Photo: Vladimir Serov
Everyone who meditates extols its virtues. Mental clarity, reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep: the list goes on. But when someone says "You should meditate", it's the same as saying "You should do more exercise" or "You should drink less". We all know what we "should" do. Actually doing it is something else all together.
I knew I needed to do something to manage my stress. Last year, I had my third child and lost my mum suddenly, in the space of four months. My husband and I were already in chaos as our baby daughter rarely slept, day or night - but when Mum died, things started to spiral. We got through it with the help of a supportive community and friends, but my pattern of thinking had changed.
Lack of sleep combined with shock and grief meant my thought processes had completely changed rhythm. I needed a way to iron out the kinks, and meditation seemed to have the answers.
The 21-Day Meditation Challenge, hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, appeared at this crucial point. Once registered, each day a link to a guided meditation is sent to your inbox, and you then meditate for 20 minutes at a time that suits you. Each Challenge has a theme, and this one was "Finding your flow". Here's my Challenge diary.
Day 1 I couldn't be more ready. It's week two of the school holidays, so it's safe to say I'm searching for my "flow" in a significant way.
I'm frazzled and scratchy when I sit down to meditate, already thinking that Oprah's chirpy American twang will annoy me. Actually, I'm willing her to annoy me, so I can turn the iPad off and go finish all my jobs, because I'm so time-poor and busy and pulled in every direction. (And really, I just want to get back on Facebook.) But Oprah turns out to be positive, and inspiring.
The background music is another matter. Is it meant to aid serenity and relaxation? I keep thinking it's the baby crying. I pause a couple of times to check if it is the baby. It's not.
Day 3 Wow! Day three and nirvana reached already. Well, actually, I think I fell asleep. But a 15-minute uninterrupted doze on the couch possibly qualifies as nirvana in my world. (Note to self: do not drink red wine before meditation, and switch iPad to "do not disturb" mode so you don't get silly texts from other people also drinking red wine).
Day 5 The last few days have been lovely. Which is particularly good for me, as we are nearing the end of the school holidays and, if I'm honest, my cup is not overflowing with love or gratitude. Meanwhile, Deepak and Oprah keep reminding me to follow my intuition to discover my authentic, creative self. Hmm. I'll keep trying.
Day 6 The 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence is hugely restorative. When life is so busy there is little time to ponder lofty ideals of listening to your creative expression, to find ways to express your authentic creative self, to tune in to your wisdom and intuition, or to release your full human potential. But these concepts really can inform how you choose to live. I just need to pay a bit more attention to them ... in between the school run, cooking dinner, doing the washing and getting to work on time.
Day 7 One of the tools Chopra provides is a mantra. The idea is to repeat it each time your mind gets distracted. Today, the mantra "sahasrara im" (which ironically translates to "I am pure awareness") is one I constantly return to. One of the kids has nits and I keep feeling them crawling all over me. Enter the mantra. It helps me get through the meditation without leaping off the couch and into the shower for a good scrub.
Day 10 Finally, some results. I feel like I'm floating at the end of today's session. The deep breathing associated with meditation is such a simple device, but I always forget to use it, unless I'm in a quiet room with some calming music.
I know oxygenating all your organs has physical and psychological benefits, but if I was guaranteed this feeling every time I meditated, I'd have no problem finding time to do it. I'm refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Day 13 Yesterday I had a meltdown with the kids. I'm sure it was the "back to school meltdown" my kids were meant to have, but they just left it to me. It wasn't pretty, but meditating helped me to reflect on the fact that setting aside time for meditation is not negotiable. The pace we live at is totally unsustainable. I'm hoping the habit of meditation will slow things down, enough to convince my children that their mum is not completely bonkers!
Day 16 I missed a couple of days so have been trying to catch up. I do today's mediation in my bedroom as the kids are being settled into bed by my husband. The day has been long, with a refusing-to-sleep bub, but today's sentiments are a revelation: "When we express happiness we change the world. Happiness goes viral." Without a doubt, this is the most powerful nugget of wisdom I've taken from the challenge. So simple, but so true.
Day 19 It seems like every day is a stressful day. Getting the two older kids dressed and ready for school, never mind the school run, leaves me spent. The meditation is a welcome relief, and a great way to draw a line under anything that's happened. I've realised that it's a practice that requires time and discipline, and I need to be patient with myself. Giving up because I can't still my mind serves no one.
It's still early days for me and I'm a long way from enlightenment. But as this meditation challenge draws to a close, I can see that finding 20 minutes a day to shut the world out and be alone is not only a rare treat, but entirely necessary. Meditation allows the space to punctuate our lives, which in turn, allows us to make more sense of them.
• Meditation does not always need to be "guided". Just find a quiet room and a comfortable chair.
• Choose a mantra that works for you. "So hum" (meaning "I am") is a useful one, as it is easy to remember.
• Focus on your breathing; inhale and exhale deeply, and repeat your mantra.
• There are plenty of meditation apps to help you get started. Meditation Oasis's Relax & Rest and Simply Being apps ($1.29 each) are both excellent, and the Mindfulness app ($2.49) is also recommended, as it comes with an eight-week beginners' program. •