Mellow your mind and embrace your thoughts through meditation
Special to the Daily
Mindfulness in the valley
• Community Guided Meditation with Karen Anderson, Vail Vitality Center, vailvitalitycenter.com.
• Awakening Awareness hosts group or individual therapy sessions with a focus on meditation, or all-female group sessions with an emphasis on mindfulness, awakeningawareness.com.
• Meditation Vail offers meditation retreats throughout the year, meditationvail.com.
• Mike Christenberry specializes in in-home meditation and mindfulness sessions for individuals or groups and can be reached at 970-390-2236 or by searching “Body & Mindworx” on Facebook.
• In Your Element offers outdoor yoga classes and guided meditation, along with retreats specializing in mindfulness. Check out facebook.com/beinyourelement for daily classes, or vailmountainguides.com/events/yoga/backcountry-yoga-summer-series-september for information about an upcoming retreat in September.
• Calm, a free, downloadable app that provides guided meditation.
I must admit, my first attempt at meditation was not a success. I tried an online course and sat at my desk trying to quiet a mind that I’ve often compared to a news ticker, with everything from deadlines and emails to current events and recent conversations buzzing through my head — everything and anything but mindfulness.
At the end of the 15-minute meditation session, I had mentally wandered off from the guided practice several times, and I had paused the recording just as often to turn around everything on my desk. I felt more relaxed and a bit calmer, but I couldn’t help thinking that I had probably missed the larger point.
The larger point is one that is commonly misunderstood by those newer to the nuances of meditation and really doesn’t have much to do with turning off the workings of the mind, but more with learning to deal with the ups and downs of life in a conscious and introspective way.
It’s a practice that stems from taking in the pleasantries and un-pleasantries and indifferences in life and not dwelling and stewing in those sensations, but thoughtfully working through them knowing that they are passing moments that don’t define our existence. Oftentimes, learning to mitigate these responses with more thoughtful inner dialogue can be helpful in nurturing the things we value, as opposed to the things we don’t, and fostering better community connections.
A common misunderstanding of meditation often leads would-be practitioners down a well-intentioned but somewhat misguided path toward the actual goals of developing a practice. Karen Anderson has been a longtime presence in the Vail Valley, as both a yoga instructor and as a leader of guided meditation classes, and explained that the more traditional intention of a meditation practice is to learn to deal with the ups and downs of life in a conscious way. She described meditation as an efficient way to redirect energy from the things we can’t control to the things we can.
“What happens with daily practice is that we start to develop a sort of gap after experiencing something that would normally trigger us into anxiety or regret. During this gap, we are able to see what’s happening clearly and choose a response,” she said. “As we become more confident in this ability over time, we stress less and, instead, gain confidence in our ability to navigate life gracefully.”
Jessica Waclawski, a relationship therapist and owner of Awakening Awareness, a mental health practice based in the Vail Valley, said she has seen meditation as a facilitator of positive growth for both individuals and groups, and many misinterpret the aim of meditation as turning off consciousness, as opposed to embracing it.
“There’s so many misconceptions and myths to what meditation really is,” she said. “That quiet sitting practice is one form, but it’s really about learning how to accept thoughts that come and emotions that arise without getting hooked into a domino effect or a downward spiral.”
Much of the inward focus and heightened self-awareness of meditation is meant to draw more conscious perceptions of the world, as opposed to reactive ones. Creating a more conscious acceptance of the variances between pleasant, unpleasant and indifferent experiences is often a key part of being able to cope with stress, loss, anxiety and fear in a productive manner.
Oftentimes, especially in the current polarized and hyper-responsive world, a more conscious processing of events can help develop a thoughtful inner dialogue to handle disagreeable situations or aid in conversation between people or groups with adverse ideas without the knee-jerk reaction that seems to be so prevalent in today’s discourse.
Polly Fitzgerald, of West Vail, has been a regular practitioner of meditation over the past three years, both via guided classes and on her own, and said that the difference she sees within her own reactions has been profound and one that she thinks is important for developing better community connections.
“You become less reactive to those things you can’t control,” she said, “If you can take a breath and be more accepting of yourself, it makes it easier for smaller things, like not having the bus show up on time, and that affects so many people positively. It’s made it easier to be a community member.”
Being able to process these less-pleasant thoughts and emotions is often helpful in mitigating anger that can arise from situations that are beyond our control and in realizing how to focus that energy on more positive and productive aspects of life.
Developing a practice
Finding the time to begin a meditation practice may seem daunting to some, but taking even a few minutes during the day for mindfulness can be rewarding for many. Anderson advocates developing a practice as a means to stay grounded and boost productivity during a busy day, either by finding time to consciously stop and meditate or by taking the principles of practice into daily situations.
“Meditation practice makes the mind much less likely to be distracted, and therefore you will be more productive during the rest of your day,” she said. “However, there is absolutely a way to practice the same techniques in daily situations. Simply engage in your chosen practice mentally, during daily situations, all day. Or, check in and do it regularly at chosen intervals.”
Waclawski similarly advocates finding time throughout the day to focus inward in order to stay grounded and said even a few moments spent focusing on breathing can be advantageous to mental health.
“Take a 30-second break and focus on your breath,” she said, “Try taking a few minutes on a hike and, instead of looking at the trail, look around you and become present. It just starts with focusing on your breath — that in itself is a type of meditation.”
As for me, my practice is still ongoing, as I’ve begun to find more purpose in the habit now that I’ve begun embracing the thoughts that arise during a session as opposed to trying to shoo them away. Everything on my desk, however, remains turned around.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.