If you’re like me, you’ve felt anxiety, stress, anger, and a bunch of other emotions in the last nine days. That’s normal. We’re in a stressful place. 2016 has been a bad year for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. What I’m afraid of, and what I don’t want to happen, is for what’s going on in the world change me. I don’t want to become a more closed off, angry, less gentle person.
That doesn’t mean I don’t plan to do what I can to fight against what I fear is coming, but that I can’t let someone else’s small mindedness and hate turn me into a more small minded and hateful person.
A small thing that I’m doing in order to work against those instincts in myself — that maybe would be useful to others — is to have a daily meditation practice. I’ve been doing this practice semi-regularly for a few months now. When I’m consistent I feel like it helps me have greater awareness, focus, and ability to handle my emotions in stressful situations. I believe that especially now, as things are so uncertain, this kind of clear-mindedness is something that is going to help us respond to the challenges which are coming in the most meaningful ways.
I’m not an expert in meditation by any definition, but I can give a few tips and recommendations based on what’s helped me so far.
My first recommendation is to go easy on yourself. You’re not trying to “clear your mind”, you’re going to miss days, and some days will be a lot harder than others. It will get easier. Just keep doing it.
I’ve found starting with guided meditation to be useful. I use Headspace, but I’m sure there are other places to find guided meditation, and probably some free ones. The reason I like it is that it gives me some direction while meditating so I’m not sitting there wondering the whole time if I’m doing right.
Reading books on Buddhism and meditation is a good compliment to the practice. You don’t have to be a buddhist to meditate, but knowing some of the philosophy is useful for taking your practice with you when you’re not meditating. By far the best book I’ve read is The Heart of the Buddhas Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’re looking for a quick intro to meditation — and a little buddhism — Sit Like a Buddha by Lodro Rinzler is short, easy to read, and will get you started.
If you can meditate with others, try it. The times I’ve gone to my local Zen Center, done their meditation class, and listened to their talks on Buddhism have been nice. If you have something like that, maybe check it out. Meeting other people who’ve been through or are going through the same things with their practice can help you stay motivated.
This is a challenging time to stay calm, open minded, and clear headed. Many of us are living in a state of anticipatory grief right now and feeling like we will be for several months at least. It’s normal to feel this way, but it’s also important to realize that letting these emotions control us and make us catatonic, or lash out without thinking, is the least useful thing we can be doing to prepare right now. What we need is to find a way to give ourselves a little space from our emotions so that when the hit comes we’re ready to respond.