By: Jazlyn Moock
Like every other human, I take 20,000 breaths in one day; yet, I usually never notice a single one. I live for 1440 minutes each day, but not for a single minute do I stop to think, “Hey I’m alive.” When consumed with the daily stresses of 2020, the mind will run frantically and anxious thoughts can distract from what is truly going on around us, or even inside us. Recently, my days have tended to almost blend together, and feel eternally, numbingly long. And while I would characterize myself as a fairly positive, spiritual person, even quarantine has dragged me into a sad slump. It wasn’t until I had no idea what day it was–and subsequently had no idea the last time I took a shower–that I realized I needed to alter the way I live; I needed to become less absent-minded. As the “live in the moment,” “peace and love” hippie that I am, I was in quite the shock when I couldn’t remember what I even did over the last month, what I felt, or what I thought. I just existed without truly acknowledging or enjoying my existence–and the existence of everything around me. The solution to my mental funk you may ask? While sounding cliche, the answer was meditation.
Meditation means to simply be aware, aware of one’s emotions, surroundings, thoughts, and, most importantly, breath. Believe it or not, the easiest way to meditate is to just breathe deeply; as long as you are focusing on the breath, you are meditating. For thousands of years, breathing has been used as a route to relaxation, reduced stress, and insight–since deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, promoting a state of calmness. No matter how much or little you know about meditation, the practice of slow, thoughtful breathing can always center the mind and slow down the busy thoughts thrashing around in our heads. Whenever I begin to feel consumed or overwhelmed, I count my inhales and exhales, or watch my chest rise and fall until I feel a sense of tranquility or aliveness. There’s not a more full proof way to feel alive than to be attentive to the one thing you need to live each second.
However, the beauty of meditation is that it can be whatever you want it to be; if breathing seems too boring or minuscule to you, there are unlimited other techniques to reaching a state of awareness. Since every human is different, the ideal way to meditate is different for every person and takes trial and error to discover what fits best for you. Keep in mind that religion or spirituality are not a requirement, and the only thing you need to perform meditation is some time and an open mind. Here are some examples, pro tips, and stories of my own personal journey.
Meditation, to me, is to stop time. While in this relaxed state, time does not matter or exist. Judgment, fear, and preoccupation also fade away, leaving only the present behind. I hear, smell, taste, feel, see, and breathe in all that is now. The past and future are irrelevant and their contemplation can be cumbersome on the body, meant to experience life as it is. When taking in everything around you in the current moment, life is more real, more concrete, more thrilling, and, above all else, more enjoyable. Instead of being drowned by what you have to do, what you have done, or whatever other abstract troubles society placed upon you, you can finally be truly immersed in earth’s vivid colors, shapes, dimensions, flavors, songs, movement, and love. A simple route to feeling this sense of presentness is to just focus in on a single point. While meditating, I can do this by focusing on the breath, closely listening to ocean sounds, counting, watching a flame, or my personal favorite, watching the smoke from burning incense. The smoke will dance in wispy patterns and can be quite hypnotizing when paying close attention. Incense or candles add another layer to a meditation, as you can focus on their comforting smells as well. So remember, be attentive and be in the moment–because like they say, “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you are peeing all over today.”
Another method of meditation is to fixate on more internal occurrences and emotions–or the oceans and flames inside ourselves. As important as it is to be aware of the interactive environments around you, it is as equally important to ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What do I truly think?” In a world where we are at times defined by others, by expectations, and by preconceptions of how we should be, acknowledging our own truth and individuality can present a fresh perspective of the self–and of everything, really. By understanding our inner-turmoil and inner-love, we can then comprehend our equally beautiful and complex surroundings. To practice this self-reflection, also called mindfulness meditation, begin by noticing your breath, as always, and then observe your wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. All thoughts in this exercise are valid, and the intention is not to judge or become involved with them; just be aware of each feeling and mental note as they arise.
If starting to drift into worry or distress by certain thoughts, try returning to your breath or repeating a helpful mantra of your choice. The traditional mantra, of course, is the ancient term “om,” however, there are numerous modern mantras that I personally find more comforting and relatable, such as, “I am enough” or “Everyday in every way, I am getting stronger.” You could even repeat the lyrics of your favorite song, or make up your own mantra, as long as it is calming to you. For example, a made up mantra that I often use is “lavender lilacs, turquoise tequila.” While I have no connection to the words themselves, the sounds of the phrase roll off the tongue, still bringing my mind peace. There is much power to reciting a mantra, as they allow the mind to transcend negative thoughts with positive thoughts, strengthening the will power of the brain. So, remember tip number two, be conscious of your instinctive, natural feelings– using tools such as mantras to guide you through them.
Although, by far, walking meditation fills me with the utmost serenity and connection to myself and to life. In order to meditate while walking, one must manually move their body, one baby-step at a time, staying attentive to each and every sensation that would otherwise be taken for granted. As you walk–an action so simple yet so extraordinary–appreciate the movement of your legs, the contact of your feet with the ground, the balance of your head on your neck and shoulders, and the flow of your breath in and out of your lungs. No matter how trivial one step may seem, fully experiencing all the rhythms of the human body in action has an undeniable impact on how we perceive, how we act, and how we endure. The same logic can be applied to dance, martial arts, yoga, and other movement based activities such as tai chi and qigong; the physical expression of oneself through motion can be a pathway to the connected psychological, or even meta-physical expression of oneself.
Discovering this sense of awareness within myself has transcended my lifestyle from dull pessimism to the bright and mindful state I am in today. Yet, some still may wonder how staring at a flame or repeating the word “Om” for an hour could possibly achieve this, how the brightness of one’s spirit could go from edison to led solely from meditation. For the most part, I myself do not think I will ever completely understand all of the inner-workings that make meditation so healing; nonetheless, I know that gratitude plays an immense role. When in tune with yourself and with the rest of the world, appreciation and love can be boundless. In other words, being aware sparks gratitude. This is due to the fact that when aware, you can discover beauty in the most unexpected places. One cannot be grateful for the beauty of their own thoughts, body, or overall existence if they are not actively conscious of them; one cannot be joyed by the beauty of the smoke, of the air, of sound, of color, of taste, of light, of the moon, of the stars, of chemistry, of family, of health, of energy, or of anything if they do not surrender to the monster that is time and expectations and simply sit down and watch, feel, breathe, and acknowledge all that flourishes around them in the present moment. This is mediation; this is what I will strive towards for the rest of my life.