The Secret To Meditating When You Think You Can't
In an ideal world, I would meditate first thing in the morning when I rise, usually around 5:30am.
And in an even more ideal world, I would follow my meditation with writing and even some exercise. But truthfully, I am too sleepy, and already preoccupied with getting my kids and myself ready for the day ahead. But that's OK — I am a work in progress, as we all are.
As a psychiatrist, I arrive at my office every day around 9am. I unlock my door, put my coffee down and sit down on my patients' couch. This time on the couch is crucial. It is the place that hosts my steady stream of patients, who come to see me so they can do the important work of becoming whole again. I do this before I check email or return a single phone call. I take my shoes off, put my feet up and place a blanket across my lap. I shift around and I itch. I stretch this way and that. I get comfortable.
And then I set the meditation timer on my phone for eight minutes, close my eyes and breathe.
My meditation is simple. I center myself by feeling the sensation of my body on the couch, specifically the way the cushions feel under my bottom and against my back. I discover a position that feels comfortable, one that allows me to feel relaxed in my body, but not so relaxed that I fall asleep. And then I focus on allowing my breath to come and go, naturally. I don't do anything to manipulate my breath. I simply experience the sensation of breathing in that particular moment. Sometimes I feel the warmth of the air coming in and out of my nostrils. Sometimes I notice the expansion and contraction of my chest and abdomen.
I take particular respite in the pause between the inhalation and exhalation, which feels peaceful and restful. And when my thoughts start to arise as they inevitably do, I simply take notice them as an observer. I try to avoid engaging with them. I try not to judge them, or judge myself for having them. I just imagine them drifting by, almost like clouds in the sky or floating bubbles.
This is my favorite go-to meditation practice, because it can be done it can be done right in the comforts of my own office. It's become part of my regular routine because I've allotted time for it in my workday.
And despite the fact that I don't have the perfect early morning schedule in place, there is still immense value in the eight minutes of meditation I squeeze in before my day begins. Meditating once I get to the office allows me to transition from my hectic family morning routine into my workday with more ease. I reconnect with my body and breath, cultivating awareness as I step into a different role.
I set an intention for myself at work, which is to be a present and healing force for patients. I set an intention for my patients, which is for them to find courage on their journey towards emotional well-being. The energy I create by meditating in my office helps to transition the environment into more of a sacred space. This in turn, is far more conducive to the hard work done there by my patients. My meditation practice helps me feel my gratitude for this work, and for my patients who allow me to be an intimate part of their lives.
Yes, eight minutes is indeed a short time and it does go by quickly. When I open my eyes, the office comes into clearer view. I begin to see the space as my patients see it. I see how the artwork looks from their seat and whether the clock, tissue box and coaster for their water bottle are within easy reach. I gain a sense of what it feels like to sit in their space — the open vulnerability of it all.
I take similar brief meditation breaks throughout the day in other odd places, whenever an opportunity or need for grounding arises. For a few minutes in the car before picking my kids up from school or while waiting to pick up Thai food. Sometimes I'll even stop to meditate halfway through a run on a Saturday morning.
I meditate during small and big transitions. I meditate during unexpected moments of quiet and solitude, and in the face of loud emotion. And in the midst of all of these moments, my practice remains the same.
Perhaps we need more than just a few minutes to fully settle into the experience of meditation, but it is called a practice for a reason. I don't want perfectionism to prevent me from doing what I am capable of at any given moment. Even smallest steps can be transformative.
Every individual's meditation practice is intensely personal. And for right now, my practice is what works for me. Short bursts of meditation whenever I can, wherever I can.