A Reflection On Meditation and Mindfulness From a Beginner

 
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Meditation and mindfulness can be easily misunderstood—I certainly misunderstood them for a long time. I‘ve only started practicing in the past five months, so I am still well aware of the challenges and misconceptions for beginners.

Meditation was something that I always wanted to do—thought it was a good idea, but never had enough time. When I did try, I was met with frustration as I constantly wondered, “Am I even doing this thing right?”

My understanding, and maybe yours too, was that I was supposed to sit or lay down in a comfortable position, close my eyes, and think about nothing. Thinking about anything during meditation was the Cardinal Sin.

This line of thinking fed a destructive feedback loop—as a thought popped into my head, I started thinking about how I was having thoughts when I wasn’t supposed to! It seemed the more I tried the harder it got and my efforts ended in disappointment.

I was happy to learn that these thoughts were perfectly normal, and I was comforted knowing that everyone has these thoughts, especially beginners.

The better way to deal with the thoughts that pop into your head during meditation is to sit back and just observe them come and go with no judgement at all.

As each thought comes in, it will leave soon enough—just like waves come and go on a beach. I noticed that, at first, I only had moments of one or two seconds between waves of thoughts, but as I practiced the intervals between my thoughts steadily got longer.

By simply observing my thoughts without judgement, and letting them go, I saw that my mind had been hard-wired to be restless.

Another misconception I had about meditation and mindfulness is that they require a long time, quite space, and solitude to do correctly.

The truth is you can meditate just about anywhere with even the smallest amount of effort!

If you think meditating while you are driving is a bad idea, think again. As Kyle said, stoplights offer the perfect opportunity to pause, breathe, and appreciate the beauty around you.

A few deep breaths (from your diaphragm rather than your chest) can help you over-ride your body’s built-in stress response in about 10 seconds.

There is truly no better time than when you are walking, standing, or waiting in line to frame your mind in the present moment.

My favorite mindfulness advice that I try to practice daily and will challenge you to do is this:

Simply pick a color each day that you will notice as you go through your day. I like yellow and orange.

As you go about your day, take the time to stop and appreciate your color when you see it.

That’s it.

I like this exercise because it’s simple, but extremely effective. It always succeeds in snapping me back into the present moment. Whatever you were thinking or stressing about in the seconds before will melt away; even if only for a few fleeting moments, your concerns will be non-existent.

I also enjoy being mindful of colors because it allows me to appreciate the beauty in everyday things. However, colors aren’t the only way to remind you to be mindful as you go about your day. Shapes, sounds, smells, or literally anything that helps you remember to be present can work.

Take the little time and effort and you may be surprised at just how much beauty is surrounding you right now.

Check out this article on how to meditate to learn how you can start your own meditation routine.

David Knorr is an Earth and Environmental Science graduate student at Vanderbilt. He practices meditation and mindfulness to help calm his mind.