Another one with meditation

About a year ago, I wrote a post called “The one with the meditation“. It’s on my French blog, because at that time I had written it in French first, and thought it was worth it to translate it in English there. I considered moving it here, but decided against it – instead, I’m going to write an update 🙂 And write it as Q&A again, because that worked reasonably well for the first post, even if it’s pretty contrived 🙂

So, you’re still meditating every day?

I’m going to say “yes, but there are days where I don’t”. My intent is to meditate every day. Sometimes I fail at it. I started journaling at the end of November, and I do have a “Meditation” tracker on it, and that’s what it looked like for “end of November / December”:

That’s probably the worst month that I’ve had in a while – but there have definitely been more lapses in the past few months than in the first six months of my practice.

All in all, I’d say it’s most definitely a part of my “self-care” routine. I haven’t been that diligent at self-care in the past few months; hence, some slippage. My new year’s resolution, by the way, is the umbrella “be better at self-care”, so maybe that will help 😉

Did your practice change in any way?

A bit. The general gist of it – sitting with a guided meditation – didn’t change much. But I’m now typically sitting cross-legged on the couch or the bed instead of sitting on a chair; and I changed my “guided meditation” habits a bit. I used to use only Headspace – I’ve been experimenting with other apps. That’s what the colors in the tracker above are: “what app did I use that day”. I gave a try to Calm: I don’t think it’s a fit for me right now, I find it too corny for my taste. I still like Headspace for the “straightforwardness” of it. I do like 10% Happier a lot because it’s more fun and there’s an instructor there (Jeff Warren) that I particularly like.

I also started training towards unguided meditation (with the Headspace Pro packs that do… just that), and that’s something I want to explore a bit more soon. In particular, I heard about Yet Another App, Insight Timer, that allows to define timers, including a few (or a lot of) intermediary sounds as a “safety net” on the whole “getting lost in thought” and/or “falling asleep” that may be helpful. We’ll see how that goes.

Also, while Headspace is pretty “focus-oriented”, there’s a bit more variety in 10% Happier, including along the topics of loving-kindness and compassion. Those are still very new to me. I used to reject the concept as “corny” and “not for me” and so on, but after a tiny bit of practice in that area, I find myself liking it way more than I thought I would, and to find the whole concept helpful as well.

Finally, there’s a meditation studio that opened almost literally next door to where I live; I’ve been trying to gather some courage to visit it, but so far the “fear of new stuff especially when it involves me being alone with a bunch of new people” has won.

Did your perspective about what it brings you change?

Not much. I still do enjoy the “getting a break from the chatter” part of it, and the brief moment of quiet that I usually (but not always) get. I also do think that when Brain is Acting Up – getting into an anxiety attack, or a self-hate spiral, or that sort of unpleasant things – I now generally have a tiiiiiny bit of distance from it, in that I see what is happening, and there is now a tiny place in my head that’s reassuring me that yup, the spiral sucks, but it will eventually be over. That seems to helps me getting out of that kind of states slightly faster – and, more importantly, to not chew on “the fact that this happened” for hours or days afterwards. (Not sure if that one is meditation-related, therapy-related, or a bit of both, but I’ll take it either way 🙂 )

The other main point is that I now do identify “meditation” as a large part of what I put into “self-care” – that also includes things like getting enough sleep, exercising, getting enough recovery time, and eating properly. And, like any other element in that category: the better I am at sticking to the routine that works, the better I feel – even if it’s sometimes super annoying that it’s necessary. So, in a way, it’s “it’s not that it brings me things that I can actually pinpoint, it’s more that if I stop doing it, Brain is usually Acting Up more”.

Any new resources to recommend?

I did mention two apps:

  • Calm – as I mentioned, I don’t think it works for me right now, but the app itself is well-made and has a fair amount of content. And there’s a lot of people who are happy with it, so you might be one of them as well.
  • Insight Timer – I have actually not used this one yet, but I’ve heard good things. They advertise that they have a lot more free content than the other meditation apps; I haven’t checked that statement but it seems plausible.

Book-wise, in the past year, I read two meditation-related books:

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. That one is a fairly heavy book about meditation and mindfulness. It’s essentially a “MBSR HowTo”, where MBSR stands for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a program developed by Kabat-Zinn that seems to be in large part used for people suffering from chronic pain. There was a lot of very interesting things and insights in this book (I do, in particular, remember about a part where he talks about the mechanics of breathing and the diaphragm and felt slightly mind-blown because I had never asked myself how it worked). At first, I was quite irritated by the amount of “Mr X. with this and that symptom came to a MBSR workshop and after 8 weeks was so much better”, but once I reframed my “okay, we get it, your thing is cool” into “let me give a lot of examples so that the reader has a chance to relate to one” it was better.
  • Altered Traits, by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. Goleman and Davidson look at academic research on meditation, and it’s fascinating. Their interest is mostly about how long meditation practice (we’re talking tens of thousands of hours over a life time, compared to my paltry 90 hours over a couple of years) have an influence on the brain itself – what they called permanent “altered traits”, as opposed (by them) to the transient “altered states” than can sometimes be experienced during meditation. The book is a bit meandering and a bit self-serving at times, but I still found it very interesting.