How Meditation (and Mindfulness) Taught Me to Slow Things Down
I remember being a kid and feeling like time moved so painfully and incredibly slow that I could just die. On a Monday, waiting for a sleepover at a friend’s house that Friday felt like an eternity. The gap between my birthdays might as well have been decades. And once December hit, the anticipation of Christmas became a daily punishment; counting off the seconds as they leisurely marched across my mind until those presents were finally deposited under that tree buried in tinsel.
A couple kids and a business later and I wonder how the days can possibly pass this fast. I’ll have my head down, just plugging away for minutes it seems, and as soon as I come up for air, the seasons have changed. We’ve hired more people and have once again adapted to the ever-changing market. I blink for just a few seconds and the kids have both learned to read, are having their own sleepovers, and we’re spending our Saturdays on the soccer field.
There was a time in my mid-thirties when I evaluated whether there was a chance of slowing any of this down. Perhaps it was a very premature midlife crisis, but I had an abrupt realization that I had to find a way to add more meaning in my life. Everywhere. If it was all going to go this fast, there had to be some way to hang on to it. To make it last. To avoid any chance of regret when I was old and gray.
So I restructured my business. I stopped working at night and on the weekends. I started practicing yoga. I began to appreciate the power of presence. And for the first time in my life, I actually learned what it means to meditate.
I’d tried meditating many different times in my life, but every time was a complete failure. I’d sit down in a quiet place, back straight, legs criss-cross applesauce, thumb and middle finger touching, resting on my knees. I’d take a deep breath, ride the exhale, and a few seconds later — as my mind continued to race because I’d given myself all of 30 seconds to find peace — I’d think:
“This doesn’t work. It’s too hard. I don’t have time for this.”
I totally needed it but I wasn’t at a point in my life where I had the capacity to understand how it would help me.
About a year ago, as my business entered yet another challenging phase and I was struggling to find peace, I had a mentor suggest meditation. I was completely skeptical as I had “tried” it before, but I was in a pretty low spot and my mind was killing me. Exercise wasn’t working and I’d go from the work week right into the weekends, continuing to torture myself because I just couldn’t shut my mind off.
So I downloaded Headspace, a guided meditation app, and committed to the 10-day free trial. It took me nearly 30 days to complete it, but then I was hooked. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first stepping stone towards slowing things down.
What I’ve learned about meditation is that it’s not as much about what happens when I’m actually meditating as it is about how the techniques naturally — and mostly subconsciously — find ways to apply themselves throughout my day.
Meditation can bring mindfulness. Something — as I’ve been learning — that is easily squashed when I’ve got way too much on my plate, I’m always thinking about what’s coming next, and I’m continually asking my brain to solve a problem.
When I’m consistently making time to meditate, when stuff randomly comes up at work with the team, instead of instantly reacting, I have the patience to ask for context. After work, where I typically allow the events of the day to haunt my mind and steal my headspace, instead of taking those things and obsessing about them, I find I have the strength and calmness to simply let them go. Through meditation, I’ve learned how to process emotionally draining conflicts and people things within hours that normally would have had me down for days.
Meditation has taught me to plant myself where I am (which, turns out, is always where I need to be). Whether I’m alone, in a meeting at work, working out, eating dinner with my family, or doing homework with my kids, it’s taught me to focus on what I’m experiencing at that very moment rather than allowing my mind to go nuts analyzing the problems I have not yet solved. My head is still constantly filled with thoughts, but I’m learning how not to build up a story around them as they’re floating by. Instead of continually riding an emotional roller coaster, I can instead, choose to be mindful and just handle what’s in front of me.
Meditation got really good for me once I finally realized I could take it away from my phone. Over the summer, we spent a few weekends camping with the kids. There’s never any cell service so I don’t really have any choice but to unplug. But even without connecting to the outside world, it takes me at least a day to calm my mind.
One weekend when we were camping in Pleasant Valley, Colorado, Jon was teaching the kids how to fish. He could tell I was thinking too much so he directed my attention to a quiet spot just up the way from them on the river bank.
At first I was thinking I should have brought my phone so that I could do a guided meditation. And then, without much more thought, all of the stuff I had been learning each morning, 10 minutes at a time in my guided meditations, started to take over and clear my head.
Instead of continuing to obsess and worry about the load I was carrying at work, I took a big, deep breath and fixated my attention on the water.
For a few minutes, all I did was take in what I could see. I watched the water. It was so thick and heavy; forcing its way in tiny little bubbles through some spots and gliding smoothly over others. I fixated on the rocks and the weight of the water that rushed over them. I could see strong streams of sunlight pushing through the leaves on the trees, unveiling the bottom of the river bed.
When I simply focused on the beauty of what surrounded me, those thoughts of work found their way across my mind and quietly dissolved. As I took a few deep breaths and continued to find more things to appreciate, the feeling of heaviness began to lift. I could fully enjoy watching Jon change the spinner on Easton’s line 6 different times before they caught the smallest brown trout that ever lived. Finally, I had slowed my world down and I was right where I needed to be.
Later that same day, I took a hike with my daughter Ryan. She’d been curious about meditation since she watches me many mornings as I sit out on the back patio, headphones dangling from my ears.
We found a hiking trail at the north end of the campground that opened up to a rocky path leading us up the side of a mountain. After we walked a ways, we found ourselves alone, in a quiet part of a thick forest, enveloped by a mix of pine and aspen trees. I asked Ryan if she wanted to try meditating, so we found a log off the side of the trail as our seat.
This time, instead of observing everything I could see, I told her that we were going to close our eyes and listen really closely to everything we could hear. After a few minutes of silence, I’d let her know when our time was up and then she could tell me all of the things she heard in the forest.
That day, meditation not only allowed me to be mindful and let go, but it brought me some pretty amazing memories. Especially on the days when I’m struggling, if I close my eyes, I can see that river in my mind. The fish that Easton caught. I can see the path that led us up the mountain and that log Ryan and I sat on in the forest. I can hear her soft, sweet voice as she told me about all of the birds she heard singing, what the wind sounds like when it quietly touches the trees, and even the helicopter she heard off in the distance. And lucky for me, I was present for all of it.
Without working on being mindful, more of my days disappear like dust, taking all of the significant memories (both inside and outside of work) with them. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of days where I’m not mindful at all. Weeks where my meditation sessions feel like a waste. Or just phases where I don’t bother to dedicate the time to it. But then I’ll start to feel a heaviness. A weight that cannot be described until it’s already settled in. I’ll feel a little out of touch with my kids or that I’m being unnecessarily irritable with Jon.
That’s when instead of starting my day by grabbing my phone to check email before I even get out of bed, I make a different choice. I spend just 10 minutes with myself so that I can begin, once again, reconnecting, finding space, being present, and slowing things down.