The number one complaint I hear from patients is their never ending struggle with "busy brain." You've been there. You crawl into your cozy bed. It's quiet. The lights are off, and suddenly you think of the humiliating debate experience you had in 8th grade. Or the toilet paper you forgot to pick up at the grocery store, or that one guy's name you just can't remember! Egad! Make it stop! But you can't make it stop. It's infinite. Before you know it, it's 4:30 a.m. and you've worried the night away. I hear this complaint literally every day, multiple times. People come up with the most creative ways to compensate for this overactive cranium issue. I had one patient that would get up and crochet in the dark, to soothe her mind and offer a distraction. Another chose cupcakes. Many frosted cupcakes fed her soul (and belly), just enough to drift off peacefully. I don't know about all that. I think I would start dreaming about purple dragons or some such nonsense.
While I began a meditation practice years ago- as I was consumed with anxiety in grad school, my experience has evolved over time. The skills I first struggled with, have now become second nature to me. Here are the basics I was taught:
1) Ground. I used to experience something funky when I started to meditate. It was similar to what I felt at the age of 21, after clubbing with friends, and finally laying down to sleep. Spinning- which is extremely unpleasant. I had a friend that taught me to ground ground ground! What does that even mean? She said, picture your bum as if it were the base of a tree, and your roots are going down into the ground- all the way into the center of the earth. This is supposed to offer the feeling of stability and connectivity that keeps that spinny-thing from happening. It really works!
2) Center. I was told to picture my body like a crumpled up piece of paper (work with me here). The center of this ball was my belly button. While closing my eyes, I needed to picture this ball of paper expanding with each breath I took, and contracting back into a ball. Over several breaths, this "ball" became a perfectly flat (and centered) piece of paper....or human.
3) Breathe. Once I was grounded and centered, I started to focus on the breath. Ideally, you would use your diaphragm (muscles you use when breathing with your belly) to breathe in for four counts through the nose, and out for four counts through the mouth, like blowing out a candle. Not only does this promote yummy oxygenation, but it can diffuse panic like no-one's business.
4) Let it go. This phrase will never be the same will it? Every time one of those sneaky thoughts come rushing onto the main stage of your mind's eye, watch that thought literally float away. You're thinking about bills? Watch the pile of envelopes fly away like a pile of Hogwarts letters stalking Harry on his 11th birthday. A conflict with your boss? Picture him/her on top of a trap door and push the button until they are swallowed up. Not a problem anymore huh? Oh, this gets fun! Granted, you may have to do this 100 times before you're head is peaceful enough to drift off to dreamland, but it works.
Over the years, I have exercised this process so thoroughly, that I can turn into a "Zen Master Flash" within moments. I've expanded this practice to include guided meditations, body scan meditations, and progressive muscle relaxations. You don't have to be a Tibetan yogi guru to attain peace (though it doesn't hurt). Just give yourself the time, patience, and repetition to find your groove. I'm so thankful for meditation. It has helped me recover from over-stimulation at Costco on a Saturday afternoon, defused thinking that only ends down the rabbit hole, and quieted the most unquiet of minds. Give it a go. Your inner peace is waiting. Happy Gratitude Tuesday! What are you thankful for?