Whoever said being a kid was easy doesn’t remember being a kid.
Seriously, y’all, I had a great childhood. Not normal, by any stretch, but fairly carefree. But you couldn’t pay me to be ten years old again.
Before I came to Georgia, I taught preschool. It scares me a little to think of becoming a mother, because I can’t imagine loving anyone more than I loved my little hellions. I tried hard to never scoff at their “problems,” no matter how tiny. Being a kid is hard work. You’re learning new things all the time. You get thrown into situations you don’t understand. You’re not yet equipped with all the tools you need to deal with things. In short, it’s just plain scary.
When I was little, around eight years old or so, I began to have trouble sleeping. I would find myself fretting about things. (What kinds of things? Kid things, I’m sure. I don’t remember specifics, but they kept me up at night, so that is all that matters.) I wanted to keep my mind from racing. I wanted to be at peace, to get some rest. So I “invented” a technique to help myself get to sleep.
I pictured myself in a plain white room. No floors, no walls, no ceiling, just a white void. A little like Mike Teavee, now that I think about it, but disappointingly lacking in Oompa Loompas.
Every time my mind would begin to wander, I would catch myself and bring myself back into that empty white room. It was calming and effective. I used this technique for years to help myself get to sleep when I was stressed.
I didn’t know it then, but I was basically engaging in a rudimentary form of metacognition. In other words, I was “kid meditating.”
If eight-year-old me can do it, than anyone can do it.
So here is your first meditation exercise. We’re going to start with the basics.
First, your position. You might want to sit in a chair, or your bed, or the couch. I just prefer to sit on the floor in a lotus or “Indian style” position. (As an aside, I learned teaching preschool that nobody sits “Indian style” anymore. They sit “criss-cross-applesauce,” which is less offensive and more fun to say.) However you sit, make sure your spine is straight, your shoulders are back, and that you are in a position that will be comfortable for a while.
Closing your eyes is okay, but if it makes you sleepy, don’t. We’re not 8-year-old me; we want tranquil, not zonked out. It’s often best to stare at the floor or wall, focusing on a point about 10 feet beyond or behind the floor.
Time for the “meat” of your meditation: breathing.
We take what we put into our bodies so seriously. Smoking is stigmatized, and so is high fructose corn syrup. Diet guides are everywhere. People obsess over getting 8 glasses of water a day (well, some people). But if I cut off your food, your water, or your air… which would kill you first?
Take time to fully inhale. Exhale. And again. We’re talking deep, soul-cleansing belly breaths here. When you’re stressed, your breathing often becomes shallow, rushed. Focus on your breathing, and imagine you’re nourishing your body with the oxygen filling your chest. In and out, rhythmically.
At this point, you can pick a word to meditate on with each breath if you wish. Many people take comfort in a soothing or prayerful word, like “love” or “Jesus.” You can even use the sacred syllable “om” if you want to be more traditional about it. If the idea of repeating a word is too Zen for you, you might just want to picture yourself in my plain white room, or an idyllic place of your choice.
That’s pretty much all there is to it, but the hard part isn’t over yet.
You are training your brain here, and it’s not going to like it. Everyone in the world has a little ADD. Whenever you catch your mind wandering from your meditation, don’t beat yourself up. Take note of what you were thinking about, dismiss it, then return to your focus and your breathing. This is how my entire meditation usually goes. Distract, return. Distract, return.
If you begin to make note of your thoughts in this way, you will begin to notice your thinking change. I have always been a pessimistic person, but I am learning to rein it in by realizing how often negative thoughts dominate my mind. I worry about things about which I have absolutely no business worrying. But just catching myself worrying is often enough to chasten me into changing my attitude about my situation.
I try to meditate for at least 15 minutes a day. It’s really better to do it for longer, at least half an hour or even an hour if you can handle it. Even if it seems like you are only sitting around, this is not a waste of time any more than exercise is. When your mindfulness muscle begins to grow, the quality of your life will soar. You will begin to notice your thought patterns and what you need to change to be the person you want to be. You will stop wasting time with unproductive thoughts, so distractions will be far fewer.
Your brain is who you are. Everything that makes you, well, you… is up in that noggin of yours. Why not give it the exercise and attention it needs to flourish?
If nothing else, it will help you sleep better at night.