Today was the ten year anniversary of 9/11. There was ample material on the web to reacquaint myself with the events of that day. I looked the picture of an adorable, two year old, Patricia Smith, wearing the medal of honor awarded to her mother, a fallen NYPD police officer who lost her life evacuating the towers. Listening to a voice mail that a woman on one of the planes left a loved one sending her love for the last time, my heart hurt for her as tears rolled down my cheeks. When viewing a picture of a person jumping from a burning tower to their certain death, I imagined the terror they must have felt. I had no plans to take part in a commemorative event, but I did want to honor and respect the day personally somehow extending compassion, gratitude, and loving energy to those who lost their lives, gave their lives helping others and those they left behind. I meditated on it.
In the spring of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon gushed 4.9 million gallons of oil for over three months into the Gulf of Mexico devastating marine life and wildlife habitats and the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. I was terribly distraught by the countless pictures of the oil soaked pelicans and the live, underwater video footage of huge amounts of oil spilling into the ocean. I kept talking to the video, telling the oil to “Stop! Stop!” I meditated on it daily.
In March of 2011, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan triggered a devastating tsunami killing around 17,000, injuring 6,000 more and causing numerous nuclear disasters. In horror, I watched the real time footage of a colossal wall of the water lumbering over the land taking almost everything with it. With tremendous empathy for the bedraggled Japanese people, I felt guilty wondering if it was smart for me to go to California right then because some reports predicted the radioactive effects from the compromised nuclear power plant might be felt on the west coast of the U. S. I meditated on it.
Meditation comes in many different flavors with exotic names like zazen, tonglen and vispassana or it can be as plain and simple as just focusing on your breath. Basically, most practices involve three essentials: 1) Focusing on something simple and non thought provoking like the breath or a single word or sound. 2) Consciously relaxing the body. 3) Exercising a passive awareness of the mind.
When I started meditating three years ago, I read countless “how to” guides, watched instructional videos, listened to guided meditations, and attended workshops. Practicing with eyes open and closed, staring at a candle flame, a single carpet thread, and about every other way imaginable, I tried hard to learn to meditate the “right” way. I’ve meditated with Gregorian chants, Tibetan chimes, classical and ambient music, native drumming, chirping birds, and white noise in the background.
After all of this variety, over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that, within reason, there’s really no right or wrong way to meditate. What’s “right” is whatever works for me that day. At first, I did follow a more structured guide line while I got comfortable with the practice. I also incorporated visualizations, affirmations, gratitude lists, and thought reframing into my sessions, at first, because I found that my mind needed to do something to do. These somethings were better than thinking about the crud in the dog’s ear, I figured. I learned to be aware of and control my thoughts which evolved into true meditation eventually. To me, that is what meditation is all about: learning to be aware of your thoughts and directing your mind.
Now, in my daily sessions, I may dedicate a small amount of time to visualization and similar things on some days or none at all on other days. If I feel the need, I may devote the meditation session to focusing compassion and healing on a global event or I may seek to express emotion and gain understanding and healing around a private, emotional issue or I may set the intent to tune into innate and universal wisdom for guidance for a specific topic.
What matters most, to me, is that meditation calls on me to take the time to calm my mind and turn my focus inward. It is a tool which provides a healthy outlet to express emotions, question and analyze my thought processes and motivations, and try on different perspectives. Meditation allows me to feel as if I am actively doing something in situations where I would otherwise feel powerless. In reality, I am. I am consciously living and choosing my reactions to the events around me.
Meditation is an integral part of my life. It is whatever I need it to be to meet my mental and emotional needs on that particular day. The practice keeps me centered, balanced, motivated and appreciative. It’s the only “happy pill” I have ever found and I believe it can work magic for anyone. Whether you want to call it praying, meditating, reflecting, visualizing -whatever -start turning inward and calming you mind for just ten minutes a day. It will change your life for the better. Promise.