We all have brains that won’t shut up. We wake up and the chatter begins, with random thoughts, worries about the day ahead, planning, ruminating and even replaying something painfully awkward that you did 5 years ago. It was only when I started meditating that I realised how much my mind loves to chatter. By paying attention to my thoughts, I could also see how little control I had over them. I could watch a thought come and go, and then another totally unrelated thought would pop up. (How did I get from wondering about what to eat after meditating to worrying about what to do with the rest of my life?) Having meditated on-and-off for the past few years, I’ve learnt a lot of interesting things, both about the way I think and about the practice itself.
It takes discipline, but it’s worth it
To get the most out of meditation, it is something that needs to be done on a daily basis. This has been my personal experience. But it’s something I’ve struggled to stick to. If I haven’t meditated in a while, I’ll meditate that day, feel great, then forget about it. Then when I feel like shit again, I’ll go back to it. This sporadic way of meditating might have short-term benefits, but it wasn’t helping with my chatty brain in the long-term.
Meditating every day is a form of mental training, the benefits of which spill into other areas of my life. If I’m feeling stressed about something work-related, I can watch my thoughts with a kind of detached fascination, without getting so caught up in them. But obviously, meditating on a daily basis, without fail, takes tremendous discipline. This is why it can be useful to meditate at around the same time every day, for the same amount of time. It should become like brushing your teeth, except that it’s your mental hygiene you’re looking after, rather than your dental hygiene.
There’s always time to meditate
It’s so easy to make excuses not to meditate or to put it off. Many people will often say they’re too busy to fit it in. But really, we all have at least 10 minutes to spare in the day. I could honestly save so much time by not watching videos on YouTube I’ve watched a million times before or scrolling through my news feed, which doesn’t achieve anything, except a feeling that you’re falling behind.
It’s all about priorities. There is time to be found. For example, I’ve gotten into this habit of meditating on the tube because (usually) I’ll have somewhere to sit for the next 20 minutes, which is roughly how long I spend meditating (although half an hour is ideal). I could spend this 20 minutes reading a book or listening to music, or I could meet my daily mini-goal of meditating. So I do that instead. I do kind of feel self-conscious doing this, but hey, that feeling is just something else to be mindful of!
I often meditate at the end of the night, which has its benefits and downsides. Some of the downsides are that it gives me more time to procrastinate, so that if it’s late and I just feel like sleeping, it can be difficult to get myself to sit cross-legged and upright and close my eyes without dozing off. Sometimes I just can’t really bring myself to meditate first thing in the morning (plus I’d have to wake up that little bit earlier to fit it in… no thanks!).
What I like about meditating before sleep is that it leaves me feeling incredibly relaxed and able to effortlessly fall asleep. As someone who doesn’t fall asleep easily, or who has often been kept up for hours with a brain going think about this on repeat, having a good night’s sleep is glorious. But regardless of when you meditate, studies show that practising mindfulness is a great way to fight insomnia and improve your sleep.
The best improvement I’ve noticed from daily meditation has been in terms of my mental health. For someone who’s easily prone to over-think, over-analyse and think negatively, the quiet and feeling of control that meditation offers is a relief (which is putting it mildly). This is backed up by evidence as well- mindfulness is effective for treating depression and anxiety.
While meditation can’t magically wash away any deep-seated problems, it can at least help us to manage the symptoms. So don’t feel trapped. You might not be able to wish a fair and considerate society into existence, but you can change how you respond to thoughts and feelings which are bringing you down.