Meditation can be challenging when you have a chronic illness, but the benefits of learning to accept regular distraction with compassion, make it a worthwhile pursuit and we soon find other benefits build up.
And then life throws us a curve ball, all of a sudden, our emotions are in turmoil and it becomes even more difficult to settle into a practice.
My recent curve ball was rather a pleasant one in a way. I met somebody I liked, I started to get to know him slowly, then all of a sudden, I found out that within a week he was going on holiday for 3 weeks and wasn’t coming back until after I leave for England for 2 months. Wham, I found I just couldn’t settle into meditation any more, my mind was just filled with thoughts of him. I started off by being annoyed with myself, why was I letting someone I didn’t even know yet interfere with such an important part of my self-care? But of course, that didn’t help at all! So I took stock and revisited some of the meditation lessons I’ve learned, to find strategies for dealing with this constant distraction:
It is as it is!
Resisting and judging the fact that I was being constantly distracted was just adding further tension to my system. Once I accepted that ‘it is as it is’, that my emotions were in a strange kind of turmoil and that I was being bombarded with thoughts, I found a little more peace.
Then I decided to be kind to myself about it all. I found compassion for the fact that I felt ridiculously unsettled, I chose to treat the fact that I was being bombarded with distracting thoughts with a caring attitude. Whenever I caught myself having drifted off into a fantasy world I chose to treat myself with a sense of loving acceptance instead of annoyance.
Employ the monkeys
The ultimate aim of meditation is to be able to stand back and become an observer of experience. However, this can be extremely challenging when the ‘monkey mind’ is in overdrive. A first step in learning to tame the noisy, hyperactive monkeys in our mind, enough so that we can stand back and just watch, is to give them something to do. I don’t remember the name of the teacher, but I once saw a video where the idea was described as sending the monkey up and down a pole. Usually this pole is your breath, you engage your mind in following your breath. I’ve found that there are certain meditation practises that more actively engage the monkeys. In other words, they engage your focus more actively. Counting the breath, is one of the techniques that helps me with this. Here are some of the meditations that I’ve found are more effective at employing the monkeys:
- Ohm chanting. I recently discovered the insight timer app and one of the background sounds provided is an ohm sound. I’ve found that chanting along with this ohm sound has not only employed my monkeys but has lulled them into a peaceful state.
- The So Hum meditation with breath counting. Breathing naturally without conscious control, aim to follow each in breath with a silent sound of soooooo, and each out breath with the silent sound of Huuummmm, making the sounds last the length of the breath. As well as aiming to match the sounds exactly with the breath you are also aiming to listen to those sounds in your head. In the space at the end of the exhalation count each breath, counting only to 7 before starting again at 1.
- The four chakra cleanse. In this meditation, you breathe in for the count of 6 imagining your chest cavity filling with energy. Then hold for the count of 3 focusing this energy in on your heart chakra (visualising the colour green if have a strong visual imagery). As you breathe out to the count of 8, you take the energy up through the chakras with your attention, pausing for two breaths at each. At your throat chakra visualise the colour blue, at the third eye, the colour indigo, at your crown chakra the colour violet and then at a point a couple of inches above the crown visualise a bright white light. Hold for the count of 2-3 allowing the energy you’ve been moving to dissolve and join with the universal energy all around you. Count each breath cycle up to 7 then start again at 1.
- Extending my gratitude practice. At the end of my meditation session I usually spend a couple of moments focusing in on gratitude and appreciation. I’ve found that my monkeys can be helpfully employed by actively looking for as many things as I can possible think of to be grateful for. This has become a bigger proportion on my practice in the last few days.
Regular short sittings
Extreme self-compassion means not forcing yourself to do something that could become frustrating and unpleasant. Instead of sitting down to meditate for 20-30 minutes, I’ve allowed my main meditation practice to be as short as 10 minutes. Then I’ve topped it up with 2-3 x 5 minute practises throughout the day.
Fortunately, now that my friend has left and I can no longer take any action, my unsettledness has calmed and I am building back up to my more extensive practise. But often the kind of emotional turmoil that can disturb a meditation practice can take a lot more time to deal with, so be patient while you process what you need to process. Trust that even if you’re not achieving the same kind of peace that meditation brought you before the turmoil, it is still an important practise that is bringing you all kinds of benefits that may not be immediately obvious to you right now!
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