Even during a “normal” year, the Fourth of July seems to have two sides. On one side, it’s all about family, food and carefree fun. On the other side, it involves a complex web of coordinating schedules, making sure the kids don’t set themselves on fire, and hosting family members, which can be a mixed blessing. This year, there are even more stressors to add to this list, which is why it’s more important than ever to take time for yourself. Why not try some meditation?
Sara Oswald, facilitator at The Pearl of Door County and a certified transformational coach, defines meditation as “the training of the brain to stay in the now, to stay in the present.”
Although this definition seems straightforward and simple enough, there are many popular misconceptions that might discourage people from even trying meditation. One is the belief that the goal of meditation is to completely clear your mind of all thoughts. Not only is this a nearly impossible task, but it isn’t even the point.
“When I tried meditation in my thirties, I got frustrated and I quit because I couldn’t clear my mind,” Oswald said. “When I came back to meditation in my fifties, my instructor told me that the very essence of meditation is actually the process of returning to a focal point when your mind wanders. In the process of return, you’re learning resilience.”
Oswald’s style of instruction encourages beginners to choose one of the five senses to focus on. When your mind wanders – which it inevitably will – don’t treat this as a failure. Instead, pull your focus back to the sense you’ve chosen.
“One of the metaphors that I like to use is this: You are the sky, and all the emotions, feelings and sensations are clouds,” Oswald said. “You watch the clouds pass by, but you don’t grasp on. You are not what is out there hurting you or causing you discomfort.”
When you establish this mental buffer, it becomes easier to calmly process and respond to everyday stressors, as opposed to immediately reacting to them. In this way, practicing meditation helps to regulate and balance your response to unpleasant stimuli.
Sounds pretty nice, right? But what are some helpful steps you can take right away – this weekend – to achieve the benefits of meditation? Oswald had these tips for people who want to try meditating but may not know where to start.
• Start small. Begin your day with five minutes of meditation, and slowly increase the time as you progress. It’s better to meditate for a small amount of time each day than for longer periods of time once a week.
• Be kind to yourself. Leave the self-judgment at the door. There is no right or wrong. There is only your individual growth.
• Find a focal point. This can be one of your senses, your breathing or something visual that’s present in your environment.
This weekend, amid all the hustle and bustle that comes with Independence Day, try carving out a few minutes for yourself. At the very least, you’ll have given yourself the gift of a moment of silence. At the most, you’ll have discovered a new, favorite stress-reduction and focusing practice.