Feminism is currently a movement dedicated to and propelled by women, as it should be. Despite the fact that I am an advocate for "not all men," and feel that feminism needs men (read more here), I experienced a world shattering moment when I read the article about Aziz Ansari on babe.net. If you're unfamiliar, its a report about an anonymous women's date with the celebrity and how it went wrong when he came on to her. You can read it here. After reading the article, I felt broken. I felt like it was me sitting there in that man's room, and that it was me experiencing everything she described. Although details of her story and my own personal experiences aren't exactly the same, the feelings behind this encounter and many of my own encounters are the same. This was the moment when I realized that I am a victim, and that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements involved me on a significantly more personal level. I wasn't just a supporter for women who experienced heartbreaking encounters with men, I was one of them. My fight became stronger and my fire fueled.
Up until this point, I never felt like I had been taken advantage of. I never knew that aspects of my dating or sex life were tainted with misogyny and that I was so disrespected by men I thought I could trust, even if only for a night.
Ansari is described to have accelerated the process of "doin it." He quickly began kissing her and undressing after entering his apartment, moved her hands to his dick multiple times, and later asked her for oral sex. She complied but felt forced to, as she had verbally and nonverbally communicated to him she felt uncomfortable.
"I wasn't just a supporter for women who experienced heartbreaking encounters with men, I was one of them"
Reading these aspects replayed intimate moments of my own, like a movie and I was glued to the seat. I was frozen, watching myself be uncomfortable and forcibly conducting sexual acts without ever knowing it was happening forcibly or that it was wrong. Even worse, when I shared this with a close friend, all he had to say was "Well I'm not like that." How comforting.
I felt angry. I felt violated, taken advantage of, and cheated out of good, meaningful intimate moments. I felt like I had been wronged. How had no one ever told me that these things weren't okay, and I was allowed to say no? No one told me these experiences shouldn't have happened, and in the moment I felt like I had to because that's just what happens. I thought it was normal. Time had passed since these moments I'm describing, and when the #MeToo movement sparked, I never felt like it was something was affected me directly. I stood with other women in the movement because I was a woman, a feminist, who supported them and my heart went out to women with tragic stories. After reading the report, it was clear that my involvement was more than just a supporter on the sidelines. I was actively involved in the fight now, and my feelings of anger and isolation were my weapons, along with the strength that came with this experience.
I had to let these feelings exist in my space for about a week or so. I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions that came with learning I was a victim. I let myself sit in the angriness and the guilt, and connected with close women in my circle to talk it out. I even talked about how my friend's not so comforting words made me feel alone, and enhanced my anger. Looking back, I feel so blessed to have so many strong women behind me, and me behind them.
It was in these conversations of connection and vulnerability that I found strength. I was able to feel my emotions and reactions, talk the experiences out with trusted women in my circle, and come face to face with the realization of things that had happened to me. Recognition was what allowed me to grow into a women with a stronger heart, and more agility in the fight against men like Harvey Weinstein. I blossomed into someone who could connect with other women on a deeper level, and truly be there for them because I knew that they needed a listening ear to support them. Acceptance of what happened, and what continues to happen to women daily brought me strength, because I could forgive myself for simply not knowing, along with forgiving those boys who did me wrong. I forgave them in my heart with the hope that they knew better now. It wasn't my duty to call up someone I talked to or dated years ago. I know that some women benefit from having that conversation and perhaps need it based on their apology style, but I was able to forgive from a distance after accepting the facts of the matter. I believe this is what gave me strength, because they no longer had power over me.
I don't want to sit here and write about how it is a woman's duty to teach boys how to be men, or even how to just be decent people. I don't think we should feel obligated to, and women are not free therapists. But I truly do believe that people are good in their hearts, and education can lead to more understanding, growth, and strength. When a situation that is wrong arises, or when someone makes a sexist comment, I believe in speaking up about it (keep in mind your safety while doing so). I do believe that as our society moves forward and grasps closer onto equality, that men should not be left behind and it is okay to correct them and stand up for yourself.
