Hi my name is Devi, and I’m addicted to distraction. If you have time to listen, I want to tell you a story about why I started meditating.
I still remember in 2014 spending an hour crying in my car because of something I needed to deal with and when I finished, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Twitter in the Lidl parking lot for another hour. There were parts of my life I could not look at. I didn’t realize this because for years I thought it was my phone habits that were the problem. It is easy to notice the way social media, apps or games keep our attention, but it was more than screen time. Focusing on my tasks during the day was difficult, I often wanted to escape normal down time that I typically enjoyed, I couldn’t sit for long periods of time to work on a task. My mind wandered when I listened to a long sermon or podcast. There was a current of unease that flowed through me on regular weeks, on holiday, and during my time alone. It took several years, but I slowly uncovered why I liked being distracted.
I liked parts of my life unexamined.
The truth is it had been several hard years, and when hard years go on and on, we develop coping mechanisms to get through the days. It’s almost like I broke my leg but kept walking without having it assessed and put in a cast. My distractions were the good-enough limp that kept me from the doctor.
So I paid attention when I saw that Michelle DeRusha had a book coming out called True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. What connected with me when I read True You was the idea of Japanese open pruning, a metaphor Michelle works with throughout the book. She writes:
When a Japanese gardener ‘prunes open,’ he or she cuts away not only dead branches and foliage, but also a number of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows the visitor to see up, out and beyond the trees to the sky, creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden. It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing complicating elements, simplifying the structure and revealing its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out, so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. Sometimes the process of pruning open requires a major restructuring – cutting back limbs and dramatically altering the form of the tree – while other times, only a gentler, more subtle reshaping is necessary.
Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying. This is what happened when I felt my hunger.
For a good part of 2018, this radical restructuring slowly took place in me. It was fed by time with friends, prayer, Bible verses, music, therapy and medication. There is no one-way through radical restructuring or open pruning. It’s a team effort, it takes time.
And time has a tender way of slowly revealing next steps.
When I started reading True You a few weeks ago, meditation became the next step. Michelle begins the book by telling us about how she started taking a few minutes every day for self-directed mental rest. She sat on the same park bench daily, in the silence and started paying attention. What followed was a year of deeper processing, of uncovering layers of her own brokenness and a discovery of what God wanted to do in her life to bring healing, renewal and a new sense of purpose. I read this, and thought, I need this. Nineteen days ago I started setting aside 10 minutes a day for, what I’m calling, meditation.
This is what I did. I told my husband I was going for a walk on a Sunday morning, I walked to the end of our street where there is a bench, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. Like Michelle instructs in her book, I tried to quiet my thoughts. I listened to the birds. And I listened to where my worried thought trails took me. I heard rustling leaves, and I heard a list of what I needed to do. It was a start. I felt more relaxed after, at the very least more oxygenated. I went on to have a great day until a few hours later I had one of the melty-downest meltdowns I’ve had in a long time. Just in case you were afraid this post would say “Meditating Changed My Life.”
It hasn’t done that. But it is changing my appetites. It is changing the strength of my mind.
It is easier to switch into work mode and work less distracted. My ability to “just write” has increased.
I move through the day less overwhelmed with all there is to do and am able to do one thing at a time and not move to the next task until I’ve finished the present one.
I can quickly spot my body’s anxiety responses and speak to it with truth.
I feel physically more relaxed.
I have an increased ability to assess situations in my life – what is really happening here? What am I responsible for? Where do I need to change? Where do I need to expect someone else to change?
My Meditation Practice
I try to aim for the same time of day. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I sit in the silence. First I see what may rise up when I settle into the time – if it is a thought or an image, I fix my mind on it. I keep my mind focused on a particular thought or image, sometimes it is a truth from the Bible, sometimes it is a truth in my day-to-day life. I breathe in for three, hold for three and out for three until I don’t need the breaths to help me focus. I have no idea if this is mindfulness or accurate meditation, but the truth is I do not care.
Ultimately this practice has been for me about establishing a habit and a mental discipline. In the same way that doing bicep curls will strengthen my arms and help me one day do a real pull up, training my brain to think on one thing and eliminate distractions is building a muscle.
My Meditation Rules
I put my phone on flight mode.
I set a timer for 12 minutes, so that I have a few minutes to settle into it. The aim is 10 minutes daily, and I know when to stop when the timer rings.
I never let myself wonder if I am doing this right. This is the one thought that I am not allowed to think, and yes, it comes up every time I meditate. That I’m doing it is more important to me than how I’m doing it.
I don’t have a place for meditation, but this is because of my life. Some days of the week I’m home with the kids, so I have to do it in the bedroom, when I’m alone I have more options of where I can do it. I don’t put pressure on myself to do it in the same place. Again, the point for me is the 10 minutes of self-directed mental rest.
If I’m alone with the kids at home, they watch something while I’m meditating because this is the only way I can guarantee 10 minutes without interruption. Of the 19 days I’ve done it so far, only one session got interrupted by a kid who needed a box of tissues. Hashtag real life.
In conclusion, friends, I am grateful for the slow ways our lives can change. I’m grateful for the resources God puts in our paths. I’m grateful for the way Truth is embedded into various corners of our cosmos, grateful that we don’t need to fear. And I am grateful for the way God made our brains, infinitely malleable, changeable, redeemable.
Now it’s your turn: What do you think about meditation? Have you tried it? What do you do to keep your mind focused and attentive?
A few resources if you are interested in knowing more about meditation:
Has Mindfulness Supplanted Thoughtfulness? by Amy Julia Becker for Christianity Today
Feeling stressed and unproductive? Here’s how to stop being busy and be mindful instead by Gillian Coutts for Smart Company
20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today by Emma M. Seppala for Psychology Today
How I stopped fighting anxiety by Andrea Debbink for The Art of Simple
Read. Pray. Stretch. Breathe. Cook. by Andrea Lucado