Meditation 101: 7 Tools You Can Use

Meditation 101: 7 Tools You Can Use

Last week, we talked about how to get started meditating.  In that entry, I said that you don’t need tools to meditate – and you really don’t! But, if you’re anything like me, sometimes having a few tools helps jumpstart a project, and a small (or medium) investment can make me more likely to stay committed.

If either of those are true for you too, here are the tools I’ve been using to meditate, from “essential” to “nice to have”:1

  • Insight Timer App (Apple & Android, free)

    I’ve tried a few different timers, but this is definitely my favorite! Its main feature is a graceful meditation timer, which counts either up or down, which allows you to either pick ahead of time how long your session will last or just keep track of how long you sat. It also has groups and free guided meditations. You can also participate in the social media parts of the app, if you’d like!
    Tips: Search for meditation timers on your phone and try a few out! You’ll learn which one you like best after trying out a few.

  • Zafu

    Zafus are cushions that are designed for meditating. They’re (often) filled with buckwheat hulls that you can add or remove to your preference (I recommend this style). You don’t need a special cushion for meditating, but I was blown away with how much more comfortable a zafu was than the old pillow folded in half that I was using.
    Tips: I stopped by a local meditation center in Denver to try out different cushions and adjust it to just the right amount of buckwheat hulls – I’d recommend this if at all possible. If not, you can find cushions online at places like Hugger Mugger (the brand I have), Dharma Crafts or Etsy.

Continue > “Meditation 101: 7 Tools You Can Use”

Meditation 101: Getting Started!

Meditation 101: Getting Started!

I’m trying to get back into the habit of meditating regularly and found this article I wrote in 2016. It was a good reminder of my practice, and maybe will be helpful to you! Its lightly edited to make it more current.

As someone with anxiety, I’ve always worried that meditating would make it worse – sitting, alone with my thoughts? Ugh. So, I avoided meditating when I felt most anxious, which meant it never became a regular habit.

Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong! There is a ton of scientific research showing that meditation helps reduce anxiety and stress, increase focus and creativity, and more.

So, I’ve really started to push myself to just keep with it, no matter how I was feeling – and it has helped my anxiety so much. Meditating has given me the time to slow down and just feel whatever it is I am feeling. Its my ten or fifteen minutes each day to just be – no hustle, no to do lists, no fixing things. Giving myself the time to experience and process my emotions has kept me from my usual M.O.: bottling things up until I explode. (Not healthy, I know. Working on it.)

“This is why we practice, for times like these, when compassion is so necessary.” -Dalai Lama

What IS meditation, anyway?

Since I’ve started meditating more often, I’ve had a lot of great conversations about what meditation is (and isn’t), how to get started, and what tools you need to be successful.

And, I’m here to tell you: you can mediate anywhere, without any special tools. Just get started! In the past, I’ve meditated sitting on a pillow folded in half, sitting in a chair, even while walking. Now I own a zafu, or a meditation cushion, but you don’t need one. You don’t need incense, candles, statues, or any other tools either (but you can use them if you’d like to!). The beauty of meditation is that it is a practice that is available to everyone, anywhere.

In my experience, mediation isn’t about having an empty mind or sitting perfectly still for hours at a time. I was scared off from practicing for a long time when I read about some Zen meditation traditions where you get tapped with a stick if you shift position or don’t sit perfectly still! I thought I wasn’t doing meditation “right” if I couldn’t sit still and stop thinking.

How I Meditate

As you practice more, you’ll start learn what works best for you through trial and error. What my practice looks like won’t necessarily be what works best or feels right for you. I don’t really like guided meditation, for example, but others love it! When you’re starting, try meditating at different times of the day, for different lengths of time, in different spaces, and see which feels the best to you. Just because one method doesn’t work best doesn’t mean you should stop meditating!