I also know that every woman's story is uniquely their own. I found familiarity in the anonymous woman's story, and experiences between my friends and I. I was able to move on and become a better advocate for women's rights relatively easily, but I know that my story is not other women's stories, and not the one reported on babe.net. I’m not attempting to give a guide on what to do if something happens to you, but instead offering a shoulder to rest your head on, as I understand how it feels and made it through.
The documentary style movie Waiting for Superman is a movie about five children in the American education system and their journeys in finding schools with quality education, and teachers who support their goals. Although the movie is almost 10 years old, it recalls statistics and facts regarding the educational system and its flaws, while also addressing the ways in which we have tried to fix it.
While viewing first hand the American education system, the audience gathers what makes a school good, and why some schools are not good. Key characteristics that cause a school to be great include good teachers, money, and support for students. Support for students can be tutoring, one-on-one teaching, and support of a student and their goals on a personal level. There are many factors that come into play in making a school great including, but not limited to teachers who care, a goal-oriented school board, financial support from the local and state governments, and parents who are active in their children’s schooling. Unfortunately, the most important of all of these is money. Great public schools only really exist in high income areas. This is because students from high income neighborhoods have more funding from the government because they score higher on their tests.
The schools documented in Waiting for Superman were low performing, ultimately making that the theme of the movie. The characteristics of chronically low performing schools include low income, tenure, different regulations between local, state and federal governments, and lack of support. Although all of these factors are important, tenure and different regulations are probably the most important. Teachers can achieve a guaranteed position in a school district after two years of teaching. This system is flawed because now teachers who are just bad, do not care, and who may even lack empathy have a say so in the future of our children. And because of teacher unions, it is almost impossible for a teacher to ever get fired. Another issue is the regulations within the different levels of government. The federal government creates a basis of how things should be, and the states have the choice to execute it as they please. Therefore, there is no even playing field in the public school system.
The last issue, though still just as important that the document brought up, was factors beyond the school itself, such as the community surrounding the school. Low performing schools tended to be from low income areas with community violence, inadequate health care, and substandard housing. Students that grow up in a low income area, and attend low income schools often just continue in the cycle and end up not going to college and living a low income life. The opposite cycle exists for students who grow up in and attend high performance schools in better areas. Therefore, the relationship between successful schools and their communities is based on financial income. Low income is worse for everyone involved.
Personally, I enjoyed the movie Waiting for Superman despite how utterly heart wrenching it was to watch. It made me angry and I wanted to walk into the White House and change the whole thing, but obviously that is easier said than done. I think it was a well executed film, and I hope that its message has sparked change in it’s audience. I pray that the facts and statistics have only improved in the last 10 years, because we deserve a better educational system for our children.
The movie "Waiting for Superman" can be rented on YouTube or streamed on HuluYouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbCZB_sy6Ws
Hulu link: https://www.hulu.com/watch/300bd9d7-c376-4adf-86c6-3064dcc80e17
Women are inherently powerful. We create life, art, fight for our rights and the rights of our communities, and add beauty to the world with our simple presence. This is exemplified by timeless women such as Frida Kahlo, Rupi Kaur, Angela Davis, Marsha P. Johnson, and many many others. Unfortunately, the world has not always viewed women in this light. As mentioned, women had to fight to receive many basic rights, such as the right to vote during the first feminist movement of the 1920s. We have and continue to fight for our right to reproductive healthcare, equal pay, and to be taken seriously in the court of law. The fact that women have to work harder for many basic humanities, and that we still do not have many, is the reason why feminism is important.
Yes, "feminism." A word that has became a label and a defining word in history and our present culture. Some may see it as a political scam or simply women complaining, but that could not be further from the truth. According to Oxford, "feminism" is defined as "the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes." Further, this means that someone who describes themselves as a feminist is "a person who supports feminism," (Oxford).
Feminism should be vital to everyone, worldwide. The feminist movements are of extreme importance because for millenia, women have not been equal to men. This unequal balance of men and women is problematic and hurts everyone. In America, this is seen in the pay gap where women earn 79 cents to every dollar a man makes. Even more wretched is the fact that the pay gap is larger for women of color. Black women earn 61 cents for every dollar that a man earns (National Partnership, 2019) and Latina women are paid 46% less than white men and 31% less than white women (Lean In, 2019). The pay gap alone is proof of the importance of feminism.
