This past Saturday was World Mental Health Day, which got me thinking about my own mental health journey. I have been very proactive in making my wellness a priority after the sophomore slump led me to enroll in student counseling. Some people still find it shocking that I’m so open about my choice to get counseling, but I have no shame in sharing the steps I took to get better. Though student counseling changed my frame of thinking, the biggest obstacle was finding practices to keep moving forward on my own. One of the methods that helps me is meditation.
Meditation still carries a strange reputation. It is often tied to modern day pseudo-hippies and myths about spiritualism. I originally had trouble with the concept of meditation because all I’d ever heard was the idea of quieting your thoughts. This is not true. The hardest part about dealing with any mental illness is battling the part of the brain that rationalizes emotions and won’t let you escape the situations created in your mind. How can I just “turn them off”? After participating in Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge online, I realized that quieting your thoughts is the first misunderstanding of the power of meditation.
Meditation is not about turning off your thoughts. Rather, it is about getting in tune with them. It is extremely difficult at first because aside from the other thoughts running around, people might start thinking to themselves, “stop thinking” and lose focus altogether.
“One reason why meditation may seem difficult is that we try too hard to concentrate, we’re overly attached to results or we’re not sure we are doing it right,” Chopra wrote in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
In the 21-Day Meditation Challenge, Chopra guides each day of meditation with a new central thought and subject to focus on while meditating. This allows participants to have control over what they’re thinking and gain an understanding of how their thought process works. Each session, about 15 minutes, is easy to fit into a busy schedule and can be done at any point of the day. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so the point of this challenge is to make controlling your thoughts a subconscious act. The ability to control your thoughts is the foundation for gaining more control in life.
What many people fail to realize with meditation is that the results are not immediate. Though I have experienced some changes in my life within 24 hours of starting meditation, I am also still meditating on things I started five months ago. One of the best lessons I took away from meditation is learning to trust the uncertainty. It becomes apparent that as long as you have done what you can, the rest is up to the effort you put forth in your thoughts and actions. It’s a cliché I try to avoid, but it is true that positive thinking yields positive outcomes.
There are various ways to begin a meditation journey. The Engemann Student Health Center offers an eight-week stress relief workshop that focuses on meditation called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, in which students use mindfulness techniques to reduce stress and to facilitate their well-being. If you’re interested in participating in one of the 21-Day Meditation Challenges, registration is free online at Chopra Center Meditation. For those who would rather approach meditation in a do-it-yourself way, Relax Melodies is an app that has a wide variety of zen sounds to create a calming environment in order to have a productive session of focused thinking.
Whether you’re visualizing your future or just setting small-scale goals, meditation offers one of the strongest tools to determine the outcomes in your life, even when it might feel like life is completely out of control.
Alexa Edwards is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “In the Meantime,” runs every other Wednesday.