(Part three of an ongoing crash course on mindfulness in your 20s. Click here for the last post.)
I've always been inspired by the journeys of modern-day thought leaders like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild) who chose to go on a literal adventure of finding themselves. I often wondered how I could go on my own journey to discover a new meaning of life, temporarily stepping away from it all.
I definitely don't have the cash to travel the world. I guess I could try the extensive hiking trip. But I can barely make myself dinner with a fully equipped kitchen let alone a pot and a fire. Running out of ideas, I realized that Elizabeth and Cheryl seemed to learn the most from being by themselves... from finding the silence of life. So, I gave myself a challenge: Find more silence.
My first challenge was going 24 hours without talking to anyone. (I gave the people close to me a heads up that I was doing this.) I did let the sounds of music and Netflix talk to me, but it was relieving not having to answer back. I finally took the time to read several articles, finish a book, and catch up on some sitcoms. The best part was that nothing involved me offering my opinion. I just spent the day listening, taking in information rather than giving it. The experience was extremely refreshing. I recognized the importance of listening and promised myself to listen more to the world around me. Now, amongst my social life, I purposefully schedule nights for myself to just be with me.
I then realized that my iPhone 5 was taking up about five times more of my day than it should be. I would be having a conversation with a friend, and suddenly, my pocket would let me know that someone was trying to contact me. Rather than really listening to what my friend was saying, I would convert half of my energy to subtly sliding my phone out. Then, I would casually look at the message, pretending as if its content only needed a brief moment of my attention. But then, I would begin constructing a response in my head and nonchalantly texting back with one hand. At this point, my friend could have just confessed murder, and I'm off in emoji-land struggling to decide on my favorite version of the smiley face.
So, I turned my phone to silent mode, and it's now been that way for about a year. Everything from calls to texts to snapchats now enter my phone without making a beat of sound or a bump of motion. In fact, even as I write this, my mom is probably calling me. (Not now, Mom, I'm trying to write.) I now only look at my phone when it's not going to interrupt my interaction with the real world. When I'm doing something that does allow me to be open to communication, I simply set my phone out so I can see the messages. One time, when I finally decided to look at my phone, I had 26 text messages. That's actually a total lie. I just wanted you to think I was really popular for a moment.
Okay, I understand that even in your 20s, many of us aren't in the position to have a night alone, day of silence, or a year of digital freedom. So, let's all try something a bit more attainable. Everyday, spend small pockets of time in silence.
Find a comfortable spot somewhere, maybe even a place where you don't usually sit (like the spot on the floor next to your bed). You can even put a pillow against the wall so you can lean back, but try sitting up straight. Just don't fall asleep.
Once you're seated, make yourself physically comfortable, putting your arms, hands, and legs wherever makes you feel at ease. Then, close your eyes. Just sit in the silence for 1 minute. Try focusing on what it feels like to breathe.
Yep, 10 seconds have passed and you're already bored. I get that. I could barely do 30 seconds at first. There are several free/cheap meditation apps that you can download to help if the silence is too tough to handle at first. You can even play YouTube videos of nature sounds like ocean waves, a flowing river, or rain. Do not start playing your favorite iTunes playlist because that will totally distract you. You'll want to hear yourself breathe when suddenly Katy Perry will want to hear you roar.
Whether it's in the morning when you wake up or in the evening when you come home from work, find a time that works best for you. And for now, let your mind do whatever it wants to do. Many people think that meditation is about clearing your mind of everything. False. Your mind is as chaotic as an amusement park in July. You're never going to clear it. The best you can do is hop on the Ferris Wheel and observe the madness from above. Just be on the ride in this moment, no matter how bumpy it may be.