by Alicia Carson, M.Ed.
Meditation and mindfulness can seem intimidating to someone without prior experience. When approaching meditation, it is important to let go of a rigid mindset and go in without a goal or expectation. Let go of wanting to meditate the right way. The only goal of meditation and mindfulness activities is to make time for yourself. The hope is that you feel calmer and more relaxed afterward. Meditation will look and feel different each time. The goal is not to be still and quiet, although that helps, but to focus better on this time as an opportunity to find stillness. We need to release our expectations and find acceptance for the other emotions that can come out of practicing mindfulness.
It can be very challenging to sit still and quietly with both children and adults. In fact, it is a common misconception that meditation has to be still and quiet. When we are unable to achieve a clear mind we often meet that with frustration rather than curiosity and understanding. These feelings tend to arrive with should statements (e.g., “He should be quiet” or “My mind should be clear”). Once we free ourselves from should thoughts and expectations, we can be free to notice our experiences. These shoulds often come with all-or-nothing thinking and lead to cognitive distortions, or mental errors that can affect our perceptions of our experiences. Thus, increasing awareness of those moments can help to prevent further cognitive distortions. Meditation seeks to find the space between your sensations. It allows you time to pause and be still.
Would you be surprised to learn you are already practicing mindfulness on your own? I can almost guarantee there are things you already do that count as some type of mediation practice, without you even knowing it. In the last month, have you done any of the following activities: coloring, beadwork, making art, throwing a ball against the wall, playing a video game, bottle flipping, reading while other things are happening, or sorting items? Have you felt enthusiasm while focused on an activity? When an intense level of enthusiasm meets focus THAT IS MEDITATION! It is in those moments that we get so engrossed in an activity and lose the sense of time and space. These naturally meditating activities are a great way to self-regulate.
My goal when sharing meditation with others is to create a space to explore our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Life can pull us in many different directions and, often, our brains can feel like a box of tangled Christmas lights. When taking time to focus on finding stillness and giving focus to our breath, we can unclutter some of those tangles that are taking up precious space inside our brains. Mindfulness and meditation allow for us to sort out those tangled wires and create space. This also provides us an opportunity to pause before a situation and respond, rather than react. Pausing can help prevent us from immediately jumping to a reaction and allowing space to decrease our sharp judgments. Ultimately, the space created by pausing allows us to shift levels of kindness, awareness, and respect within ourselves.