How to Cultivate a Daily Meditation Practice & 6 Life-Changing Benefits That Make It Worth Your Time
You know those moments when you hear a song or see a movie and it wakes up some deeply stored cellular memory within you?
This happened to me the other day. I was watching the movie Enough Said and the main character was saying goodbye to her daughter as she boarded the flight to head off to college. Before I even realized it my eyes flooded with tears, and I started sobbing with this immense sense of grief.
About 13 years ago, I left for college in San Diego, 2,000 miles away from home, when my Dad was in the final month of his life. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer 3 months earlier. For the first month of school, I was in denial, unsure of how to fully assimilate my experience as it was happening.
A month later I came back for his funeral. I was admittedly anesthetized from compulsively overeating sticky buns that morning, and honestly remember very little. Bits and pieces.
What I remember with clarity was the moment I said goodbye to my mom that day in the Milwaukee Airport. My dad now gone, our family home and much loved land being sold to the highest bidder, and my mom doing her best to keep it all together after losing the love of her life. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest.
This moment was the final piece that left me feeling without stability, support, or sense of home. I say final piece because the physical experience of losing my home and family as I knew it was secondary to a longer process of abandoning my body and my heart.
And so this overwhelmingly uncomfortable experience of “homesickness” began. For years this was the only word that accurately portrayed my emotional experience. What I realized was that this feeling of being homesick was there whether I was travelling alone in South America or back in Cedarburg, Wisconsin celebrating Thanksgiving with my mom and brothers.
The feeling eased with time and the more I grew into myself as an adult. Being in the mountains and in nature always felt like home. And then I found meditation.
I had an on-again, off-again relationship with meditation for years, studying under many wonderful teachers but never quite experiencing the full power of a consistent daily practice for more than a few months at a time. Many times I was doing it from a place of ego. Trying to get somewhere with my practice or create a particular outcome. It was one more “should” on my list of to-do’s that lacked heart and the purity of presence. It wasn’t until my separation and subsequent divorce that I truly experienced the magic of meditation. I was consumed by questions that had no answers, and the thoughts in my head seemed too great to bear. And so, I did the only thing that I could do to not go insane. I surrendered. I dropped into my body and my heart. And I felt home, even for just a moment. I’d feel the warmth of love, the comfort of trust, and the sense of being held by something so much greater than myself: call it Cellular Intelligence, Spirit, Love, God. And I’d remember.
There are still times when I forget, and my practice gets gobbled up by to-do lists, but every time I return to the practice, drop into my heart, and let my breath carry me back home, I feel whole again.
Here are some of the many reasons behind the magic of a daily meditation, contemplative prayer, or remembering practice:
- Meditation turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the mode for rest and relaxation and the state in which all healing takes place. Most of us launch ourselves into the go-go-go-do-do-do mode of the sympathetic nervous system from the moment our alarm goes off and we reach to check our phones in the wee hours of the morning. We abandon ourselves in a constant state of reaction, depriving ourselves of the richness of being. If you want to heal health issues, persistent habitual patterns and compulsions, or deleterious ways of thinking and perceiving, then it is so important to intentionally create this sense of calm and peace in your day so that healing can take place on the emotional, physical, and spiritual levels.
- Next, when we meditate, we connect into the energetic seat of the self, which is the heart. We create intimacy with our heart, allowing it to soften and open. From this connection we create more meaningful relationships and experiences with life.
- We turn our awareness back to the pure experience of being ourselves. Many women I work with find themselves acting out of a desire to please others. They have lost touch with who they would be without this experience of constantly seeking approval and external validation. Meditation is a practice that allows us to remember who we are.
- Many times, when we are trying to change our eating or lifestyle habits, we find ourselves derailed by impulsive cravings and disembodied choices. In an instant of reactivity, we throw resolve and intention to the wind. In order to make empowered choices we need to slow down enough to realize that a choice exists in each moment. It’s only from a place of deep inner presence that you can learn what your body and soul actually need for healing to take place.
- Meditation teaches us the patience and skill of sitting with uncomfortable feelings, emotions, and impulses. Through a meditation practice we develop grace in the difficult moments by being and breathing without attaching to emotions or thoughts.
- We begin to start training that little monkey brain to stay focused and steadfast on the commitment and intention at hand. These days we’re so used to multitasking that our minds are no longer trained to focus and follow-through on one singular focus or intention. This has powerful ramifications for our work, our personal development, our creative pursuits, our relationships, and so much more.
Here are some tips to help you create a daily meditation practice or rediscover the juice within your current practice:
1) It only takes 5 minutes. 5 Minutes of silent, compassionate, mindful meditation is better than 20 minutes of sitting in a distracted state of daydreaming. If you feel inspired to go longer, by all means, do so.
2) Start by creating the container. Light a candle; use essential oils like rose, which opens up the heart space, or light some incense.
2) Everything you need is already within you. No need for fancy guided meditations. In fact, if your pattern is to abandon your heart space and dwell in your mind, I strongly recommend experimenting with silent rather than guided meditation. When we intentionally create the space to drop in without distractions and with loving awareness and curiosity, we create more intimacy and an easeful connection with ourselves.
3) Strip away the dogma and drop the push and force. Focus on the intention of bringing your attention back to the present moment over and over again. When thoughts, sensations, and feelings arise, just label them kindly and return to the seat of your awareness.
4) Make this practice your own. Not ready to sit on a meditation cushion with your eyes closed? Totally cool! Pour yourself a warm cup of tea or lemon water and take a seat outside in the cool morning breeze. Let yourself drop into your body, your heart, and gratitude for the present moment. Nourish yourself with the breath.
Now I know, I know, you might be tempted to read this and then discard it. To stay trapped on that little hamster wheel of ideas without action and implementation. I know the resistance you may be feeling. I know it well. After all, how can something so simple be so powerful? It’s easy to be seduced by complex, scientific and cutting-edge and in the process we often overlook the power of 5 minutes of presence.
This resistance comes up with almost every woman I work with. They want the fix, the perfect diet, the magical potion in a supplement bottle, the perfect morning ritual. And meditation is often the very last thing they are willing to try, feeling the desperation of hitting rock bottom. Because this practice, unlike following a diet or exercising more or reading this book and following that plan, actually requires us to surrender when we are addicted to a compulsion to struggle and control. But until we learn to be with ourselves in silence and with gentle, loving awareness, it’s very hard to heal our relationship with our lives. We continue to live in reaction to fleeting impulses and compulsions- overworking, overeating, binge drinking, drugs, numbing out to TV and the internet, struggling, resisting, judging - rather than acting from the pulse of aliveness.
Give it a try. Just for a week. And please do share any experiences you have below!