This is what my practice looks like:

  1. Signal the start of my session. I light a small piece of low-smoke incense to signal to myself that the meditation time is starting.
  2. Set a timer. I set my meditation timer for how long I am able to sit – if I have time, I try for 15 or more minutes. If not, my minimum is 10 minutes – it usually takes me at least 5 minutes to settle in, so anything less doesn’t work for me. Also, I prefer to sit in the morning or early afternoon – meditating at night doesn’t work well for me.
  3. Sit. I sit on my zafu, which is placed on a rug, for at least 10 minutes.  Sometimes I sit on the zafu cross-legged. Other times, I kneel with the zafu between my legs, with my weight resting on my tailbone. Whichever way you sit, make sure your hips are rolled back so that you are resting your weight on your “sit bones” and back is relatively straight. I usually just rest my hands on my knees, but sometimes I will have my mala or crystal in one hand. Finding a comfortable spot can be one of the hardest parts of meditating – getting formal instruction on the best way to sit was extremely helpful for me!
  4. Look ahead. Sometimes I keep my eyes open, and sometimes I close them (as long as I am not falling asleep!). If my eyes are open, I gently look at whatever is in front of me.
  5. Count my breaths. I count my breaths from 1 to 10, then start back at one again. One complete breath is one inhale and one exhale.
    • This helps me keep my attention on breathing.
    • If I find myself at 16 or 18 or 23 or whatever number, that is okay! I just start back at one again.
    • I breathe normally, just paying attention to how it feels. Things like:
      • Which parts of my body are moving with my breath?
      • Does my breath feel hot or cold as it comes out of my mouth or nose?
      • Does my breath seem particularly fast or slow?

That’s it! Well, maybe not quite it… Continue > “Meditation 101: Getting Started!”

2017: The Year of More

For 2017, I want to work towards doing more – more of what I enjoy, more dedication to my paths, more sustained interest in my hobbies.

Usually, I have two ways of operating: quick, deep diving obsession with new things and complete lack of interest in most things. On one had, I have many interests and love to jump in head first when I discover something. However, I quickly find myself burning out on it and moving on (usually coming back around at a later day). This can look a lot like taking three years to make a scarf, or moving around with boxes of art supplies that I haven’t used even remotely recently.

On the other hand, I tend to spend a huge amount of my time listlessly wasting time in between things I “have” to do (usually work…), not pursuing anything I particularly care about. This looks a lot like rewatching the same TV show enough times that I can pick out when memes with quotes and images from the show don’t correspond (looking at you, Downton Abbey) or scrolling through Facebook for hours.

Yet, every year, when I look back at the previous year, I wish I had spent more time focused on the things I set out to learn or do. I never wish I had spent less time hiking or reading or learning something new. But, I rarely look back fondly on the (literally) hundreds of hours I spent watching TV and reading social media (and all the other useless things I do to fill my time).

So, this year, I’m working on doing more of the things I am passionate about (and correspondingly, less of the things that just to fill/kill time). So far, I’m:

  • Studying herbs in an organized way. I’ve studied them off-hand for years, but I want to begin to organize my knowledge better – take notes, study one herb at a time, begin creating my materia medica, and complete the courses/books I’ve started. This is the year!
  • Meditating and studying mindfulness. Again, something that I have done for years but never in a systematic or disciplined way (or a mindful way, I guess you could say). This looks like: meditating every day in 2017, as well as committing to attending monthly weekend meditation retreats when (financially) possible. I’m trying to push myself to go to weekly nightly meetings as well, but that is a bit more flexible. I’m also reading books related to meditation and mindfulness.
  • Learning Swedish. Why Swedish? I’m not really sure. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s free on Duolingo. Andrew and I are learning together, which is also great. I have been walking around the house quietly muttering Swedish words to myself, so something must be working!

Part of my drive for wanting to be more purposeful in how I am spending my time is that I am so glad to finally have free time after graduation – its almost as though I don’t want to waste it! But, I also realized quickly after starting my new job that the stress of the job was eating me up and I was just coming home and binging on TV until I passed out and started it all over again the next day.

That’s not how I want to spend my days.

