Even during the best of times, the holidays can be trying for many of us. It’s easy to let ourselves be overwhelmed with preparations for get-togethers with family and friends, or perhaps it’s memories of holidays past and loved ones who are no longer with us. But in between thawing the turkey or going through the security check at the airport, what if we take ten minutes to reset our thoughts and emotions and find a respite of calm?
One that will see us through today and be there for us again tomorrow.
I think I’ve talked to you before about an App you can download onto your phone called Calm. In particular, I love their guided, ten-minute mindfulness meditations by Canadian author and mindfulness instructor, Tamara Levitt. Several times a week, I try and shut out the world and listen to her soothing voice. Some days I’m more successful than others at shutting off my thoughts, but even if they jump from subject to subject like a group of howler monkeys, swinging from tree to tree, at the end of the meditation, I walk away more centered and relaxed.
Better able to tackle the day ahead of me.
If you’ve ever been in a dense jungle like the ones in Mexico and Guatemala, then you know a chorus of wild monkeys chatter and scream and can even sound like a pride of angry prehistoric lions. Just like the alarming cacophony we hear in the jungle, the thoughts we find ourselves fixating on can be equally as disturbing.
One of the things I like most about Tamara Levitt’s guided meditations is she never scolds us for letting our monkey minds take over. Instead, she reminds us that it’s easy to start over and stop listening to it. That’s what meditation is: stilling the mind and focusing on something else.
Here is part of Tamara Levitt’s guided meditation I listened to earlier this week. I hope it speaks to you.
“It’s common to get caught in the habit of rumination. As thoughts swirl around our mind, each feels important and all-consuming, but when we take a closer look, it’s usually the same thoughts and worries being recycled. The truth is, our mind is like a radio station that plays the same five songs on repeat.
We ruminate on the same narrow set of concerns, fears, and fantasies over and over every day. But once we notice that one of our songs is playing again, we can pause and pull ourselves out of its loop. We can even respond with some humor, acknowledging, “Ah, there’s that song again,” and we can choose to change the station, breaking free from the cycle of rumination. The tricky part is noticing when we are lost in our thoughts, which takes practice.
When we sit in meditation, we bring our mind back to the present each time we catch ourselves in thought. As we do this, we’re strengthening the skill of concentration. It’s understandable to feel frustrated when we keep drifting off into the same old songs, but every time we catch ourselves, we should view the very act of noticing as a victory.
As Joseph Goldstein said, “Every time we become aware of a thought, as opposed to being lost in a thought, we experience that opening of the mind.” So as you move through the day, pay attention to the playlist of your mind. When you notice yourself in a familiar thought, give yourself a little smile, acknowledging, “There’s that song again,” and come back to the present moment.”