January’s Monthly Challenge: 30 Days of Meditation
Ah, January; the month of fresh new starts and pursuit of ultimate health. Well, perhaps not, but January is a time that many of us crave change. New Year’s resolutions aplenty, January is for improving oneself. At least, that’s the theory.
Why do we make New Year’s resolutions? They stem from a desire to improve in one way or another. We might make a resolution to quit something, like smoking or eating fast food. We might choose to start something, like a language class or gym membership. Or we might simply choose to get our priorities in alignment with our values, vowing to spend more time outside or with our loved ones.
Supposedly, it takes 30 days to make or break a habit. Doing a series of monthly challenges seemed to me the best way of making real, lasting habits that I could choose to adopt for the rest of the year. These challenges will look at different aspects of wellbeing, whether it be physical, mental, or simply food for the soul.
January’s 30-day challenge focused on meditation. Thirty consecutive days of meditation was something I had always loved the idea of, but had never committed to because it is bloody hard work!
Prior to giving meditation a go, I fantasised about transforming into some enlightened goddess. I had this idea that I would assume half lotus position, chant ‘om’ and have my mind take me to a place of tranquility. However, in actual fact I sat down cross-legged, suddenly felt an itch I was dying to scratch, and then another (how typical) until all I could focus on was how uncomfortable I was and ultimately gave up.
Over the years I’ve had a few more attempts. I’ve done some research and taken note of what is generally considered good practice and thus what might help me become said enlightened guru.
A 30-day challenge is hard to stick to unless you feel something can be gained from it. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, slow down the aging process, increase mindfulness, and ultimately lead to happiness. It does this by increasing your self-awareness and ability to accept what is, free of judgement.
What causes suffering in this world? It is simply the belief that something shouldn’t be happening that is, or should be happening that isn’t. It is resistance to the current situation based on the belief that it is somehow wrong.
We spend so much time dwelling on the past or anxious about the future that time ticks on by under our noses without us truly engaging in the present. We have small panics that we’re wasting our lives and feel powerless to hypothetical futures. Peace feels unobtainable, let alone happiness.
Meditation is a way of training oneself to keep coming back to the present moment. And just as a marathon runner isn’t able to run that kind of distance overnight without many months of practice, one cannot meditate in aforementioned lotus-goddess-fashion without training the mind to cooperate.
So, I set myself the challenge of 10 minutes per day for the first week of the month, followed by 15 for the second, 20 for the third and finally 30 minutes per day for the final week of January. My only goal was to stick to it and try my best every day. I didn’t need to be good at it, only give it my best shot.
Each morning, upon the alarm sound I would roll out of bed, have a nice big glass of water, set a timer and sit. I would start by taking some deep breaths before letting my breath flow naturally without trying to change or manipulate it. And then I would wait for the thoughts to come flooding in. And they always did.
Did I remember to put my oats in the fridge last night? How much laundry is there in the basket? Is my blouse clean for that meeting tomorrow? I mustn’t forget to rotate the cacti today! Or my skype date later. What am I going to cook for dinner tonight? Is there anything in the freezer? I need to buy more apples. I should make apple pie. I haven’t made any in ages! I can’t wait until strawberries are in season. Oh summer, how I miss you. Maybe I should book a trip to Spain. It’s warm there…
Whenever I caught myself getting wrapped up in a thought, I brought my attention back to the present. It helped to focus on what I could hear or feel or smell around me. Every day, I persevered. Some days were easier than others.
What I have learned is that making meditation a part of my daily routine has created a kind of positive ripple effect into many areas of my life. I’m noticing myself speaking more slowly and purposefully. I now check in with myself throughout the day to see how I’m doing. I take a few breaths if I feel anxiety churning in my gut. I’ve been keeping track of the positive occurrences this month in a way that I would have ignored in previous years due to it being ‘miserable old January’. As a result, I’ve had one of the best months in a while now and I put it all down to my newly-adopted mindfulness (goddess in the making here).
While I can’t always commit to 30 minutes per day, I can usuallysqueeze in 10-15 and that is enough. It’s not about the quantity of time, but rather the quality. This is definitely something I will be carrying with me throughout the rest of 2017. It might not be every single day, but it’ll be as frequently as possible. It feels good, so why deny myself that?
I would encourage everyone to give this a go. Even if it’s something that you only do for those 30-days, it will increase your self-awareness that you’ll naturally carry with you after the month has come to a close. If you’re wondering how to go about it, keep reading.
6 Tips for Trying this Yourself
~You can develop a kind of muscle memory by choosing to meditate at the same time of day, in the same location and position. This identical set-up tells your body, ‘ok, it must be time to meditate.’ Over time, this will make it easier for you to recognise that you are in practice.
~Wear comfortable clothing, have a drink, and go to the bathroom prior to practicing. While 10-15 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time in the context of an entire day, it is excruciating if all you can think about is your thirst or how quickly you can run to the toilet when you’re done!
~Minimize distractions and make it known to your partner or housemates that you’ll be meditating so they don’t interrupt you. You could even put a sign on the door if that helps.
~Focus on your breathing. Observe the thoughts as they come, but realize that you are not your thoughts. Your brain is a tool; it doesn’t run the show.
~Practice mindfulness throughout the day. As often as possible, check-in with yourself to see how you’re doing and focus on your breath. You’ll find that there are actually very few problems in the present moment. And if one presents itself, you can handle it by taking action steps immediately, unlike the future which isn’t yet tangible.
~Finally, don’t put pressure on yourself. All you need to do for this challenge is try your best. Do not expect perfection because it takes years to be able to develop strong meditation habits. But know this: start today and in a year from now, you’ll be glad you did.
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