“Feminism should be vital to everyone, worldwide”
Feminism is all about equality between women and men. The feminist movements of the past and present have all been led by powerful, important women who are passionate fighters. And this is the way it should be! I would like to propose an idea though: Feminism needs more men.
Yes, the gender that has created a culture of viewing and treating women as less, the gender that has prevented and revoked our freedoms, the gender that has caused women so much turmoil, are needed to push the movement forward and give us the equality that we deserve. The explanation is rather simple too. The lack of equality that we presently live in an issue of shared humanity. Humanity includes men, therefore men are needed to propel the fight towards equality.
The inspiration for this piece initially came from Twitter. Time and time again, I would see tweets about hating men, such as "I hate when men breathe like STFU" and "I stopped having sex bc I just hate seeing men happy" and many many more. The people who sent these tweets and the many others like it also included the word "feminist" in their biography, presumably as a label to define themselves. While I also agree that men can be stupid, and perform horrid acts against women, that does not change the fact that not all men are horrible and deserve the worst. This idea is harmful because it excludes men from the conversation, which in turn excludes men from the fight for equality. Additionally, the idea that anything is only black or white with no gray area is harmful. In psychology it is actually known as a thought distortion called "all or nothing thinking," (Beck 1976; Burns 1980). The solution to this issue is understanding and accepting that two realities can exist at once. This means that we need to understand and accept the fact that while some men truly are the scum of the earth (see Brock Turner), there are also men who are wonderful and do many amazing things for the world and women (see Nicholas Snow, Jase Peeples, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and more).
This does not mean that men should not be held accountable for their wrong doings, or that women should "lighten up" their fight towards equality. It doesn't necessarily mean that women should be less merciful, but it does mean that women should be more gracious and include men in their work for a better world. As ridiculous as it sounds, we need to teach men what they are lacking (while still holding strong boundaries- this doesn't mean women are free therapists), and also call them out on ideas that are sexist and damaging. Women have proven time and time again that they are powerful, bold, and assertive. Its time that we let men use the power given to them to aid in pushing the world towards a better humanity, where we are all viewed and treated as equal, despite our race or gender.
Spirituality has been on the rise in recent years. More and more young people are finding themselves to be very spiritual, and less religious, and there has even been a decrease in self-proclaimed atheists. Despite the rise in spiritual practices, it may feel overwhelming and confusing in the beginning. Additionally, having spiritual beliefs is much more than lighting sage once a week, curating the perfect collection of crystals, or reading your Bible once a week. All of these things are wonderful and can be very beneficial, but will only be empty actions if your heart is not involved as well.
Regardless of whatever your religious or spiritual practices are, they are aspects of yourself that are vital to protect and strengthen in life and in quarantine. Spirituality bleeds into every aspect of our lives, relationships, and personal development. This alone makes spirituality a worthwhile topic and potentially relevant to anyone with a current belief system or someone who may be curious to begin one.
I have created this list of 6 ways to begin or strengthen your spiritual practice. It is meant to be applicable to anyone who finds that it resonates with them, and it is not meant to deter anyone away from their already existing practices.
6 Things You Can Do Today to Create a Spiritual Practice
For individuals who have a spiritual practice, for religious people, and myself, there is a common theme of believing in something higher and greater than you. For some people this is God. For others, it is the Universe, Source, Brahma, and others. Regardless of whatever this being may be for you, the key to establishing a strong spiritual connection is to establish a relationship with this higher being. For me, its God. For more spiritual/less religious people its Source or Universe. In Hinduism, Brahma is an avatar of Brahmin (the source of consciousness). I'm not here to convince you of which one is real or better, I'm here to make the presence known and invite you to pray.
Prayer is open communication with God (or whatever you choose to call it). You can pray when you are happy, grateful, sad, angry, or any other emotion. You can ask for what you need, what you want, pray for yourself, and pray for others. Even if you don't experience a life changing moment when praying, just thinking your prayer or saying it out loud can be a source of comfort.
