Everyone tells you to meditate. All the women’s magazines, all the pamphlets in the student health office, all the self-help books — meditate, meditate, meditate. It’ll relieve stress and make you happy! (Not that I constantly Google “how to de-stress” or anything….)
I didn’t follow everyone’s advice because I’m a skeptic, because it was faddish, and because it seemed far too Eastern mystic and far less Western Christian.
I finally broke down this summer. The anxiety and depression that hit me in my late-teen years came back with a vengeance during senior year. Then I got married. Then I moved to the middle-of-nowhere. Then a monster took over my emotions, and I said, did, and felt things that made me want to crawl in a hole and die. I felt completely trapped by my emotional outbursts and the resulting insomnia, relationship problems, and spiritual angst.
I wanted to get a grip on myself. I wanted to cultivate peace and stillness, both for my mental health and for my spiritual growth. Mother Teresa said,
The fruit of silence is prayer;
The fruit of prayer is faith;
The fruit of faith is love;
The fruit of love is service;
The fruit of service is peace.
— Where There Is Love, There Is God
All my favorite Christian saints agreed. I just never could quiet my mind enough to meditate on Scripture.
With those goals in mind, I decided to swallow my skepticism about mumbo jumbo heathen self-help and give guided mindfulness meditation a try — and I love it.
It’s not weird or heathen or even spiritual. It trains my mind to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and reconnect with my body. It feels like cognitive behavior therapy, for me the most effective treatment of my depression and anxiety. I use an app called Breathe that recommends a guided mindfulness meditation depending on my mood.
It got lots of moods, let me tell you. Angry? Remember that the person who hurt you desires the same goals as you do. Depressed? Try a full body scan that relaxes even my insomnia to sleep. Sobbing uncontrollably? Listen to a calm voice tell you that you have the power to make choices for the better.
I felt empowered knowing there was something I could do when my emotions paralyzed me. Whenever I felt the anxiety or depression roll through, I popped in my earbuds, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and got busy centering my mind on things that were true and good. From there, it was easier to transition into meaningful prayer.
Turns out, mindfulness meditation, the practice of experiencing the moment, helps me even when my eyes are open and my emotions clear — paying attention in church, falling asleep, even sex. Anything that requires a fully-engaged mind, mindfulness meditation helps.
So here’s one more voice telling you to give mindfulness meditation a try. Would you do it?