How I Built a Meditation Practice in 30 Days
by Catherine Morris | November 5, 2020, updated about 1 month ago
I took a rain check on Sober October this year (it's 2020—wine has never been more necessary), swapping out deprivation for enlightenment with a little something I'm calling Om-tober.
The Omtober rules were simple. Meditate every day for the month, hitting at least ten minutes a day, and keep a note of my progress.
It seemed like time. Not only has the world gone fully crazy, I also relocated from Alberta to Ontario at the start of the month—packing up my worldly goods to drive across the country in an epic five-day road trip that left me with truck-lag, and a deep distrust of gas station bathrooms. During a pandemic.
So, to say I was stressed is like saying cake is delicious. Being constantly on the verge of a shrieking meltdown made me a great candidate for meditation and all its myriad wonderful benefits—better sleep, better mood, clearer thinking. I was so ready to lean into my Lotus.
I Got a Coach (which is definitely not cheating)
If I was going to succeed, however, I needed help. My usual wellness buddy (the dog) was willing but not very forthcoming with practical advice. As an alternative I turned to meditation counsellor Carleen Ellis, who offers group classes, private sessions, online coaching, and meditation mentoring at her Heart Centered Life practice.
She laughed with me and predicted “almost guaranteed failure”.
Folks, if you're ever in the market for a meditation coach, pick one who's brutally honest.
Ellis explained that starting a new practice in the midst of a big life upheaval wasn't ideal, and she was skeptical that 31 days was enough, pointing out that eight weeks is usually the sweet spot for seeing measurable results. Being the stubborn sort, I told her I'd prove her wrong with a certainty I didn't quite feel.
I knew I had to meditate, but I had no idea how to go about actually meditating. There are many types of meditation. So many, in fact, that I began to get a bit stressed out by the choices available (yes, irony noted). Ellis, who has been teaching meditation for five years, and who’s been meditating on her own for much longer, advises newcomers to start simple with breathwork exercises. She says it's helpful to pick a focus based around sight, sound, and sensation, and adds—
"Any of those three are a solid way to anchor your focus. I start with breath because it is very tangible, very immediate. You don’t need to use anything to create it, you cannot make excuses, it is deeply hard-wired. With a breathing meditation, you're listening to the sound of the breath and you can feel it.”
Any more advice for newbies? “Sit in whatever form you like, be comfortable, and maintain an open mind every time you sit down. Have no expectations [and] don't try too hard. Meditation doesn't follow a formula.”
Oh, and meditation pro tip: don't lie down, that's called sleeping.
The last piece of advice from my coach was a classic—be kind and enjoy it, “The people that stick with meditation appreciate it within the first three to eight weeks. If it's just a chore, most people cannot keep it up much longer than that, even if they know it is good for them. You need to have some pleasure. Turn it into a relationship with yourself instead of pushing thoughts away or trying to change them. If you fight against it, nobody wins.”
Ellis, I suspect, has a mind like a deep, still pool. I have a mind like a bag of crazed weasels. This was going to be interesting.
I broke all of Ellis' rules almost immediately. Not wanting to disturb the husband and dog as they slumbered, day one saw me squeezed into a cold motel bathroom, loading up an app. It was the longest ten minutes of my life (apart from that time the internet went down while I was writing a very witty Tweet).
Ellis frowns on apps and other tools, at least for beginners, saying—
“I wouldn't play around too much [with apps] because people can get reliant before they have developed their own practice. It's a bit like running—if you have a jogging practice where you always jog with a friend and they don't show up, you don't jog.”
I make it a life rule only to run away from things or towards things, so couldn't really relate to the jogging metaphor, but I took her point. For those early days on the road though, an app helped keep me accountable and eased me into a regular habit.
Once we were settled in our new home, I tried everything in the name of research—apps, imagery, forest noises, softly chiming bells, connecting with my inner lion (don't ask)—but eventually decided to stop playing around and go back to basics as per coach's advice.
It was a game-changer. Focus came easier. The long, slow, rhythmic tides of my breath kept me grounded in a way that the other tools had failed to do. Not that it was easy.
Here's a non-exhaustive list of the things I thought about while I was supposed to be thinking of nothing—
- Where did I put that banana bread recipe?;
- Should I buy red or black winter booties for the dog?;
- Why do some people think 'irregardless' is a word?;
- Will Elon Musk's plans for artificial intelligence mean the eventual enslavement of the human race by a superior AI?!
It was frustrating. I'm not a quitter (despite what my fourth grade piano teacher might say), but there were times when I wanted to call it a day, and times when I thought I'd never transition from someone who's trying meditation to someone who meditates. For the first three weeks of my challenge, I was busy waiting for that breakthrough moment.
Around Day 23, something happened. I was up to 18 minutes of mindfulness a day and still awaiting results. Then it happened. I stopped waiting.
My practice didn't get any easier. I didn't get any better at clearing my head. I certainly wasn't getting up from the floor and floating around in a serenity bubble. I just let go of the desire for those things.
It was a weird sensation for me, which was a lesson in itself. I'm a classic Type A who twitches at the thought of an undone 'to do' list item, but I had no idea just how attached I'd become to achievement.
As Ellis warned me in the first week—
“Meditation shows you a mirror of yourself, and that is the hardest mirror to look into.”
Now that I've waved goodbye to my inner task-master, meditation feels easier, and more enjoyable. It's relaxing, in fact. For 18 whole minutes I don't care—I don't care that there's a deadline waiting, or that the household budget took a hit this week, or that we still have boxes to unpack and nowhere to put the contents. I don't care, and it's amazing.
Did I stick to my meditation practice for the whole 31 days? Yes. Was it easy? Hell. No.
If you're curious enough to try it, I'm willing to bet it'll be hard for you too. You'll feel like a fraud. You'll wonder if it's worth it. You'll skip it some days, and your inner critic will turn savage. Not only is all of that normal, it's a good thing—if you 'get' meditation on your first try, you're probably doing it wrong.
My challenge may be over, but my practice definitely isn't. The road to enlightenment was more of a roller coaster for me at times—the terrifying ones you have to be coaxed onto and are 100% sure it'll all end in vomit—but I'm confident that it's going somewhere, and I'm excited to see the final destination.
Thanks to Carleen Ellis for her invaluable guidance. If you want to start meditating, refine your existing practice, or just learn more about how mindfulness can improve your wellbeing, reach out to Carleen or any of Which Doctor's meditation coaches today to book a consultation.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.