritual practices into our deeper wisdom.

And as life continually changes and unfolds so our needs for spiritual practices change as well.

There is tremendous creativity in finding the practice(s) that speak directly into the constriction we encounter at a particular season. When you have a newborn a daily meditation may be a laughable suggestion –at least it was for me– but now my kids are a little older and I’m ready to lean into a practice which asks more of me in terms of time and commitment. And which delivers more in terms of noticeable relief from habits of mind that disrupt my quality of life. Truthfully, even in the newborn phase or other high stress seasons of life we can commit to small daily routines which help us get out of the mindset of control and instead “go receptive” and recharge. This can be as simple as tending to a special plant or stepping outside to listen to the birds and feel the sun on our face. Anything which invites us to drink from a deeper well.

But this summer I’m ready to commit to 8 weeks of a 30 minute daily meditation practice and see where it takes me. The practice for week one in the Soul-Centered Meditation program is simple: 15 minutes of breath awareness in the morning and 15 minutes of body awareness in the evening or a half hour meditation at any regular point in the day.

The breakthrough for me was when I realized that I don’t have to get up early to do the meditation. I just wasn’t willing or able to commit to that. Instead what I do now is claim the time after I drop the kids off at preschool/camp but before I sit down to the computer or make a phone call. And the evening meditation I do after the kids go to bed but before I do. I typically do the breath meditation in the morning— simply noticing my breath, how it feels moving in and out– cool on inhale, warm on exhale, noticing my belly rise and fall. In the evening I do a body scan to notice any residual tension hanging out in various corners inside and try to remember to nod to them and invite their release. It helps to do the body scan sitting up as McLean recommends. Otherwise I fall asleep! And on the days when the kiddos are home I do the one half hour after lunch while they watch a movie. It works surprisingly well!

A few other tips:

Experiment with different venues: try in the bathtub, in your bed with the covers and pillows off, outside on a quilt on the lawn looking up at the trees.

Commit to an amount of time and set a gentle alarm or have a clock nearby you can check. When the time you have committed to is up, give yourself a minute or two to transition.

I frequently thought that “success in meditation” was how long I was able to follow my breath. Like if today I can go three breaths without getting distracted by a thought then tomorrow I’ll aim for five breaths. But what I am learning is that our traditional achievement approach is really off base here. So now when I find myself swept away by a thought rather than getting frustrated and trying to drive my attention back to the breath instead I apply a few drops of compassion and allow my attention to drift easily back to the breath trusting that it is that very act of returning to center which is the transformative moment—building my capacity to hold attention and restructuring my brain.

Think of it as a daily detox of accumulated stresses which boosts our immune system and makes us less likely to trip our own  “fight or flight” response in the face of quotidian struggles.

Listening to some interviews last week by favorite authors on meditation I really got something which had always before been opaque: meditation is not an outside in “should” or something I need to do to polish my consciousness but instead something I want to do to feel empowered within my own life. It feels good to know how to take care of myself in this way rather than just feeling bowled over by stress and reactive to other people. I’ve been doing the daily practice for almost a week and already see results which inspire me to continue.

Do you have a daily practice? Would you like to commit to one?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. 

Warmly,

Courtney

7 thoughts on “Summer of Meditation: 8 Week Challenge”

  1. Hey Courtney! I LOVE this! When I wake myself up before anyone else in the house – it’s quiet and I feel all alone (which is rare for a mother), it feels incredible to meditate. Best way to start my day. I notice a dramatic difference when I don’t. Good luck and would love to join you 🙂

  2. I am caring for myself through the practice of water aerobics. Our local Y has classes M – Fri every morning at 8am. I am not typically an early riser but in order to meet my commitment to myself I am up by 7am each morning. Gives me time to have a glass of water, wash my face, brush my teeth and get my gear together. So far I am loving it and feeling refreshed and stronger.

    1. Beautiful Karen! I love how you describe it as a “commitment to yourself.” So often we make practices a “should” (or at least I do:) rather than enjoying them as ways to tend well to ourselves.

  3. I have recently returned to meditating and I find it more rewarding than ever. I feel the best is what I also notice and appreciate more in my awake state. Like today I read a helpful article in a magazine about how we don’t need to focus on increasing our self esteem but rather give ourselves positive self talk and speak as if we are our own best friend. The article mentioned how instead of berating ourselves about eating a bag of cookies, say to yourself what your supportive best friend would say…”It’s ok, you had a hard day and everything has been so stressful, you deserve a treat.” I have been my own best friend today and it is much more enjoyable than being mean to myself with negative self talk.

    1. Yes ma’am! I often think about meditation and similar practices as helping us “dial down the inner critic.” Now I’m going to think about them also as ways I can put my higher more compassionate self or inner “best-friend” on speed dial. Thank You Tiffany. xxo

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