In the last decade, in the Western world, meditating has evolved from being seen as a mystical, zany, and quirky thing to being seen as something incredibly useful, widely adopted and practised by most successful people.
But for me, meditating never felt like something out of the ordinary.
I grew up in a Hindu household, and my sister and I went to weekly Sunday school classes about Hinduism, run by the Chinmaya Mission. Once a year, one of their Swamis would visit the UK and hold a week of talks on a Hindu scripture. When we were ten, the talks were on chapter 6 of a holy text called the Bhagavad Gita, which covered dhyana yoga, or what we would call meditation.
Going to 90 minute long lectures on meditation for a week as a ten-year-old might sound a bit mad — but it meant that meditating never felt like something mystical or otherworldly to me. Granted, I never regularly meditated when I was that young, but I knew what it was and how to do it.
It was during my first few years at university that I started meditating regularly. That was back in 2013 and 2014 when meditation was really starting to become popular. I started by using the Headspace app, and also by attending a mix of in-person sessions that revolved around meditation or mindfulness in a group setting (including Quaker meetings, Vedantic meditation at a brahmakumari centre, and a weekly Compline service at my college’s chapel).
Meditation is the act of quieting your mind so that you stop yourself getting lost in your thoughts. It’s not a forceful shutting down of trying to think about anything. It’s fine if thoughts come and go, as long as you don’t get swept up in them.
This is why most meditation techniques revolve around controlling your breath. Focussing on your breathing is a simple way to stay grounded and stop your mind wandering.
(Contrary to popular belief, not all meditation is breath-control. Meditation can involve visualisation, or have a religious focus, or even revolve around attaining a flow state. However, breath-control is the most accessible entry point for beginners.)
Because our minds and bodies are intrinsically linked, meditation also involves sitting very still. A good quote I’ve seen is that:
If your eyeballs move, it means you’re thinking, or getting ready to think. If you don’t want to be thinking at this particular moment, try to keep your eyeballs still.
There are two things I find difficult with meditating. The first is something everyone struggles with: letting your mind wander. It’s totally normal for your mind to wander when meditating. When you catch yourself, you just have to return your mind back to its focus point. But it can be frustrating.
Secondly, I find it difficult to make time to meditate. Especially now, with the pandemic, there are so many stressors and distractions and micro-aggravations in life, that the thought of taking time for myself passes me by.
And this doesn’t just apply to meditation. When I’m stressed, I find it difficult to make time for any self-care activities. As well as not meditating, I eat quick snack food instead of cooking healthy meals and skip on doing any exercise.
This is where sounding off has helped me the most. Sounding off is a type of voice journaling: you open a voice recording app and sound off about what’s on your mind.
It’s a way of processing all the fluff that’s going on in your head.
Thinking out loud is kind to your mind and way easier than writing physically in a journal. It helps you work through anything you’ve got going on mentally, essentially allowing you to declutter. The result is that it frees up mental space.
I pair sounding off with meditation because it’s so much easier to get into that focussed, flow state of meditation when I’ve already cleared out the thoughts in my head. I’m much less likely to get distracted, and I’ve had time to clear out and log what’s in my head already.
Moreover, after sounding off for a while, you end up holding yourself accountable. After a few days of vocalising that, “Hey, look, I didn’t go for a run today” or “I didn’t get round to meditating today,” it forces you to really re-consider those choices, and see how you can better benefit yourself by better looking after yourself.
So, if you meditate regularly, try sounding off alongside it. The two practices are both rooted in mindfulness and complement each other well.
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