By David Jones
As a Christian who struggles with anxiety, I find great value in meditation.
I don’t have a complex practice with chanting, incense, a gong or even a specific way of sitting. Mine is a very simple, basic form: abiding with the breath. You know how cliché it’s become to hear someone tell an overwhelmed friend or co-worker, “Breathe”? It’s exactly what I tell myself. It’s a signal to my brain that it’s time to concentrate on breathing.
When possible, I just sit with the breath. If need be, I’ll stand or walk with the breath, maybe even lie still with the breath. That’s the great thing about this type of meditation: you can do it pretty much anywhere and anytime.
One time I was getting overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts at work, so I just stopped typing and sat up straight, closed my eyes, and said “breathe.”
It’s a way of training my mind to shift into a specific gear. I have a routine for signaling to my mind “It’s time to sleep” or “It’s time to eat.” This isn’t a reminder to breathe (“Whew! Thanks, I forgot to breathe there for a minute!”) but a signal that, starting now, breathing is all we’re going to be concerned with. If I get to choose where I’m going to meditate I’ll always choose the outdoors, especially near running water. I usually find myself abiding with the breath indoors either sitting in a chair at work, on the couch, or lying in bed.
Walking while meditating is also a great way of regimenting the breath. Inhale for four steps, hold it for three steps, exhale for four steps. It gives you a beat to follow like the metrics of a poem.
My biggest consideration isn’t quiet or solitude but position comfort. I can manage noise and other people but not sore legs, back or bottom.
So let’s say I’m at work and nothing is going well. I’m paying way too much attention to life junk and it’s starting to get to me. So I sit up straight (very important), chin up and shoulders back (data entry tends to lead to slumping), and announce “Breathe.” Slowly, I inhale making my stomach rise, deeply but not painfully. I hold it for a moment, then slowly exhale. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Is that all? Yeah that’s it, all very simple. There’s no need to complicate it. I don’t try to empty my mind because that would complicate it. The goal isn’t to stop thoughts and distractions but to focus on breathing so that the thoughts come and go in the background. And when they push their way into the foreground, which they will, it’s okay. I just say, “Breathe” and bring my focus back to abiding with my breath.
Birdsong, wind in the trees, water babbling along in a creek or splashing on rocks in a waterfall—this is my ideal environment for meditating. But people talking, children running around yelling, cars going by and other populated urban soundscapes aren’t horrible noises to be surrounded with. The key is to let them slide out of focus and into the background.
You know those pictures where you can’t see the image unless you unfocus your eyes and let the chaos settle out of the way? With practice you can unfocus your ears until the mix of sounds becomes a steady background music.
How long do I spend meditating? As long I spend. One breath. 10 breaths. A few seconds. 20 minutes. The duration doesn’t matter; the breath is all that matters.
That’s the main takeaway here: the breath is all that matters. Not the thoughts ricocheting around your noggin like a pachinko machine, not someone talking loudly, not a rumbling tummy, nothing but the breath. What if something comes along that we can’t or shouldn’t just let slide by? Then stop meditating and go handle business. It’s not a sin, you don’t fail, you aren’t weak or bad at meditating if you go deal with stuff. The meditation will be waiting for you when you get done.
Since I’m a Christian, shouldn’t I be praying instead of meditating? Nope, I can do both since each serves a different but complementary function in my life. Prayer is communication beyond myself, and meditation is communication within myself. However I don’t just pray to ask for something or just meditate to overcome anxiety. Those efforts often disappoint. I pray with thanks, for strength, about deep concerns and insights. I meditate with gratitude, for focus, to stem the tide of disturbances in my mind and weather the disturbances in my environment.
Some folks would say I should only pray or meditate. I respect that, but that’s not my path. God isn’t angry with me for meditating within myself any more than He’s angry with me for discussing my concerns with my wife. God isn’t a tyrant in my experience.
I absolutely recommend breath meditation to Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, or anyone who wants to manage stress, have a little mental vacation, develop a quick response to mental overwhelm, or get more in touch with the inner you.
And if you want to try sitting in the lotus position, stretch first and have the kids help you get up after. Trust me on this one.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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