I started the whole practice of meditation in May this year (2009) when I took a class in mindfulness meditation. The class taught me not only the techniques of mindfulness meditation but also the application of meditation into my work as a psychotherapist. The class met for about two months and we did mindfulness meditation in every class meeting and squeezed in yoga whenever we could. Yoga is incorporated as part of mindfulness meditation because there is an aspect of focusing and concentration in yoga. Mindfulness meditation (MM) is different than transcendental meditation (TM) in that MM does not involve chanting, rather the focus is on breathing and being mindful on the whole practice of meditation itself and the surroundings.
Mindfulness meditation may look deceivingly simple, but it is not. People may think all that’s needed is to sit or lay down, which are the two most common forms of mindfulness meditation, and focus. Well, I found it harder than it appeared initially. Sitting still for a long time is not as easy as anyone would think. In what appears to be as a non-doing activity, meditation actually requires a great deal of effort in order to maintain the appearance of non-doing.
I have discovered several challenges so far in my meditation practices. The first one is to fight a sense of sleepiness creeping up after more than 30 minutes of meditation. It usually takes at least 30 minutes before I start to notice my head nodding sideways, front, or back. When I do the laying down meditation, it would take me faster sometimes to start falling asleep. The longest time of meditation that I have done on my own was about 45 minutes and believe me when I say that it was a struggle at the end. I have done longer than 45 minutes (about 1 hour) with the whole class and I must say it was a wonderful, peaceful dream I had in the last 15 minutes. Hopefully I didn’t snore loud enough. I must say that the one-hour meditation was very difficult. I was restless and my back started to ache. At one point I moved my sitting position back a few inches towards the wall so I could rest my back against it. Unfortunately, it marked the beginning of my dream journey. Conclusion? Perhaps a sense of restlessness is needed in order not to fall asleep.
At this point, I am not sure if I can ever meditate on my own for one hour or more without feeling restless, but hopefully one of these days I will get to that point. One thing for sure though, I am not going to force myself to get to that point. A part of me knows that I may or may not get there, and when I do, I will definitely take a notice. It is likely and hopefully feel like an accomplishment.
The second challenge is regarding my busy mind during meditation. I often find my mind drifting away and thinking about many things during meditation. In the beginning of my meditation routine, I started by focusing on my breathing every time I meditated. I enjoy this practice very much. My body usually quickly relaxes when I focus on breathing. I picture the air going into my brain, into my muscles and the rest of my body. It was once we started to practice thought-watching in class that I found myself easily being sucked into following my thoughts instead of watching them. The idea of thought-watching is literally watching your thought passing by in front of you, but resisting the temptation to follow the thought. Metaphorically, it’s like sitting in a park and watching an ice cream truck passing by with its truck-load full of temptations, trying very hard to continue keeping my butt on the park bench and not following the (damn) truck. Am I making sense now? Needless to say, I ended up going with my thought for quite a long time and getting lost in that thought before I was able to recognize what my mind was doing.
The third challenge is regarding a tendency to continue judging my meditation performance. Even in my previous explanation of the second challenge, I might have sounded a little bit judgmental of myself. I have only done mindfulness meditation practice for about two months, which means I am still a novice, a trainee. Perhaps I just need to give it more time.
What I like about mindfulness meditation is the philosophy behind it, and I seem to have enjoyed and appreciated this more than the meditation practice itself. The philosophy behind mindfulness meditation is letting go and having non-judgmental attitudes. They have impacted me in the way I face problems and make my decisions. I used to have a hard time to let go certain things that happened to me and continue to carry negative feelings (i.e., anger, fear, or loneliness) for quite some time. For example, I used to get so angry when another driver would cut me off while I was driving, and I would do whatever I could to show my anger to the other driver, either by using the horn of the car, my own voice, or my finger. It was stupid, really, and I knew it too at that moment, but I had a hard time to let go the immediate feelings that happened as a result of what the person did.
Ever since I studied mindfulness meditation, I consciously told myself that there is no use of getting angry and that to let things go, which I have done on several occasions. In this regard, I think I have improved, to the point that I surprise myself. I am not going to lie, though, to say that I am perfect in this matter, but I have done a major improvement. In the end, it has helped to reduce my overall stress level.
Mindfulness meditation and its philosophy are definitely useful in clinical practice. I have incorporated it in my work. I found that many clients in my practicum settings in the past, for example, could definitely benefit from mindfulness practices. I have mixed it with some kind of other relaxation techniques, such as various breathing exercises or using guided imagery. Now I have mindfulness meditation as another tool to use, and this time I think it is better than those other relaxation techniques because I can also incorporate the philosophy behind mindfulness meditation. Clients then will have the opportunity to practice being mindful not just during meditation but also throughout their days. The principles behind mindfulness meditation can be applied into our daily routines, decision-making processes, and overall well-being. The meditation is just more like the icing on the cake, the cake being how we live our lives.