I don’t have too many options at the moment, work-wise, and I get paid pretty well for what I do – but the stress and my reaction to it don’t have to be my entire life. I want a life outside of work, too. I want to have more of a life than work and numbing my brain on TV. And, I’m tired of looking back at the day/week/month/year and realizing I wasted so much time doing absolutely nothing. I’ve always wanted to study herbs, learn more about meditation, and learn a new language – so I decided to just do it.

They’re not resolutions – more like dedications – and so I am keeping the list short for now. I’m sure 2017 will bring more more – I see hiking and photography down the road, too. For now, these are my dedications.

Want to follow along? (or join in!)

  • Meditation: I’m keeping track of my meditation sessions on the Insight Timer app – I’m hellokatelandia there.
  • Language learning: I’m using Duolingo for Swedish – I’m hellokatelandia there too. They have 21 languages for English speakers! Pick one!
  • Herbal studies: Look here for my materia medica – I’m planning on keeping monographs here.

Afterthoughts On a Meditation Retreat

I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over my experiences in the week that has passed since the meditation retreat. Lucky for me, I am between jobs (new job starts on Monday!), so I had plenty of time to consider and journal and meditate more and read a bit…and think some more.

During the second day of the retreat, Saturday, I had an unexpected experience: I felt so frustrated, almost mad, that there were so many people there, meditating. I wasn’t annoyed with meditating so long, per say, or that it wasn’t going a certain way. Honestly, my only expectation for myself was to just show up and sit (or walk, as I discovered) and meditate for the day.

At one point during the morning meditation, I looked up and thought something along the lines of “there are 40 goddamn people paying to be in this room to just sit here and do nothing” – annoyance that we weren’t doing more, that we were spending our time (and money!) not doing anything. I couldn’t pinpoint my irritation at the time, and expressed it pretty badly to the meditation teacher I had a one-on-one with, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there needed to be a larger, greater, more helpful (to the world) purpose to meditating for an entire weekend than just “I want to feel less stressed” or whatever.

I talked to another attendee on Sunday, who had more experience both with meditation retreats and Shambhala specifically, and again tried to express this feeling that we all needed to be doing something (and mostly failing), and he mentioned a few Buddhist practices that are a bit more outward focused (tonglen, for example). Helpful, but I was still unsatisfied.

Continue > “Afterthoughts On a Meditation Retreat”

Shambhala Level I: Intro Night

I went to the introduction session for the Shambhala Level I training tonight. We took turns explaining why we were there, passing around a microphone. I made the mistake of making eye contact with someone holding a microphone, so I tried to sum up why I was attending my first meditation retreat to a room full of strangers – awkward at the best of times.

How could I possibly sum up for strangers what brought me there? A process of years, all leading to that moment. Books I’ve read, especially Pema Chödrön’s work (which, as it turns out, is many of the participants’ introduction to Shambhala). Time I’ve spent sitting in meditation (though, admittedly, not as much time or as regularly as I’d like). But, most importantly, how meditation and mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy has wound its way into my life and become a part of (and helped me through) every single event that has happened to me. Moments of clarity, pockets of awareness, time spent sitting and just crying (both happy and sad tears) on my cushion.

In particular, the awareness I’ve gained from even the sliver of meditation that I’ve tried has been invaluable to me in working with and on my anxiety and depression. There’s no doubt that I have become much more able to process and manage both of these things because of the time I’ve spent learning about meditation. When Things Fall Apart  is my balm in difficult times. I am who I am today because of the books and teachings and meditation sessions. But, ironically, few people in my life realize how much the philosophy and teachings have impacted my life, because I almost never mention it. So – to try to sum this all up to a room full of strangers, when I barely even mention it to those closest to me, was a bit nerve wracking.

Part of what brought me there, though, was realizing I am looking for more. I’ve used meditation in crisis and rough times, and now it’s time to bring it into the rest of my life – into the good times, into the celebrations, and into the “everyday.” I want to develop a regular meditation practice – and, to be honest, have always intended to – but always feel a bit like I am making it up as a I go along. I wanted “official” instruction, even structure – and Shambhala provides that. I was looking for community, and they also provide that.

So, day one down, two more to go.