Last week, we wrote about A Christmas Carol and how Ebenezer Scrooge’s miraculous change of heart can help us all examine our “selves” at the holidays. As a companion to that, I offer this guided meditation from the Brilliant Legal Mind collection. The holidays are a time for stories. They can help us connect with loved ones and learn from our experiences over the years.
Unfortunately, though, stories can also get in the way of connection at times or block us from insights about our lives when we let them play unconsciously in the background of our minds. In this meditation, I help you calm down and then walk you through the stories of the past and present so that you can bring more peace and joy to the future.
The ready availability of high-quality meditation apps means that most people exploring meditation these days are doing so with the support of guided meditations. This is a great thing and was, in fact, what I used to support my practice early on. Many guided meditations instruct and demonstrate, so the guiding may help you build skills and understanding even while you practice. It can also feel lonely and uncomfortable to start sitting in silence if you haven’t meditated much before or maybe just because that’s your personality. Thus, using guided meditations to establish or support your practice is excellent, whether you are a new or experienced meditator.
Even so, sitting in silence—meditating without guiding—offers a lot of benefits too because it offers freedom and flexibility that pre-recorded guided meditations cannot. Though I have no intention to dissuade you away from guided meditations (many of which are offered on this blog), you could be missing out if you never try meditating without guiding. To explain why, here are 5 reasons that you may want to explore meditating in silence.
1. You don’t have to pick a guided meditation.
I went to Catholic school from 1st through 12th grade. Some may think those school uniforms are restrictive, but I kind of liked not having to think about what to wear each day. Sitting in silence offers this benefit. One of the reasons I shifted away from guided meditations was that I got sick of scrolling through my app or podcasts to find the one I wanted each day. Rather than continue wasting time and exerting effort to try to control my meditation experience, I instead let go and started using the unguided timer on my meditation app. Now, the only decision I have to make before I sit is to go and do it. In short, sitting in silence saves times and cuts down significantly on the risk that decision fatigue will impede your practice.
2. Unguided meditation always fits you perfectly because it is you.
If you use guided meditations, it can be a challenge to find one that fits your current circumstances. Though good apps and teachers will give you an idea as to what the meditation is about, you won’t really know the tone and content until you are in it. Meditating without guiding avoids this because there is no guide. Your practice always fits you perfectly because your practice is just you. To be sure, this can be scary and difficult at times but so can meditating with the guidance of a teacher. Just like you must learn to trust your teacher in a guided meditation, you also must learn to trust yourself when you sit in silence. In this way, sitting in silence is the perfect meditation for whatever the circumstances are, and it can help you learn to take refuge in yourself in whatever circumstances that may arise.
3. Silence gives the mind space to relax.
What I really love about silent meditation is how it feels in my mind. This is esoteric, so I will try to explain with an analogy. Let’s say your mind is a basketball player. All day long, you have the mind running drills. It must do your work. It must record facts. It must listen to words and make sense of them. To put it another way, during most of your waking hours, your mind is doing passing drills, layups, and free throws. When you meditate, you intentionally stop some of these drills by sitting still and closing or lowering your eyes. If you use a guided meditation, at least one drill continues on as you focus on particular objects or visualizations to which you are directed. But, what if you just sat in silence and gave your mind permission to have open gym? What if you dropped the drills for a while and let your mind play HORSE, 21, or a pickup game or whatever else it wants to do? Sitting in silence is a way of giving space—all the space your mind has to offer—to your thoughts, emotions, and mental habits. This can feel really good and can help you see your patterns of thought a bit more clearly.
4. Meditation without guiding is more like real life.
While it would be awesome if your fav meditation teacher could sit on your shoulder and guide you as you go about your life each day, that’s just not possible. In real life, we have to make our own decisions in the moment. For this reason, meditating in silence is advantageous because it more closely resembles real life where there is no guide. In other words, sitting in silence allows you to practice the skills of mindfulness and compassion unprompted so that you are more likely to use those skills when you need them in life.
5. You may get an unfiltered look at your mind.
Guided meditation is great because you don’t have to think of what to focus on while you meditate and it may keep you on track. For that same reason, though, guided meditation has the potential to hide certain habits of mind from view. The mind can be tricky and it will hide and evade whenever the opportunity presents itself. Even though guided meditations are often intended to help you find clarity, inherently, they are additional sensory input for the mind to process. When you sit in silence, you take this additional input away and may give the mind one less object (or pleasing voice) to hide behind. Free from this extra layer of words, you may be in a better position to see how your mind works.
Silence, for many, is unsettling, unnerving, awkward, or just plain boring. For that reason, guided meditations offer support, comfort, and instruction to many meditators. As a result, I am not telling you in this post that you must or even should meditate in silence. I’m not saying that sitting in silence is the only “real”, “legitimate” or “valid” way to meditate because I believe meditation practices naturally shift over time and we all must find what works for us. My point here, however, is that meditation without guiding just might work for you if you give it a try.
If you want to work a bit with silence in your meditation practice but aren’t quite ready to do it for a full session, check out this meditation. In this practice, Claire will help you get settled and then offer three short intervals of silence for you to practice.
Over the last year, we’ve had to figure out how to do many things with our kids around, including our jobs. I’ve already covered ways to find quiet so you can meditate on your own. But another way to address the issue is to bring the kids into your meditation practice. The question inevitably arises, though, as to how one might actually do that.
