Show of hands out there - who has tried, and given up on, meditation? Or just wondered about it? Or completely pooh-poohed the idea?
It's everywhere. You read about it on popular websites and threads. Your therapist told you to try it, and your annoyingly optimistic best friend swears by it. Maybe you don't trust the concept, or you think it has something to do with religion (no), or have to know some sort of secret handshake (perhaps now, a secret elbow bump). Maybe you've gotten the impression that you have to sit entirely still to be able to do it (also, no). I even had someone tell me they were terrified to try it because they didn't know what it would be like to not have anything going on in their head.
I can see why that impression might be unsettling, especially if it were accurate. But I've noticed a trend in clients asking about it, giving it a shot, and seeing impressive results. I don't start brand-new clients out diving into meditation, but because it is such a huge part of my personal sanity toolkit, I thought it worthwhile to take a post or two to explore the topic with you. Every little bit of relaxation helps right now.
Disclaimer: I'm not a meditation teacher, nor have I had official training (a term that sounds out of sync with what I know about it). I can say I've been a novice meditator since roughly 1994. The first time I gave it a shot, I was on vacation. I had purchased a cassette tape of guided meditations at a bookstore and popped it into an archaic sound device (known in those days as a “Walkman") in my room near the beach. I was only curious to see what the experience would be like. Since I had no preconceived notions, I had sort of a beginner's luck encounter - more relaxed than I had ever been, wide-open…it was meaningful in ways I can't adequately describe. I recall that the tape ran about 25 minutes, and involved imagining that my body was a clear, empty container, filling up with orange liquid. I have no clue why it was orange, and looking back, I have no clue why I didn't wonder about that little detail sooner. All this to say, what I'm sharing is not intended to give you an expert-level primer on meditation. But stay with me.
I kept up my cassette tape routine in the months that followed and noticed myself as more creative, patient, and steady - all things that made a huge difference in the teaching job I had at the time. I read books to learn more. I was increasingly able to trust my intuition. I didn't always maintain over the years, as children and moves and career changes would disturb the regularity of the practice. But now I've meditated every day, in some form or fashion, for the past 4-5 years. Trying to go without it now feels as uncomfortable as not brushing my teeth.
So what does it have to do with being more organized or productive? I have some observations, as well as interesting feedback from people I work with. As mentioned above, I personally feel more comfortable trusting my intuition, and you'll recall that plays a role in decision-making processes. I'm able to stay calmer in unsettling situations. The phrase "presence of mind" is relevant here. It's easier to think before I leap. What if we could all pause for a moment before we mindlessly purchased yet another notebook, or app, or a set of "organizing" supplies?
When I sense a client is really unsettled, stressed from whatever has happened immediately before a session, I often note their rapid, shallow breathing. Sometimes I'll ask if they'd like to take a deep breath or two. Full, slow breathing is relaxing, and that's because the exhale is a parasympathetic nervous system response*. It slows the heart down automatically. Observing the breath is one of the first and most common ways to begin a meditation practice. Sometimes, now, a client will even recognize how breathing helps, and ask me to do a brief guided meditation with them. Our work together flows much more comfortably after that.
At this point, I could list a lot of scientific research about the benefits, but you all can Google. I think it is equally powerful to hear feedback from those who've tried it. Paraphrasing, one client shared that it helps her to keep "toning the muscle" that allows her to step back from her ADHD emotional whirl. It helps in remembering the observing, core, central person who can distinguish thoughts.
Another stated, "I just wanted to see if I could...focus and slow my thoughts. As time went on, I started incorporating [noticing] breathing in and out. I also try to let go of something that is irritating me or something or someone I am holding a resentment about. Now, I look forward to meditation every night. When I have to miss it, I can feel the loss of calm."
Yet another summed it up this way (again, paraphrasing): It helps make the space between what's happening and what your thoughts and emotions are. When you can step back and observe the feelings, it gives you the opportunity to validate emotion and allows you to disengage from it - and make a decision not governed by the emotion.
We even identified four effects:
presence - observation - validation - disengagement
So if you're looking at a cluttered space, or a goal you haven't reached, or a tangled-up to-do list, what if you could:
So maybe all of that sounds like a huge leap - from sitting quietly, repeating mantras to getting your desk drawers Instagram-worthy. But I've seen similar things happen, even with very brief, guided meditations each day. If nothing else, a few moments of quiet somewhere in the craziness of our days can't be all bad. Sound amazing? Or maybe just vaguely intriguing?
In the next post I'll explore different ways to get started, and keep it going. In the meantime, who out there has a meditation experience to share?
Meditation is not about having yet another new strategy or self-help plan, but rather providing a framework in which to see yourself more clearly.” - Andy Puddicombe
*For more about breathing, check out a great book called Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.
Confession: I've had a hard time writing lately. It's challenging to know what's helpful, tone-deaf, encouraging, Pollyanna-ish…you get my drift.
Another confession: Over the past several weeks I've bounced between being incredibly productive and completely lethargic. Over and over. I'm like a Roomba - either motoring around doing my job or stuck spinning in circles.
But in this wild time, I've come to appreciate again just how much my home office space supports me - or holds me back. Aha. Now there might be a topic. Not so much the home office angle - there have been plenty of articles and posts about productive Work-From-Home setups already. But instead, how can a space encourage you to do the things that make you, you?
I'm reasonably sure we're all aware that a well-ordered space makes life easier, that we love looking at those attractive, organized closets and shelves online…and dreaming. But what needs to be taken into consideration in a space to help you express yourself, to support your unique brand of success? My office setup is usually ideal for me - it's been helping me to get through the pandemic challenges in lots of little, but effective ways. Small desk (yet another confession: I actually hate sitting at a desk), couch (with lots of pillows), my bookshelves (full), my plant (Edmund), my favorite prints and photos on the walls. It makes sense for both who I am and how I need to work right now. When I let the irrelevant paperwork pile up, or the books get out of whack, I notice more than ever how unsettled and unproductive it makes me feel*. If I can't settle in quickly for a Zoom meeting or to write, I know it's at least partially due to how the room is working, or not working. Would my office be a perfect setup for you? I doubt it.
One of the questions I ask clients when they are wrestling with what to do with an object is: "Does this ______(bowl, receipt, extension cord, whatever) help you to be successful?"
suc·cess (from dictionary.com)
So, taking it one step further: "Does this particular space help you to be successful?" Is it helping you make progress, or making things easier for you? If not, the next step is figuring out what would make the difference. Not just getting rid of clutter, but considering arrangement, colors, tools, lighting - everything that can make a space, and you, progress.
And so on. It's an obvious but under-appreciated fact that when we look at disorganized spaces, we're frequently focused on how awful they make us feel. If we can see past that overwhelm to what kind of supportive environment is possible, maybe even see the organization as an act of creativity in and of itself, it spurs the process on. It doesn't necessarily make the organizing and decluttering go faster (sorry), but deciding and choosing with your positive, progress-oriented outlook in mind can change the whole tone. When I've been stuck lately, if I have the presence of mind to do a little clearing, I start moving again. Before I started this post, I cleaned out a drawer and shredded some paper. I've witnessed it repeatedly - when a room is working correctly for its owner, all sorts of new and positive things open up for them.
*I do not own an "autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner", but I noted with interest in doing my research that what often causes them to spin in circles is, unsurprisingly, debris and/or obstructions.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?