It’s autumn. Change is the theme of the season. The weather is cooling, leaves are falling and we find ourselves preparing for the quietude this coming winter. While I’m riding the ebbs and flows of each day, I’ve found it easy to lose myself in the constantly changing rhythms of life. I’m watching the wind push the sails of my friends’ boats onward into the ocean as I am stuck here, feet bound to the shore. It’s a contradiction: so much is happening as I feel the world passing by and simultaneously I see everyone progressing as I stand still in the chaos.
This past week I’ve reminded myself how even in the midst of chaos, when all seems unpredictable, there is still a constant. There is still my breath, a thing I can control when all seems uncontrollable.
It’s led me down a rabbit hole of researching how impactful meditation is on the human body. How is it not considered a form of magic? When the world picks up speed and my only tether to the here/now is my breathwork.
In for four.
Hold for four.
Out for four.
I’m not the first person to realize that slowing down is an easy and accessible form of mindfulness and self-care. Tibetan Buddhism considers meditation as a form of medicine.
Tibetan Buddhism views meditation as a way of becoming acquainted with the mind. Without judgment we watch our thoughts and emotions pass through us. We approach each thought and emotion with curiosity, rather than condemnation. As we witness different thoughts and feelings emerge, we realize the impermanence of it all. Just as joyful thoughts come and go, so do negative thoughts. We learn not to attach ourselves to any emotion. Instead we learn how to hold compassion for ourselves as we feel the varying emotions of the human experience.
More than just mental, the benefits of meditation also exist physically. Brain studies demonstrate that people with regular meditation practices have a lower baseline cortisol level, making them more level headed in stressful moments.
Harvard also conducted a study on how Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MCBT) helps treat depression. Through a series of studies, researchers conducted MRI scans of patients’ brains to evaluate how they respond to depression with the assistance of meditation versus without. The study needs to still be repeated with a control group for those with depression who haven’t received MCBT care. But the data from previous studies indicate that meditation parallels the benefits of antidepressants in some patients.
Meditation does not look a certain way. Sometimes meditation is when I’m on a run and all I can focus on is my breath making its way in and out of my body, focusing my attention on the pace of my breath as it changes. Being left with no choice but to be in awe of how incredible it is: Me, here, running, breathing.
Just as the seasons change, so does my relationship with meditation. I’ll go through periods of using the Headspace app every day, maintaining a weeks-long streak of meditating. Other times, as it was a week ago, I’ll go through a months-long drought where I am lucky if I remember to channel this sort of awareness at all. Still, because of meditation and the compassion it cultivates, I don’t judge myself for this. I ask what I can do to incorporate it more often.
There are so many different kinds of meditation too. One I’ve been sitting with recently is the “Beginner’s Mindset” meditation. Beginner’s mindset introduces the idea of approaching every aspect of your life, whether it be making breakfast, going to class, or seeing the sky as if it is your first time. Consequently, it evokes humility and appreciation for the seemingly mundane elements of life.
Meditation is intimidating. Creating a space where there’s no barrier between you and your thoughts is daunting. Still it is vital. Still it is transformative. By slowing down we allow ourselves to fall into the rhythms of the earth.