Five Things I Learned from Meditating

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If you thought this article would be all rah-rah about meditating, think again. Believe me, that was my original intention. While I didn’t become a meditative master, I did learn a few things along the way, and in that sense, meditating was indeed a useful exercise. Here are my five big takeaways:

The Slipperiness of Time

I used the Headspace app, which offers 10 free meditation sessions. The premise is simple: Take 10 minutes out of your day to recharge. On the surface, 10 minutes doesn’t sound like very long. And yet, actually telling myself to sit down in a chair for 10 minutes to use the app proved strangely difficult. My inner dialogue went something like this: Ten whole minutes?! But I could be doing so many other things with that time! I could be scrolling through Instagram … or mindlessly snacking … or googling “Bachelor recaps” … or a million other important things.

Yeah.

Once I got through the mental hurdle of “giving up” my precious time, those 10 minutes went surprisingly fast. I was always shocked when the meditation guide announced we were done for the day. I didn’t always feel refreshed, but I always felt amazed that 10 minutes had passed.

I guess Einstein was right. Time really is relative.

The World is Noisy

I’m not just talking about mental noise, though that’s often loud enough to make me toss and turn at night. The world around us is constantly “on.” In the first few minutes of each session, the app asks its user to listen for sounds. Even in my quiet condo, I could distinctly hear the hum of the refrigerator, the chime of the elevator, the occasional siren blaring outside.

It was a good reminder to continue to hone my listening skills. My other senses don’t need as much encouragement – hello, the taste buds are always ready for something delicious – but how often am I distracted when a friend or colleague is really trying to talk to me? Emails beckon, laundry needs folding and our multitasking culture tells me to do it all. Headspace gave me the push to pause and truly listen.

Forgiveness

Though I wrote somewhat cavalierly about my meditation experience, I was disappointed in myself. What did it say about my character that I gave up so easily? Why couldn’t I be more dedicated? Was I really unable to devote a measly 10 minutes per day to this effort? Shame turned to rage turned to rationalization (“I have a lot on my plate right now!”) turned to forgiveness.

Did I give meditation my absolute best shot? I can’t say that I did, but I’m okay with that. For one thing, it doesn’t mean I won’t try again in the future. For another, it led me to write this article and really think through the process. Most importantly, I reached outside my comfort zone to attempt something new, and while the results weren’t earth-shattering, it’s small risks like these that ultimately help us grow.

Alternate Routes to Meditation

I did feel more relaxed after most of the sessions, but it wasn’t clear how long that sense of calmness lasted. And though each session went quickly (see above), I couldn’t shake the sense that 10 minutes had been thrown down the drain. The fact of the matter is that I would have rather spent those minutes engrossed in a book. This was a lightning-bolt moment. Meditation had become a chore instead of something eagerly anticipated. Reading, on the other hand, is always on the top of my “want to do” list, and when I’m immersed in a good book, I achieve that centeredness that I craved through meditation.

Once I acknowledged this surprising realization, I lost all desire to meditate. On day six, when I should have sat down in a straight-backed chair with my feet flat on the ground and plugged into the app, I shrugged and headed for the couch instead. I curled up under a blanket, turned on a lamp and reached for my book. Ahh. All felt right in the world.

Take What You Need

Okay, so it’s obvious by now that I’m not going to incorporate meditation into my daily routine. That said, some of the tips and techniques will stay with me. I like the idea of closing my eyes to gain a quick moment of inner peace. I like the notion of occasionally just letting my mind wander where it wants to go. And I like the forced calm of breathing deeply when I’m in a stressful situation.

Maybe I won’t put everything together at once, but I think this piecemeal strategy is my mind’s way of helping me toward serenity, one small step at a time.

Let us know!

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About Kelsey Schagemann

Kelsey is a former NCAA Division III cross country and track athlete who exchanged sneakers for spin shoes in her twenties. Hailing from the great state of Oregon (by way of St. Louis, where she spent her childhood), Kelsey has made Chicago her home since 2006. She can often be found at the helm of her daughter’s stroller, walking miles throughout the city. Her other favorite fitness activities include spinning, yoga, lifting weights and biking. As a freelance writer, Kelsey works with universities, nonprofits, websites and magazines (visit bit.ly/kelseyschagemann for more information). In her spare time, she enjoys trying new recipes, traveling with her family and keeping the library in business. Kelsey holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.