#selfcareasresistance Episode 5: Practicing meditation. Or… just breathe!

Welcome to the #selfcareasresistance blog series. Where ideas for self-care are discussed for the purpose of building up energy to stand up for #allthethings. (#allthethings being things like #womensrights and #immigrantrights and #lgbtqrights and #healthcare and #education and #actualfacts) Each week you’ll see a different new idea pop up under the hashtag #selfcareasresistance from one of the lovely leaders in the Action Together Oregon network’s Self Care Team.

This week, our blog author is Dr. Andrea Seiffertt, ATO moderator, self-care team member and one of our #dailyaction divas! Dr Seiffertt is a long-time meditation practitioner and teacher, moved to Oregon just before the election, and plans on practicing Internal Medicine and Integrative Osteopathic medicine again soon.

So we’re about 11 weeks in. If you’re like me, you may have been frantically working since the election to learn the best ways to resist, to educate yourself on current events (and basic civics), and maybe worrying that you’re about to lose your health insurance. Or maybe you’re hanging in there with regular life, but with a bit of politically-induced nausea as frosting. Or something in between. In my case, I hit a mental wall a few weeks ago.

I noticed I was feeling more annoyed, my ADHD symptoms were worse, and I was unusually cranky and negative. I lost track of projects, couldn’t focus, and seemed inept, running in circles, and felt more uneasy and depressed. At some point I realized I hadn’t used my #1 remedy for weeks! With the sense of emergency and task load I’d taken on, I’d temporarily abandoned the regular practice that for years helped keep my brain steady during most storms: meditation.

Thomas Merton’s words may apply for you lately too: “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork… To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism … destroys our own inner capacity for peace.”

One way to make sure your capacity for inner peace grows and stays steady during storms is to have a meditation practice. Meditation has so many definitions and misconceptions surrounding it, but what I mean very broadly here is a regular practice of one’s choice that puts one in a different and more calm and focused state of mind than usual. Prayer, surfing, chanting, dancing, breathing, and some forms of yoga can be meditation. There are also many types which are silent and still and more typical of what one imagines ‘meditation’ to be. The best kinds of practices build over time and carry their benefits and lessons into daily life.

The type I have practiced for the last 5 years or so is called Recollective Awareness meditation, but I came to this form after many years and after learning and practicing several other types. I started with yoga as a teenager, and with it, focusing-style meditations on candle flames, chakras, or trying to still the mind. I really got rolling in my early 30s with a simple sound-based practice I still teach (a silent self-propelled 20 minute sit twice a day). I practiced the TM siddhis for 6 months to see what effect they might have, Vipassana (the 10 day silent training approach, but there are others) for a year and a half, tried Zen on my own at one point (not actually possible!), and completed the typical mindfulness 8 week course by Jon Kabat-Zinn (which is used most frequently in medicine).

The reason I list these is to make the points that a) it might take some time and experimentation to find a practice that works best for you, b) that the ideal practice may (likely!) change over time, and c) it takes 3–6 months to be able to judge whether a practice is truly helping you in the ways you’d like it to. Most practices are just sets of tools, and each comes with its set of assumptions and expectations- from teachers and students. Some are religious or esoteric and carry particular belief systems that might be a prerequisite for continuing the practice or finding it useful.

The reality is that practicing meditation regularly has solid scientific backing proving it to be beneficial for your mental, emotional, and physical health. No matter what practice you build, whether it’s taking a 10 minute walk in nature daily to simply listen, or an hour of Buddhist Metta practice, be aware of your expectations, and be clear about them with your teacher. Ask questions, and commit to practicing regularly for at least a month or two, writing down a bit about your experiences so it is easier to go back and evaluate the practice later.

find it in your SmartPhone app store!

The easy-peasy-est way to start if you’ve never tried a meditation practice before is to try an app- Insight Timer is by far my favorite. It has the usual timer with pretty bell sounds, but they also have discussion groups, and an extensive list of guided meditations- all types and lengths of time- with some amazing teachers contributing (like Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Mooji, and Roshi Joan Halifax). If you’re a beginner, there is help everywhere!

What is your favorite practice? What questions do you have? How can I help?