It is 6 a.m. I close the door, set the timer for 30 minutes, and sit down in my swivel chair, with my eyes closed, and my hands loosely resting on the arm supports.
It’s an assignment for a “Social Media and Analytics” class I’m taking, taught by Leila Samii (@) – “sit alone, with no technology, friends, family, or reading material for 30 minutes, then blog about it.”
I admit, I’m a social media junkie – I love, love, love Facebook and because of the class I have also recently been spending a lot of time on Twitter and Instagram, tweeting, retweeting, participating in Twitter chats, and posting photos like crazy, frantically trying to keep up with the tsunami of incoming information and images.
And then, just before Thanksgiving, I’d had enough.
It was too much. I just simply could not keep up with it all, no matter how hard I tried.
So I stopped – for a few days I had not tweeted anything or posted any photos – even though I knew that my Klout score would go down.
That’s why this assignment – to be alone for 30 minutes – didn’t feel like a chore, or a homework, but was more like a gift, a gift of “ME TIME” that I don’t get very often.
I also very much welcomed the opportunity to try meditating again.
I took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program a few years back when I was unemployed and needed to stop stressing out about my situation.
Before then, I had tried meditating just once, in a “World Religions” class taught by a practicing American Buddhist convert. I didn’t like it very much, though a poem I wrote about it that was published, so perhaps it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
Back then, I had been highly suspicious of the tree-hugging, always-smiling, om-chanting types because I was annoyed by their serenity and could not believe it was true, assuming instead that they were faking it.
However, since that first forced meditation in a classroom full of students I didn’t know very well, I had seen time and again mentions of study after study showing the benefits of meditation, so when I found out about the medical study of stress reduction that incorporated MBSR, I decided to give it a try.
Usually those 8-week programs can cost several hundred dollars, depending on where they’re taught, but because it was part of a study, all it cost me was just time, and I had plenty of time back then.
If you’re not familiar with the 8-week MBSR program, in a nutshell – it requires weekly two-hour meetings facilitated by a trained MBSR instructor, who guides the participants in learning how to meditate, and daily half-hour meditation practice.
If you’ve ever wanted to try meditating but weren’t sure how to begin and what to do, these guides will give you a good sample of what meditation is and, in a way, what it isn’t.
Because, meditation isn’t sitting still but worrying the whole time about what had happened and what might happen.
Meditation is about clearing your mind and just being – being in the moment, feeling the cool air entering your nostrils, and noticing how much it had warmed up in your lungs as it exits; feeling the weight of your hands on the armrests; and noticing which parts of the soles of your feet are in contact with the floor.
Yes, it is damn hard not to think for the whole 30 minutes, and just feel, but there are things you can do to help yourself not to think.
For instance, have you ever noticed how ocean waves breaking onto shore sound like very slow, relaxed breaths? I’m thinking that is probably one of the reasons I love oceans so much – I instinctively adjust my breathing to the rhythm of the ocean, and by slowing my breath, I relax. It helps that I also love the warmth of the sun on my skin, and gazing at the sun rays twinkling on the rippling water.
When you try meditating without an audio guide for the first time, just imagine you’re on a beach, in a comfy beach chair, with your toes digging into damp sand and with your hair softly tickling your cheeks. And as you breathe in and out, imagine the waves landing on the shore with a soft whisper and then receding again.
You don’t have to do that for the full 30 minutes right off the bat, but try 5 minutes at least in the beginning.
You might be surprised at how relaxed you will be after a few daily sessions of such visualizations.
Many people obsess about going to the gym and taking care of their bodies, trying to get slimmer and fitter. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I think it is time we started taking care of our minds as well.
So do yourself a favor. Give yourself a gift of “me time.” Go meditate.
I hope it will relax you as much as it relaxes me.
Thank you, Prof. Samii, for this assignment. It was just what I needed near the end of a pretty busy semester.