For others, prayer may not be "for them." This is where meditation comes in. Before you begin a meditation practice, it may be helpful to set an intention before you start. What do you want to gain from your meditation experience? What insight are you looking for? Sometimes the answers to our most burning questions, or the solutions to a problem already exist within our subconscious and meditation is a way to put your thoughts to rest and allow the feelings or answers to come to you.
Rituals are apart of your routine that enhance your growth and/or connection with God (or whatever you choose to call it). And not all rituals need to have a spiritual focus to be beneficial. For some, a ritual may include listening to a podcast every day, cleaning your room, or maybe attending a church service.
Your rituals should be personal to you and not feel forced. For me, I practice "morning manifestations," which is in essence future journaling. I have a dedicated folder in the notes app on my phone, and I take a few minutes for myself every morning to set intentions for the day/week, write out things I'm grateful for, or write about something that hasn't happened as if it already has. This is the first thing that I do almost every morning, and all for myself.
Perhaps journaling at night before bed, reading a new book, or lighting a candle and saying a prayer could be your ritual. There is abundant freedom in this practice, and can be beneficial as long as it is done for your own fulfillment and relationship with God (or whatever you choose to call it).
3. Educate Yourself
Luckily for us, we live in a time of abundant information. When beginning to seek or when strengthening our religious or spiritual connection, it is always beneficial to educate ourselves. You can begin by asking those around you, or looking for new information online. Now, I'm not saying Google search "Is God real?" Science doesn't really explore spirituality and chances are, there is some aspect of yourself or your subconscious that believes there is something out there. If you're curious about finding ways to strengthen your connection with God (or whatever you choose to call it), or you want to learn more about the history of your beliefs, then a simple Google search can aid immensely in finding information that enhances your knowledge.
In doing this though, you may find information that doesn't sit right with you. You may learn about religions or spiritual practices that you don't really like or find to be outlandish. But in turn, you will also encounter things that truly resonate with you that you may want to adopt into your life. It can't hurt to look for it, even if you're unsure of what you're looking for.
4. Personal Development
Whether you're spiritual or religious or not, personal development is something you can seek. There really is no harm in working on becoming a better version of yourself. You can start by asking your loved ones for some constructive criticism, but you could ask in prayer or in your intention before meditating. You can trust your instinct when you feel a certain way about actions you perform, you can read the Bible, go to a service, and you can learn more and try to enhance your knowledge and grow as an individual after educating yourself. Personal development should be AT LEAST partly inspired by prayer/what may come to you in meditation, and by what you learn after educating yourself/expanding your knowledge. It can also come to you as you go through life and achieve (or not achieve) your goals.
5. Be Yourself
When seeking or strengthening a spiritual or religious practice, it can sometimes feel daunting. There may be a reputation that follows these things with both positives and negatives, but anything that you choose to follow should not strip you of your personality or values. Adapting a belief system and rituals into your life can bring up fears of becoming "that one super spiritual person," but this isn't a bad thing as long as you stay true to yourself and what you believe. Your spirituality or religious identity should not be hindering your growth but promoting it, along with your view of yourself and the world. Regardless of what you believe, your self should not be taken away when finding something to believe in that works for you.
6. Find a Community
Everything above is great and arguably needed in developing or strengthening your spiritual practice, but being apart of a community is essentially the cherry on top. Finding and participating in a group of like minded people can enhance your spiritual practices, and you will in turn be helping to enhance the practices of those around you. A community can look like a small group of people who study the Word together, your close friends with similar beliefs, church, or your family. For me, I spark spiritual conversations with my friends, and I try to follow people on social media who have a similar belief system to my own so that I am feeding myself information that is both validating and thought provoking. And if something I see doesn't sit right with me or goes against my values, then I simply unfollow them. For other people, it's going to church with the same people once or twice a week. Whatever form of community and communication works for you, your values, and your lifestyle, is the way to go.
