Now and Zen
Being Present in the Present
When I recently Googled “How to meditate?” I got over 18 million hits. It makes it all sound so complicated, when in reality it doesn’t have to be. All you need is yourself, a quiet space to sit and just—be.
I was skeptical when I first thought about trying meditation. I’m a chronic insomniac. I have a hard time sitting still and as a writer by profession I find it hard to turn my mind off. Was it going to help me? Was there a Meditation for Dummies book? (Yes.) Or an app, podcast, or download that could guide me? (Yes, many.)
As a cancer survivor, I was powering up my recovery with diet, exercise, and support groups. I wanted to add meditation. So I decided to try the Relax and Restore class at the Center for Survivorship (CFS) in Southport—a serene, light-filled wellness center. Taught by Lisa Sheehan since CFS opened in 2012, the 60-minute class explores mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and practices that help break the cycle of stress to find inner stillness. Lisa says it’s ideal for anyone recovering from surgery or treatment for illness, or seeking a little R and R.
Through her studies at UMASS Medical School, Sheehan practices Mindfulness Meditation, which is a secular, breath-focused practice derived from a centuries-old Buddhist meditation style called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. The technique helps you be aware of every detail of your mental and physical experience moment by moment, without reacting to it. Lisa says, “When we notice our minds have wandered away from the breath into thought, we simply come back and begin again without judgment.” By the end of the first class, I had almost nodded off three times. But I felt relaxed, more centered. This was new for me.
In a typical class, the lights are dimmed, soothing music is played, and Sheehan begins the session with a thought for the day. After a 15-minute guided meditation while seated, most participants choose to lie down for a reclined meditation, in order to observe how our bodies are feeling and to get in touch with their breathing. Carol Soennichsen, a regular, feels the class sets the tone for her week. “I love the Monday class because I feel rested and at peace by the end of the session. There are techniques I’ve learned here that have helped me at stressful times.”
“Meditation teaches us to be more present in the present,” explains Sheehan. She feels the biggest misconception about the practice is that people think it’s about clearing your mind of all thoughts. But she notes, “Any time you can stop and get in touch with your breathing is beneficial. Meditation teaches us to live more mindfully in the present, not projecting into the future with worry, or getting stuck in the past with regret or anger.”
Much has been written about the ways meditation can help cancer patients reduce stress, relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life. From personal experience, any chance to quiet my mind so I can face machines, radiation, chemotherapy, and follow-up tests with a little more calm is very welcome. One participant said the practice helped her get through her radiation treatment and that she was able to diminish its negative impact on her. “Meditation involves drawing the senses inward, giving ourselves permission to be still and just be rather than always doing,” explains Sheehan.
Launched last August in Darien, Pathway to Mindfulness is attracting many people from around Fairfield County. During the 50-minute class, clients learn the basics of unguided meditation as well as numerous techniques to make daily meditation easier and more meaningful. Clients are taught how to focus on their breathing, and to be aware of their thoughts. They are encouraged to bring mindfulness to daily tasks and to help handle the stressors of their lives. To inspire clients to develop their own daily practice, they start slowly at Pathway, with a 5-minute daily meditation, working up to 20 minutes.
Scientific research has shown that 20 minutes of meditation most days can make substantial changes in one’s life. It generally takes six to eight sessions to develop a practice. The result? People smile more, are calmer, and more engaged with the world.
Meditate Your Way
The beauty of meditating is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Find a quiet spot in your house, sit on a mat or comfy chair (you can even lie down, but don’t fall asleep!), light some candles, play some music. Set a timer if that helps.
If you’re always on the go, you can meditate when you’re out walking, at the beach, on a plane, or even in the carpool line (where a little extra peace might be very helpful).
Great apps for meditating: Omvana, Buddhify, Take A Break, The Mindfullness App, and Headspace.