Less Stress, More Focus: Meditation for the Chaotic Mind
I am, for all intents and purposes, someone who is really, really bad at getting things done.
No, really. It takes a special amount of motivation to get me to finish the things I start—from cleaning the kitchen, to making a schedule, to writing my novel. I have to be in the right mood; or at least in the right feeling. However, no matter how much I may not want to do something, life is such that I have to do things anyway (we’ve all been there). The biggest question I’ve had to answer for myself is this: how do I find more motivation within my life? How do I find more mindful productivity when the things I should be productive about feel more stressful than desirable?
The clearest answer I’ve been able to find is meditation. To give myself time in my day to meditate, clear my mind, and find some much-needed focus. And then, almost miraculously, I find that those things I had just been stressing about seem more manageable. Meditation helps us realize that when we focus on one thing at a time, our crazy chaotic checklists for each day are suddenly more ordered; we feel like we can get more done. Our brains are really bad at multitasking. I’m sure you’ve experienced this; when we try to do everything at once, things immediately fall apart. Meditation shows us that when we instead do one thing at a time, and finish each of those things before moving on to the next, we get so much more done.
A few weeks ago, I was incredibly stressed about deadlines. I’m a natural procrastinator, so I waited until I felt like I couldn’t wait anymore to tackle a certain piece of writing that I didn’t really know what to do with. I sat there for at least an hour, headed to the Internet for “inspiration” (or rather, YouTube videos), and played with a few themes that ended before they even began. I was truly stuck. I knew that I needed to focus, but if I didn’t even know what to focus on, I was stuck in an endless circle of frustration. So, after procrastinating for much longer than necessary, I finally sat down—angrily—and closed my eyes. Straightened my spine. And just breathed. It was only for five minutes, but during those five minutes I allowed my brain to stop circling. To stop searching. To just relax. And then, before I was even finished, a little spark lit up in my brain. It was almost too easy. I wanted to write about meditation. Because it honestly helps, so much.
You know, for being the real secret to everything, people overlook meditation way too much.
When life feels stressful and chaotic and you know your body is trying to avoid being productive at tackling all those crazy things, sit down. Yes, really! Sit down. Take a deep breath. And meditate.
Close your eyes. Yes, really close them. Blindfold yourself for the first time if you have trouble. Trust that your other senses will kick in when they need to.
And then simply begin to notice your breath.
How does it flow within you? Is all of your breath directed in the center of your chest or do you naturally expand it into the belly and back? How does it feel coming in through your nose, down your throat, into your lungs, and back out again? These are all great things to begin noticing.
And then, once you become familiar with your natural breath pattern, deepen it. Fill up your lungs beginning down in your belly and lower back first, and then expand upward. As you exhale, do so out of the top of your lungs first—and then make your way to the bottom. Make sure to keep your inhales and exhales equal in length.
Stay here with the breath a while. Become more familiar. Become more aware.
Now notice your senses. How does your body feel, sitting where you are? What can you hear around you? How does your tongue taste on the roof of your mouth?
Once you’ve become hyper-aware of those senses, release them. One by one, let go of your hold on the senses. Draw inward. Begin to focus your mind on a mantra, or a one-sentence blurb you say in your mind over and over again that captures the essence of how you desire to feel. If you are stressed or trying to avoid, maybe repeat in your mind something as simple and direct as “I can do this.” Or “I can find focus within the chaos.” But choose something and repeat it within you.
Do this for as long as necessary. Until you begin to really feel what you are saying to yourself. And then, slowly, bring your attention back to the breath. Without opening your eyes just yet, begin to make slow movements with your body. Don’t be in a rush to get up—your body has been still for a while! Let it find some gentle flowing motions before going back to normal.
Finally, open your eyes. Notice the world around you. Do you feel different? Can you capture the essence of how you feel in a few words? Write them down.
Congratulations! The first step is over. Now it’s time to get up and figure out what to tackle first! Hopefully your meditation gave you enough space and energy to begin. Notice—did your meditation make things that were feeling stressful and undesirable suddenly look achievable? Do you have less stress and more determination? Give yourself more control over your own stress levels through sitting down and meditating, five minutes a day. It’s really all you need.
Five minutes to change your world.