Religion and spirituality is involved in our daily lives, whether that is in the culture of the groups we associate with, or we have religious family members. As time progresses, more and more people are finding themselves to be spiritual. This also means that more and more people are seeking and searching for something that resonates with them. Whatever path you think you might want to explore is open and waiting for you, all you have to do is open up to it and seek it.
What spiritual practices do you follow? Any favorite rituals you do daily or weekly? Share them in the comments below!
I think it all started when I was a little girl. My birthday is December 24, and I remember being very little and sticking my tongue out towards the ceiling at Jesus because I was mad that I had to share my birthday with Him (its normal for 4-5 year olds to be egocentric!). Maybe this was also influenced by how much I dreaded going to Sunday School at the local Catholic Church. Regardless, I didn't like God but honestly I can't remember why.
Throughout my whole life, I've a very interesting relationship with God and religion. As life moved and flowed forwards, or what sometimes felt backwards, my fluctuation of almost every emotion towards God was profound. Divorce, neglect, abuse, trauma, my first "heartbreak" in middle school, deaths, and all the other colorless aspects that many people experience led me to change and twist and turn in so many different directions in my relationship with God.
During middle school, like many of us, I was cynical and utterly miserable. I was experiencing new things at home, I didn't have any friends for awhile (shout to to the "I Hate Maren Club"), and was angry that my body was going through changes that I did not understand or enjoy. 13 year old Maren hated her life and hated God for preventing the happiness and freedom that she desired from landing in her lap. Eventually, I became interested in Buddhism, because there was no god, only calmness and kindness. I began to reject my Catholic upbringing, and eventually God all together. In the midst of this time of anger and questioning, my Nana told me something that has always resonated with me: God is like a tree.
He is the roots, and every religion, every belief, and every domination of believing and loving God were the branches. Christianity is a branch, Hinduism is a branch, Buddhism, Sikhism, Catholicism, etc were all branches from the same root (God). And the leaves were the people who followed it.
This idea really resonated with me. I felt comfort in knowing that there wasn't any pressure to be apart of any organized religion. My Nana made it feel like I didn't have to choose the "right" way because every way was the right way.
"God is like a tree"
Moving forward, I decided that it did not matter what I believed, as long as I was good to people. Towards the end of 8th grade, my close friend invited me to church with him. I had been telling him no for years, because I didn't believe in God, I hated God, I didn't want to go, and I lived a sinful life so I wouldn't be welcome anyways. He asked me to give it a chance and just go, just once. So I did. I fell in love with the group leader Brittany. She was exactly who I wanted to be in my head. She wore all black, with black boots with laces, had naturally curly blonde hair like me. Her coffee tumbler had stickers with all of her favorite bands, who were also my favorite bands. She was headstrong, funny, and honest. The cherry on top was the fact that we both had very very similar experiences with our home life. It was what one might call a "blessing in disguise."
After a few weeks of attending church, during worship at the end I had an ~experience~
I was standing, and watching the band perform a song, and honestly I cannot remember what song it was, but I remember it was deep and powerful and slowly crescendoed. I was standing with my eyes closed, and as I inhaled I felt my chest swell. I felt the pieces of my shattered heart, bruised and broken from the aches of life, become whole again. It was a physical sensation and my closed eyes saw gold. My non believing mind heard the voice of another inside me, "I love you, you don't have to hurt." I began to cry uncontrollable. This experience was unlike any other I've had. It was physical and touched me deeply. This gold ran through my chest, my veins, my fingertips, and out my mouth begging to be loved. And I felt Love.
My freshman and sophomore years of high school I was a very serious church goer. I loved every minute of worship, and feeling like I was apart of a new family. I learned how to play guitar, I sang and played the keys for the worship band, and was a second/third grade teacher for the children's Bible study. I went every week, twice maybe three times a week and loved every minute of it. I learned about the world and hurts and the whys and hows of people's choices. As I grew older, and advanced groups and met new girls, had crushes, and bonded with new group leaders, the music we sang and worshipped with changed. "Sinking Deep" by Hillsong Young and Free was one of my favorites, but one morning, the lyrics hurt me.
