Are you so busy you don’t have time to relax? It’s something lots of people struggle with, especially multi-tasking moms and teachers, and probably everyone else at one time or another. We know we should stop to smell the roses and live in the moment. Science says meditation is a great way to encourage mindfulness, but every time I try to sit still and think, it reminds me that I’m not good at sitting still and thinking. If you can relate, you are going to love this guest post by my good friend and fellow teacher Lily Dale on how she discovered meditation WITHOUT meditation. Sign me up, girlfriend.
How to Meditate Without Meditating
by Lily Dale
Back in the mid-90s when Friends ruled the TV screen and O.J. Simpson was recklessly driving through the streets of California to escape arrest, I was working in print shops under the heavy stress of deadlines and accuracy and customers who wanted their printed, collated and bound materials yesterday. I loved the high pressured, highly creative world of these shops and working with customers who had no idea what they wanted and it was up to us to produce something awesome from our back pockets that completely and totally wowed them.
And then the babies started coming and I left that world for the much more peaceful existence of the stay-at-home mom. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly that peaceful but, compared to working under the constant pressure of the deadline, motherhood was a piece of cake. I could screw up at home and everything would still be okay. Or, at least my kids would have something great to tell their therapists.
The kids grew up and I eventually found my way back into the working world. Through a fantastic series of twists and turns and just serious luck and divine intervention, I found myself working as a Career and Technical Education teacher at our local high school. I now teach Graphic Arts, Digital Imaging and Digital Video.
And I quickly discovered that what I thought was the high pressured world of print shop deadlines doesn’t hold a candle to the amount of stress and pressure from all sides that I continually experience as a teacher. Even in my fifth year of teaching, the pressure and stress is a constant. The last five years has been about finding a good way to relax, to meditate if you will, in spite of all the crazy I deal with on a daily basis. This has been an adventure in and of itself.
I tried yoga but quickly discovered that the pretzel positions made my body hurt and not in a good way. I always ended up with a bad headache for hours after a session. So I gave up on yoga. Don’t hate me.
Then I tried actual meditation where you sit on the floor with your legs crossed and just breathe. Did you watch that episode of This is Us last night? The one where…I tried medita–I forgot to call my friend! I tried medi…crap! I left my medication where the dogs can get it…I tried med—oh forget it. I gave up on meditation. My mind cannot sit still and neither can I. I know it takes lots and lots of practice but I’m just not made for meditation. I truly admire anyone who can sit still for 15 minutes and wrangle their thoughts back into submission when they wander. I just can’t do it.
Then I tried Netflix meditation but it didn’t take me long to get through 9 seasons of Seinfeld and pack on some extra pounds doing it so I gave up on Netflix altogether.
And then early last year, I tried something completely new: calligraphy.
I have always loved textured papers, cool notebooks, purple pens with super pointy ends and just writing in general so it seemed a good fit. By sheer luck, I stumbled onto a calligrapher who was starting free lessons online so I signed up. I was instantly smitten with this way of writing. This was something I could practice wherever I was and with whatever pen or pencil I had on hand. So I practiced. I practice a lot.
And then I started noticing something interesting. In order to be able to write each letter in calligraphy correctly, I have to relax my entire body. My writing hand and arm especially need to stay nice and loose and my body has to be aligned correctly. I am able to quickly notice areas of tension when I’m writing so I have to make an effort to loosen up, taking deep breaths to help me get there.
Before I knew it, I was in some sort of deeply relaxed zone where I didn’t even notice time was passing and the past and the future didn’t exist. It really felt like true meditation where my only thought was getting the letter form correct and consistent–kinda like the “Ommmmm” you say to try to keep your thoughts from straying so that you can concentrate on the task at hand.
I gotta say, a few lessons in calligraphy did more for my mental health and anxiety than a month’s worth of yoga or meditation. Add some cool music to practice to and I’m staying in that zone for awhile without even trying.
I always thought that mindful meditation was something you did intentionally and had to work hard at, constantly roping and beating those stray thoughts back into submission. Turns out it can be achieved through other informal methods, like gardening or watching birds at the feeder or just listening to Etta James on repeat through Alexa. I’m all for that!
According to Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela from Psychology Today, the principles of good mindfulness practice include:
- Paying attention to the moment-to-moment details of the experience
- Paying particular attention to the body and one’s experience of it
- Recognizing the experience of the mind and not getting caught in memories or the past or plans for the future
- Trying neither too much nor too little
- Letting go of distractions and paying attention to the present moment
- Noticing one’s experience without judging it
By her standards, any activity that achieves these principles is as good as meditation. Calligraphy hits all of these points for me.
So if you are like I used to be–constantly beating yourself up for not being able to meditate like other people I know–don’t give up. Go look for something you like to do that makes time pass easily and use it as your way to relax and meditate. It doesn’t have to be complicated or involve sitting cross-legged on the floor. It just has to get you in the zone.
And if you’d like to see more of my calligraphy, you can find me under @scribblesanddrivel on Instagram.
Books to Get You Started (commissioned links):
- Hand Lettering for Relaxation, by Amy Latta
- How to Draw Modern Florals, by Alli Koch
- Botanical Line Drawing, by Peggy Dean
- Draw Your Day, by Samantha Dion Baker
Besides teaching high school CTE classes, Lily lives with her husband of 29.5 years in a big house left mostly vacant by three grown children who all moved out two years ago, and two dogs, one of which is so tiny she must be spoiled on a daily basis. Lily practices calligraphy, doodling, journaling, drawing and creating something new on a daily basis.