I Went To A Monastery & Learned To Meditate In The "Real World"

I spent the past weekend enjoying a silent retreat at Mepkin Abbey, a monastery in South Carolina occupied by Trappist monks with a knack for farming and landscaping.

The former plantation is now an abundant oasis — bursting with live oak trees and picturesque gardens. The Abbey offers a unique opportunity for quiet reflection and communion with nature. So when I sat down to meditate, it wasn't exactly difficult to find stillness in my mind in that gorgeous setting, when a glance in any direction brought a hushed admiration to the present moment.

I wanted hold onto this newfound serenity and bring it home with me to my "normal life"— but how?

Here are six ways I've discovered to enjoy meditation right at home, despite our hectic schedules and not-so-perfect surroundings:

1. Set your intention.

Acknowledging your desire to bring more mindfulness into your life is a big first step. Decide on a certain amount of time and frequency and then try giving go for one full week. I find that the first thing in the morning is often the most effective. Only have a few minutes to spare? That’s great! Start your day by settling in to a comfortable spot, keep your spine straight (sitting on the edge of a chair may help), relax and focus on your breath. If you notice that feelings or thoughts come up, take note of them and let them go. You've got time for that, right?

2. Enhance your meditation practice with essential oils.

Our sense of smell has a powerful ability to affect our emotions and influence our perception. Introduce some ritual into your meditation practice by incorporating essential oils. You can use a wide array of oils alone, or combine them to create your own unique blend.

Try these for starters:

  • Rose is the oil of humanity, with a focus on the heart. It celebrates liberation, receptivity, enjoying the moment, and expressing yourself.
  • Frankincense is the oil of transition and is extremely beneficial in helping us relax into the observation that the mind and the world around us are always changing. This oil relaxes the diaphragm, helping us breathe more deeply.
  • Patchouli transforms emotions, releasing pent-up thoughts and feelings. Patchouli is a great oil when you feel there is something festering inside of you, physically or emotionally.
  • Neroli opens the chest and eases anxiety. It is a beautiful oil to use for those who feel anxious or emotionally restless during meditation. Neroli centers us emotionally and brings us back to the mysteries of life.
  • Basil opens the mind and increases alertness. Tend to get sleepy during meditation? Basil can aid you in maintaining your focus and attention to your breath as build on your mind/body awareness.

3. Get outside.

Mepkin Abbey offers a tremendous reminder about how much we can learn from the outdoors. I remember walking the grounds and becoming increasingly more comfortable with and appreciative of the constantly changing nature of the world. Life really is just one big ebb and flow! We can learn from nature that loss from the earth is not mourned, but celebrated, as something new is always created upon the decay.

4. Unplug!

It was a blessing that my smartphone could not get a signal at the Abbey. There was not even Wi-Fi for my computer! Having a break from screens meant I spent a lot more time staring at trees and being present. How can YOU spend less time plugged in? Try to pick one day each week that you unplug from electronic screens and spend time on your phone only when absolutely necessary. Or pick a few hours each day for a “black out”. If nothing else, see if you can wait a little longer to turn devices on in the morning, and try to turn them off earlier in the evening.

5. Meditate by candlelight.

The chapel at the retreat center was open 24-hours a day. At night, no lights were turned on; just a single candle illuminated the small room. I snuck in during evening hours and was amazed at the difference it made in my meditation practice, to fix my gaze on a candle in darkness. There were fewer distractions and the experience itself just felt more sacred. I found it easier to sink right into deep meditation. Try lighting a candle, turning out the lights, putting a touch of essential oil to your chest center and low abdomen. As you breathe, remind yourself to feel a sense of gratitude for another beautiful day.

6. Be gentle with yourself.

Meditation isn’t a marathon! Go at your own pace and don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t stick to the schedule you originally had in mind. Take a breath in. Exhale. There you go. You just took a big first step onto your true path.

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