By Abbey Delk
“Close your eyes and go to your happy place.”
If you instinctively recoiled at that sentence, know that I feel your repulsion and understand it. For years, I was completely disinterested in meditation. I’d read think pieces and cutesy Instagram infographics about the benefits of spending an hour every day sitting cross-legged and listening to a stranger tell me to “breathe deeply,” and I’d roll my eyes. The whole idea felt a little too hippy-dippy, a little too crunchy granola.
Of course, my negative perception of meditation was based on a very Western, very white definition of what meditation entails. The practice dates all the way back to 5,000 BCE and has to ties to multiple religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism, and Sikhism, according to an article by TIME. It wasn’t until the 20th century that meditation moved beyond the religious realm and became increasingly popular in Western culture.
Now, it feels hard to escape. Every article about stress management, sleep, wellness, and mental health seems to include a suggestion to take up meditation. No matter what your problem may be, big or small, meditation always seems to be part of the solution.
The only problem? Meditation is hard. I’ve never really been able to understand it, and every time I tried, I felt silly and a little embarrassed of my efforts. During my freshman year, I took a one-credit seminar, and the professor dedicated an entire class to a guided meditation. Twenty students sat in a circle of chairs with our eyes closed as our overeager professor walked us through a 30-minute-long exercise. I think I was supposed to find my inner purpose or something. I left disappointed.
I had tried to focus on my professor’s voice, but I just couldn’t. I felt too awkward. I was also annoyed that I was wasting time sitting still with my eyes closed when there were about a million other things I could have been doing instead. By the time we reached the end of the meditation, I had become fidgety and irritable. It was decided: meditation is stupid, and I was too practical for that nonsense.
Then the pandemic happened. I was back home in West Virginia, away from my partner and friends and the city I loved. Online school felt like more work, and I was slowly drowning in deadlines and falling behind. The news got more depressing by the day, but I couldn’t look away. I was lonely and scared and unhappy. I needed something to help process my emotions and help me gain back a little bit of control.
So I tried meditation again. I had little hope that it would actually help me, but these were desperate times. I found a discount code for a meditation app and paid five bucks for a year-long subscription. I put in my headphones, laid down on my bed, and tried it out.
It worked. Well, sort of. The app I use, Shine, has an endless list of meditations for its users, often tailored to specific problems like work stress, sleeplessness, and anxiety. There was even a category for stress specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of the tracks are short, often less than ten minutes and sometimes less than five. Each day, I get a notification from the app to “check-in.” It gives me a short meditation tailored to my specific needs for the day. It asked me to chat briefly with a friendly bot that asks me about my day and gives me space to vent. The whole thing only takes fifteen minutes tops.
I won’t lie and say that this app changed my life or that meditation has brought me inner peace. I’m not sure that’s even possible. But when I take fifteen minutes in the morning to just sit with myself and work through the sources of my stress and negative emotions, I usually feel a little more ready to tackle my long to-do lists and endless Zoom calls. To keep my mind from wandering during a session, as it used to when I tried to meditate, I use a journal to write down what the guide’s voice is saying and process my thoughts. This also gives me a written record of what I thought about, which helps me understand the larger trends of what is creating stress and negativity in my life.
I still sometimes feel silly while I meditate. But I also feel good about myself. I’m proud that I’m making an effort to bolster my mental health and practice self-care, even if it is a very small step. I’m glad I’m trying. For now, that is all that matters.