Lessons Learned from my Meditation Habit

My Meditation Journey

I started meditating on March 11, 2020 as a way to help me quiet my mind enough to fall asleep. My goal was to do 10 minutes of mediation every night before bed. In the beginning, the meditation helped so much that I was asleep before the guided meditation ended, but the more I practiced (and the more sleep I got), the better I became at staying awake through the entire meditation.

I started with the Navigating Change course on the Headspace App. I’ve moved on to many other courses since then, and with each new course that I take, I learn more and more about who I truly am. (Meditation is not the only thing that has helped me in this way, journaling and going to therapy have also been huge for me.)

Lessons Learned

  1. The goal of meditation is not to maintain a quiet mind, but to notice when the mind has wandered and bring it back.

Before I started meditating, a friend explained that oftentimes beginners of meditation become frustrated by the fact that they can’t maintain a quiet mind throughout the entire meditation (or they won’t start meditating because they don’t think they can maintain this stillness). She said for her, it was easier to look at meditation as an exercise – when you notice your mind wandering and you can bring it back, that’s like doing a rep during a workout. The more times you can notice your brain wandering, the stronger you become.

What this translates to outside of your meditation practice, is being able to take a step back and notice your thoughts and feelings as you’re experiencing them, ultimately creating the space you need to become less reactive.

  1. Nothing is permanent. Everything is changing all the time. (Even our thoughts and feelings.)

This lesson came from the Navigating Change course on the Headspace App and it was very difficult for me to learn. Change has always been challenging for me, both positive and negative change, so surrendering to the idea that nothing is permanent gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I had no control over anything. After going through the course (twice), that fear slowly faded and what was left in its place was a feeling of freedom.

In some ways, the freedom that I felt was a freedom from the “rules” that I had placed on myself long ago. I used to be the type of person who would get stuck in a bad mood simply because I wouldn’t allow myself to feel better – I would relive whatever upset me the rest of the day, if not for weeks. I would also “stay the course” on something that didn’t make me happy simply because I didn’t want to look wishy-washy. But by accepting that things change (and that it’s completely normal and acceptable) I was able to break away from those rigid ways of thinking and lean into happiness.

  1. It’s not our thoughts and feelings that are the problem. It’s our thoughts about our thoughts and feelings that cause us pain.

We cannot control our thoughts and feelings. They just come and go, whether we want them to or not. Often, they’re conditioned responses from our past experiences. We can’t control them, and yet, when the thoughts or feelings we experience are negative, we berate ourselves for it or we feel guilt or shame. Through meditation, I’m beginning to learn how to let these initial thoughts and feelings go (or exist) without adding extra thoughts and feeling onto them. In her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David mentions how we can spiral into these feelings, so please, if you’re trying to let go and you notice that you’re feeling guilt or shame about a thought or feeling, do not add more guilt or shame onto it. Simply notice it and let it go.

  1. Difficult moments are easier to move through when we center ourselves in the present.

This lesson comes from an experience I had shortly after I started meditating. I was having a particularly hard time at work and woke up in the middle of the night to an anxiety attack. I recalled things I did during mediation as well as ideas I had learned from Emotional Agility: I labeled my experience as “thinking” and “feeling”, focused on what was happening in my body (heart racing, breathing short and quick), and noted that the thought which caused the anxiety attack was a thought about the future, it wasn’t real. Almost instantly my anxiety was gone and I was able to go back to sleep.

There are many different ways to recenter yourself when you’re having a difficult time. I think the most popular is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Other things that I’ve found helpful is journaling and/or going for a walk. Of course, there’s also meditation. The Headspace app has SOS meditations on feeling overwhelmed, panicking, feeling flustered, and more.

I have learned so much from meditation over the last year. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be as far as I am today if I hadn’t introduced this habit into my life. It isn’t always easy of course, there have been times when I have to take a step back and reevaluate my goals with meditation and times when I was just too tired to meditate, but all in all, this has been one of the most helpful habits that I’ve created over the last year. If you’re feeling lost, this is definitely one place I recommend starting.

Popular Meditation Apps to Get you Started

If none of these apps work for you, you can also search YouTube to find what works best for you!