Kids aren’t exactly known for sitting still and being quiet. I mean, when I wrote the post about “finding” quiet, I had my own noisy and fidgety kids in mind the whole time. For my own part, though, I know that I wish I had learned to meditate sooner since it has offered me so many benefits and helped make my life happier and richer. So, even though it may be a challenge to share mindfulness with our kids, it may be worth it. With that in mind, here are my tips if you want to start sharing mediation with your kids.
1. Be What You Want to See.
I don’t want to brag but my kids actually eat vegetables. It’s not because I have forced them to eat them (though I am not necessarily always immune from dinnertime battles) or have extolled their nutritional benefits. The reason my kids eat vegetables is because I really enjoy food. By that, I mean I love to cook. I get a lot of joy from making different things and experimenting and playing in the kitchen. When I do that, the girls automatically come in and want to help or steal veggies from the counter as I work. Meditation can be the same way. If you enjoy it and have fun with it, your kids are more likely to want to do the same. Let them see you meditate. Let them know you meditate and how it helps you. When they show interest, answer their questions and let them try it. If you push or demand or lecture, this will never happen. Meditation usually works best when someone chooses it for themselves so give your kids the same gift. In other words, just doing what is best for you is a great way to offer the best to your kids.
2. Meditate with them.
When your kids show interest, another great way to encourage them to pick up meditation is to try it with them. You can make this a routine by meditating for a few minutes before bed. Many meditation apps have meditations made just for kids and you can just play one after the bedtime stories or goodnight hugs. That may actually be a good way to help them get ready to sleep. You could also try a meditation break with them in times of stress. When my youngest was small, she refused to take a breath if I told her to do it because she thought it meant she was in trouble. But, if I did the breath with her, I got a totally different response. While you may not think of a few deep breaths as meditation, these building blocks for little kids can grow over time and serve as the foundation for a practice later on, not to mention that they are just good coping strategies to have.
3. Make it fun.
Play is essential to any good meditation practice and that is doubly true for kids. If your kids show an interest in meditation, try to make it fun. Explore guided meditations with imaginative visualizations. Keep your approach light and energized as you talk to them about their experience. For little kids, it may even help them to have them sit in your lap while you practice together. Meditation doesn’t have to be intense to be powerful. Helping them have fun as they explore their inner life bit by bit will serve as a good foundation for a healthy practice later.
4. Keep it simple and short.
It is no surprise that kids can’t sit very long. Don’t make the practice complex and don’t make it too long. It is unlikely that most kids younger than 10 can sit for more than five minutes straight and young kids may struggle to be silent. Start where you kids are. This may mean starting with one or two breaths. Later on you may advance to having your child name her experience. Though this may not seem like mindfulness to you, it is powerful for kids to begin to understand their inner lives. And, as always, their abilities and practice can grow over time.
5. Talking might actually help.
Some kids may not like the feeling of being alone when they meditate. Little kids may lack the ability to avoid talking. That’s just life. You can make meditation a bit easier for these kiddos by talking them through the process. For example, if a guided meditation tells you to envision yourself on a cozy cloud, you might watch your child and see how they react. If they fidget or make a funny face, you could say “what kind of cloud are you seeing?” or “how does the cloud make you feel?” With these questions, you are asking the child to focus on their direct experience so it is mindfulness but it may be easier for them since they have your support in the process. You may also enjoy this since the answers can range from insightful to hilarious and you may learn some surprising things about your kids.
If you want to try meditating with your kids, give this one a try. It’s a simple body scan but I was inspired by the many times I have found my daughters covered in paint or marker or crayon or whatever. Apparently, kids enjoy coloring on or painting themselves. With this meditation, they can do that and make a mess in their minds but there’s no mess at the end for you to clean up. If only craft time was so simple . . .
Have you ever gotten all worked up about something and a friend or loved one says “hey, relax!” And then maybe you get mad about it because you think “I can’t relax!” or “I don’t know how!” I know I have.
While we often think our minds are the tools to use to calm ourselves down, that isn’t exactly true. When you get stressed, the mind detects it and the brain won’t calm down until your body tells the brain the “threat” is gone. If you are talking about an abstract threat or one you are worried about in the future, that may never happen. To disrupt the chain, you need to learn how to let go.
One way of doing that, is by shifting your attention from your thoughts to the feelings in your body. With this brief meditation that I offered for the ABA Young Lawyers Division Meditation Challenge, we’ll shift attention from the swirling thoughts to the soothing and steady breath to rest–even if just for a few minutes. I bet you’ll find it helps. Check it out here.
2020 was a rough year for many of us. While we might like to rush as quickly into the future as we can, it is still unclear what the future will look like. As much as you might want to make progress and move forward after a year of what feels like sitting still, you have trouble figuring out how to do that after a year of such disruption.
I think meditation can help with this a lot because, when things feel like a mess, it can help you sit still for a moment to let things settle so you can examine what’s really there. But the special circumstances of 2020 call for extra help so I called for backup from my friend Laura Chipman. In addition to being a lawyer and mom like me, Laura is a life coach for lawyers.
Together, we offered this webinar to members of MothersEsquire where Laura led an exercise to help review 2020 and set intentions and goals for 2021. I then guided a meditation to help you acknowledge your reactions to the past and aspirations for the future and honor the emotions that arise in the process. As an added bonus, Laura created a great workbook from the event so you can work through this exercise at your own pace. Get your copy here.