"You are my one desire
Lord hear my only cry
To know You all my life"
In that moment, I knew that I was eventually going to the leave the church. I knew intuitively that I was going to leave, but I did not know when or why. I began to cry while singing, because I believed that I was living how I was supposed to and I had no desire to leave the church. But within the next year or so, I did.
I left and jumped right into the party scene. It was great because I was making new friends, meeting cute guys, and drinking again. I learned all of the backroads in my city and fell in love with the blinking street lights from all the different mountain tops I found myself upon. And I never stopped believing, but I stopped participating and actively praying. In the process of beginning to party and go out, I found that there were a lot of active church goers there. I was hurt because kids who were praised for their dedication and commitment to living a holy life were drinking and having sex behind the scenes. The inauthenticity cut, and I cut communication with many people that I used to speak to at church.
There was no significant changes or experiences after graduating high school and moving out that are relevant to this blog post, although I continued to believe in God and found myself praying more, whether that was for money to pay rent or jobs I've applied to to hire me. I never felt guilty for not living a very Christian lifestyle, and I was committed to the idea that a relationship with God is more important and significant than following the religion. I knew at my core that I had a relationship with God, and going to church or strictly following the religious aspects of Christianity would not make my relationship with Him stronger.
Last year, I decided that I was going to travel to Nepal. I found my interest in eastern religions sparked again, and was also learning about the ins and outs of astrology. I combined these new interests and knowledge with what my Nana had told me. "They're all branches of the same root." I thought, "well if that's the case they can be combined too." I was an odd point in my life. I had just been dumped, was depressed, and dealing with PTSD and suicidal ideation. I was practicing gratefulness, manifestation, praying, and yoga. These experiences influenced my decision to take an Eastern Religions course. We discussed Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, and Ancient Chinese Religions. I learned an abundance on both an educational level and a personal level. The most interesting pattern I found was that the foundation of all these religions were very similar, if not the same. Some of them were also similar to Christianity. This course validated my belief in the metaphor of God being a tree. My Nana was right, and my college courses and professor just proved it for me, without trying to.
On a personal level currently in my life, I am in consistent communication with the Universe, or God. I read and research as much as I can, and combine all of my knowledge and curiosity to create my own spirituality, which is rooted in the belief of God. I see these communications in divine numbers, synchronicities, and manifestations of thoughts and prayers. It's quite odd to people who know little about it, and I (we) can always learn more, but for now I know that it's true for me. My religions professor called these things "new age spirituality." Basically, pseudo science in technical terms. But, for me and many others in the world, "other worldly things" are precious. Religion has been immersed into our societies since the moment that they were established. The Native Americans believed in their gods, Hindus in Krishna and others, Catholics and Christians alike in Jesus, and Muslims in Allah. There have been intense revolutions over religion (sales of indulgences anyone?) and many religions stemming off of these more prominent ones (Sikhism, every sect of Christianity, Mormonism, etc). In the same respect, more personal or spiritual beliefs emerged into humanity as well. Astrology, numerology, synchronicity, the tree of life, reiki, chakras, and more. There is almost too much to dissect. There is such an overwhelming amount of beliefs, truths, paths, and leaders, that it seems all too much fully understand, respect, or decide as "real" or not. There is so much, and in no way am I an expert on anything. I am merely a believer.
Today, when I speak of religion and God and spirituality, I preach that everything that everyone believes is all the same. We are all worshipping the same God, or speaking to the Universe, and it is consistently interchangeable. The hatred and fear towards those who may believe differently than us is in vain, and counterproductive towards our agenda of loving others, however that may manifest in our lives.
Download and print these pages for your room, mirror, refrigerator, or anywhere else you where you will see them frequently. These tools can guide you in creating a routine and beginning or enhancing your own self care journey!
"Self Care in Quarantine" is a series I am writing as we all adjust to our new lives as a result of the pandemic. The world is clearly in a state of disarray, and many people are finding themselves struggling financially, personally, or otherwise. All of the new adjustments and transitions due to the pandemic are extremely challenging and affecting everyone globally. We are all seeking to discover what we should do. As an optimist, I am arguing that this is time to start fresh. We have been given the space to create new routines, strengthen relationships, and reflect on ourselves. This series is designed to provide tips on how to do these things, along with how to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally, spiritually, and creatively while in quarantine. I am not an expert and nothing that I say is meant to replace a professional's opinion or otherwise, but only to provide some insight into feeling more peaceful. It is my hope with this series that we can regain or continue to stand in our power, and take care of ourselves as we adjust to a new way of living.
