A sudden, jarring alarm rings and vibrates all the cell phones around the house.
A STORM SURGE WARNING is in effect for this area for the danger of life-threatening flooding.
A HURRICANE WARNING is in effect for this area for dangerous and damaging winds.
It’s 4:30 am.
Your heart pounds in your chest, your mind fluttering with fuzzy plans. We need to evacuate. Where should we go? When should we go? Do I have all our vital docs gathered? Does the dog have enough food? Is there enough gas in the car?
You go ahead and book a few nights in a hotel west of the storm, making sure they allow pets. You tiptoe downstairs and take inventory of the dog food.
Of course, now you are fully awake, but it’s too early to go grocery shopping for last minute essentials. If you start packing, that might wake up the kids. You lay down again, heart still racing, wondering if your phone will buzz again. Sleep is an elusive, far-off luxury.
Time to meditate.
Meditation is the process of being fully present. It’s a training in attention and awareness, through which an individual achieves a mentally clear, emotionally calm state of being. For me, it’s the act of stopping and restarting. When your body’s computer (brain) starts acting glitchy and overrun, meditation is the restart button.
The stress of the never-ending coronavirus pandemic compelled me to explore meditation months ago. It helped me keep everything in perspective on the days between virtual visits with my therapist. Meditation became a tool I could depend on despite the uncertainty of school openings, hurricane near misses, and the daily isolation from quarantine. It’s often the one thing that will relax me enough to sleep.
Sounds great, you say. But how do I start?
If your mind is constantly cluttered like an overstuffed closet with moving parts, even if you embrace the idea of meditation, you have no idea where to begin. Thankfully, there is a myriad of apps and websites dedicated to mental health and wellness. There are also dozens of Youtube videos that take you through the process. Here are some of my favorite resources:
Meditation Apps and Online Resources
Out of all the mental health and wellness resources out there, the Calm app is my favorite. There are courses on meditation, how to calm anxiety, sleep stories to help you settle into slumber, yoga sessions, and a diverse assortment of calming music. Celebrities are involved too: LeBron James can help you train your mind; Matthew McConaughey will lull you to sleep sharing mysteries of the universe. My personal favorite is Jeff Warren’s 30-day “How to Meditate” course– each “lesson” is under 15 minutes and walks you through the art of meditation as Warren shares his own struggles with ADD and addiction.
“Meditation, in my mind, is the most radical thing a human can do,” states Warren. “Meditation is one of the things that saved my life.”
Cost: 7 day free trial; premium subscription: $70 (about $6/month)
Insight Timer is a completely free app that allows you to track (time) your mindfulness minutes through independent practice or guided lessons. There’s a variety of meditation and mindfulness courses geared towards different techniques as well as live events by experienced practitioners and celebrities (Gisele Bundchen is sharing her meditation routine on Saturday, Oct. 10th at 9:00 am). I use this app in conjunction with Calm and love the timing and tracking features. Cost: Completely free
Headspace is an app that includes many of the same features as Calm. Notable differences include shorter meditations and courses (3-10 min per session), sleep radio (non-stop 8-hour mixes of peaceful music), and a variety of workouts that include cardio routines. No celebrities are involved. Cost: 7 day free trial; premium subscription: $70/year ($13 month)
All of the above apps also include meditations, sleep stories, and various wellness resources for children and teens.
Goodful is a Youtube channel that includes a variety of 5, 10, and 15-minute meditations as well as health awareness videos and nutritious recipes.
Mindful.org is a free website that details how and why to meditate in accessible languages and steps. The site includes free guided meditations of varying lengths to help you get started. Online courses are available at additional costs.
Ready, Set, Meditate: A Meditation Recipe
When I’m guiding my own meditations, I follow the steps of “comfort, concentrate, clear, kind.” Try to do the following steps in order for at least a few minutes:
- Get comfy. Lie down or find a comfortable seated position (I love to lie down and stretch out). Keep your eyes open or closed (I always close mine).
- Concentrate on your breath. When you breathe in, your belly should expand like a balloon. When you exhale, it should deflate. I like to imagine breathing in peace, breathing out stress.
- Clear your mind. This is the hardest part. I do this by imagining an empty beach at high tide. I breathe in as the waves roll out, out as they roll in. I acknowledge things that creep into my “beach” as I might notice people at a crowded mall. I see or hear them for a few seconds, then get back to focusing on my breath.
- Be Kind. Don’t be critical of yourself if you struggle with any of the above steps. Everything you experience is part of the process. Try to finish your meditation with a kind thought, to yourself or someone else. Giving thanks is an easy way to do this. Today I thanked the weather for being cooler and refreshing.
Meditation is especially “radical” for mothers because it forces us to take time for ourselves, even if just 5 minutes. It’s an activity that can be as ritualistic as prayer, or as random as a passing thought. It’s not just for new-age hippies; it’s for everyone. Meditation allows us to step out of our thoughts, like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air at a crowded gathering. You can see, maybe even hear the chaos inside, but being outside invites a new perspective. Instead of being consumed by noise, you can let it happen at a distance, focusing instead on the simple things: breath, body, and being.