Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to calm a messy mind

Four whole weeks. Where did it go? When I looked back at my last posting date I couldn't believe it. In that post I made a commitment to actually scheduling my first Illumination Project workshop. So did it happen? No. Why?

It's simple really. Lack of clarity, lack of focus and a very messy mind. Too much buzzing going on upstairs. Boy it's frustrating. All I want to do is give birth to an idea that planted it's seed, but I end up struggling with the enormity of the task and in a total spin. In addition, I'm not just working on one idea - throw a few projects into the mix and my mind's bubbling like a stew that you could stand your spoon up in. I'd love to see a snapshot of what my neurons have been up to over the past four weeks.

Does this sound familiar? I bet it does.

The great news is all is not lost. While we can't force our ideas to birth themselves calmly, we can do something that can help bring calm to the calamity on a daily basis.

My friend Miranti recently wrote how creating space in your life, just stopping really, can give much needed room for ideas to grow in their own time. Another technique I find works well is to just get it all out on paper as a big dump - write down every single one of your ideas and to-dos into a notebook. Don't worry about the order or the grouping, the important thing here is to get it all out of your head.
But today I'd like to talk about a third method. Yes, I'm going to spill beans on meditation and me. I hear you sigh heavily and say it's impossible to 'shut off your thoughts', but please bare with me a little further.

Before sharing this story I want to say three things:
  1. Meditation is not about shutting off your thoughts (I think that's impossible, for me it is anyway)
  2. It takes practice
  3. It works
Without knowing it, I started my foray into meditation-type practices way way back when I was in my first year at university. Dr. Brian Thomson (Swami Vivekananda Saraswati to those that know him well), a visionary Australian psychiatrist was doing some teaching at the University of Newcastle on yogic techniques for treating mental illness. In his lunch hour he would run Yoga Nidra sessions for students. I can't say I was particularly stressed back then, but I did find the sessions amazing in bringing me back to my body and calming my mind. I still use his practices to this day.

Skip forward to 2011 - my year from hell. Stress now fueled my life. I was doing a marathon of sorts everyday with fulltime job, part-time study and running a freelance design business. I wasn't sleeping right, I couldn't focus. My brain was always on the buzz. A friend of mine suggested I try meditation. 'Are you kidding? I haven't got time for that!' But very soon afterwards a meditation course came my way, and in need of something, I went.

It was awful. For four hours I fidgeted and wriggled. I went into battle with the million thoughts and kept ruminating on all the things I had to do when I got home. It felt like a total waste of time. I couldn't 'do it', stop the thoughts. But the problem was not that I couldn't do it, it was I didn't 'get it'. It's not about stopping the thoughts, it's about just noticing them without engaging with them. And when I got that meditation and I became very, very good friends.

It wasn't until the middle of 2012 that I managed to bring meditation into my daily life. After dinner, before I'm about to start work on a project I sit down and do just 10 minutes. I only do more when I can. But 10 minutes is enough to reap the benefits.

So what does it do for me exactly?
  • It CALMS the chaos. Not stopping it completely, but it's like the dust settling after a storm. I get clarity and perspective.
  • I feel more present. If I'm feeling chaotic I am not usually in the present. I'm in the past 'if only' and the future 'I must'. I'm not focused on what's happening right now. After just ten minutes I'm far more aware the space around me, the breeze, but most importantly how I'm feeling. I notice if I'm tired, or energized, upset or particularly happy. Im less and less on autopilot.
  • I feel relaxed and slow down. I find after mediation I'm more deliberate in my actions and less inclined to do the crazy multitasking. I can concentrate on one thing and see it through.
The organisation Get Some Head Space do a great little animated video that beautifully explains what meditation is and isn't.

The other interesting things about meditation is that I find it has a cumulative effect. The more regularly I meditate, the longer the benefits of a session last. It's affecting so many areas of my life in a positive way.

If you're interested in giving meditation a go, I recommend the following places to start:
  • Get Some Headspace take 10 program. Ten minutes of meditation for ten days. I mention them again, but Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk turned east London hipster, is said to have done for meditation what Jamie Oliver did for food. I love his approach and his meditations. This is a great place to start.
  • Kate James from Total Balance, a Melbourne based coach and meditation expert, has been teaching mediation for years. I use a number of her guided meditations regularly. She is currently revamping her site but assures me she will be making her meditations available via iTunes soon. She also does wonderful classes and retreats.
  • Deepak Chopra and Oprah's 21 day meditation challenge. Sounds corny but it's actually a great program. You get a meditation delivered to your inbox daily for free for 21 days. They're about 15 mins each in length - not too much to bite off. It's good if you want something to get you to the habit.
  • There's also a wealth of meditations on youtube, but you'll need to take time to try some out to find the ones you like.
Have you tried mediation? Did you struggle with it? Do you find it provides benefits? Please share your experiences and if you have any links to resources that you like, please post those too.

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