In this essay, we will be discussing meditation. This includes what meditation is, the benefits of meditating, and how to practice meditation (all while following the social distancing orders from our government).
Meditation is a traditionally practiced in Eastern cultures, but has quickly became mainstream in the West over the past few years. There are a lot of various ideas behind what meditation is, many platforms that offer resources, and also a bit of stigma around it as it gains popularity. Because it is popular though, there must be some truth behind it right? However our lives may look now that we are self quarantining and social distancing, meditation can benefit us.
Are you working from home and finding the transition period to be overwhelming?
Are you attempting to homeschool your kids and finding it stressful?
Are you stuck at home all day with your family... or even worse, with your own thoughts?
Meditation can most certainly benefit you.
Meditation is the practice of silencing your thoughts and returning to your breath. Your breath is the only source to the present moment that you have, and meditation is all about showing up in the present moment. The idea is to stand, sit, or lie down comfortably and essentially turn your mind off and allow your brain and body to decompress a little bit. The reason that people refer to meditation as a "practice" is because this is extremely hard to do (trust me, I meditate regularly). But the more often that you meditate, the more often that you'll be able to silence your thoughts and relax. Relax.
Another relieving aspect of meditation is that there is no right or wrong. It is very unlikely that you will meditate for the first time and just completely turn your mind off. If you meditate and find your mind rushing and racing, that is okay. It is an aspect of meditation. Again, the more you meditate the more frequently you will be able to achieve this thoughtless state.
Meditation is something that can benefit anyone, regardless of your lifestyle or mental health status (although it aids in rewiring neurotransmitters which can help PTSD be manageable - a topic for another post). According to Healthline and MayoClinic, meditation as been proven to
- lower stress levels
- ease anxiety
- aid in treating depression
- managing cancer
- managing chronic pain
- promote emotional health
- enhance awareness of self
- lengthen and strengthen attention span
- manage high blood pressure
and many more...
So how do we practice meditation?
First, find a peaceful space where you can be comfortable. This space should be free of any external distractions, such as the TV on in the background. I prefer sitting or laying down, but standing comfortably is an option as well. Let your eyes naturally shut, and breathe at your normal pace. After a few moments, inhale for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, and exhale for 6 counts. There are many variations of this breath that work perfectly fine as well, such as inhale until you cannot anymore, hold for 1-2 counts, and exhale until all of your breath has been released. The goal is the find a variation that works for you that is deeper and longer than your natural breath pace. During this time, you should be solely focusing on your breath. When a thought arises, simply observe or acknowledge it, and let it go. Do not pay too much attention to this thought or linger with it. If you have to think something along the lines of "I just had a thought, and now I'm letting it go," that is acceptable as well. Continue to focus on your breath, and after a few counts of this deeper and longer breath variation, return to your natural breath while continuing to focus solely on your breath (not your thoughts). This can be done for any amount of time that works for you and your schedule. And there you have it! It sounds pretty simple on paper but actually letting your thoughts go can be challenging, so it truly does require some practice.
There are many resources and applications available that offer free and subscription based meditation that you can look into to aid in the beginning of your meditation journey. Personally, I love Muse Meditation because it has many free meditations available and a subscription to access even more meditations. Most of these meditations are guided and have themes such as "Anxiety," "College," "Relationships," and even "Creativity." These themes are beneficial if there is a specific reason you are meditating or something specific that you want to meditate on. The best part is that a significant amount of them are free (I pay for the subscription though). Headspace and Calm are other popular ones as well.
Wherever you may be on your meditation journey, it is a simple journey to begin, and many benefits are yours for the taking when you are ready for them. If you already meditate and have some tips for beginners, or if you have anything to share about meditation (excitement, fears, or otherwise), leave a comment below!
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.