Growing up, I was your standard skeptical kid. I saw myself as straight laced, thought that it was weird to discuss any sort of mental problems or doubt, and there was no chance you would catch me trying to work on my mind. I mean, in my eyes, why “waste time” sitting around trying to think differently when I could just go work out, or put in hours at my job and just distract myself from any strange or negative thought patterns.
As the years went on, this approach became less and less effective for me. Sure, I could easily distract myself at the gym for a few hours, or work a full 12-hour day and lose myself in the grind. But it was always the same at the end of the night, I would lie in bed for hours on end, restless. My mind just wouldn’t shut the hell up! From the problems I faced the week prior to the problems I would face the next week my mind would yammer on with no end in sight and I just could not reel it back in to save my life.
It wasn’t until within the last 6 months that I decided enough was enough. It wasn’t healthy to put myself to sleep with Benadryl on a consistent basis, and it was equally unhealthy to just stay up until 3am only to wake up at 8am for class with no ability to focus or comprehend anything. I decided to do the research as to why I had so much mental chatter when I went to lay down at night.
At first, I read about using your electronics before bed and the effect of that on sleep. Aha! That’s gotta be my issue. It’s not a problem with me at all, just my bad habit of looking at my phone up until I went to bed. So I cut out all electronics from my life an hour before going to sleep. At first, there was slight improvement, so I stuck with it, getting somewhat better sleep. It still wasn’t the root of the problem, as indicated by my restless thoughts still hammering away past midnight.
A few weeks passed by and I figured I should reassess the issue and try something new. Everywhere I looked people talked about meditation and how much that would help them clear their mind, but hell, that sounded like some verified hippie crap to me. I thought “might as well join a drum circle and smoke a bunch of pot if I’m gonna start to meditate”.
I began to try non-drug supplements for sleep as well as drinking teas brewed from catnip and chamomile in hopes that that would do the trick. Again, it showed slight improvement, but my thoughts would still often get out of control and keep my up for hours on end. It was time to drop my preconceived notions about meditation and take the plunge.
My initial attempts towards meditation were impatient and unsuccessful. I would try to self-guide myself through YouTube videos and ended up just telling my mind “SHUT THE HELL UP AND RELAX!!” for 20-30 minutes at a time before giving up and going to do something else. I did not find any form of consistency or success until I stumbled upon the app Headspace. It was extremely easy to use, and offered a ton of free guided content. Most importantly for me, it discussed all the difficulties within the process of meditation that I had been experiencing.
About a week in, I was hooked, and beginning to understand what it was all about. The value of getting in touch with your internal stimuli while simultaneously being aware of the external environment became apparent. In developing the ability to switch between the two, I began to develop the ability to calmly direct my thoughts. It was not about actively forcing myself to think differently, but gently redirecting my focus to something calming such as my breathing patterns or body sensations to be able to quiet my mind back down and get some freedom in my mind.
I am without a doubt still in the process of developing the skill of meditation, and with each day that passes I feel a bit more in control of what was once a rambling mess that I called my mind. The more it develops, the more mindful I am of how my thought patterns work, giving myself much greater control and influence over them. From sleep to focus during the day, it has greatly improved my thought patterns and efficiency.
A word of advice, if you don’t already do so, give meditation a try. Even if you don’t struggle with the same issues I did, I firmly believe that you will find some benefits of your own. I mean hell, can’t we all use a few minutes of peace and quiet in our day?