5 ways meditation can help you become more mentally flexible and less stressed
The Best Laid Plans…
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns).
Did you ever plan something, do everything right on your end, do the best that you could to make sure everyone else knew how to contribute to getting this right, put everything into place and after all that effort, things didn’t turn out as you planned? That’s where the stress is - when the outcome turns out to be different from what we expected.
This happens to all of us - there are just too many things outside of our control, too many things that we can’t predict or foresee. But...you have to admit that sometimes the outcome is better than what we expected. Life can be so beautiful in bringing things into our path that we couldn’t have consciously planned or dreamed up.
But, of course, with the highs there are the lows. And with the amazing things, there are the truly uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying things. In the face of those things you’re right to ask the question, ‘how in the world meditation can change those things?’
What meditation can and can’t do
The answer - meditation can’t change ANY of those things. Meditation won’t cure sickness, it won’t bring back loved ones, it won’t get you the job you wanted, and it won’t redo something to get the outcome you had in your mind.
So what can meditation help with if it can’t actually change anything? It can help you have the mental flexibility to be in the present moment with awareness, openness, and kindness - even when that moment is uncomfortable.
Hard, fixed expectations and stress
Meditation is a practice of letting go of expected outcomes. It’s about being able to notice what’s going on, recognize thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and how we are breathing. We practice watching all of these things without judgement. And that’s a hard thing - the mind often wants to judge, compare, argue, but those are the things that tend to lead towards more stress and less satisfaction with the world around us.
Practicing meditation can reduce our stress because we are practicing how not to be attached to a specific outcome.
Give up or give in?
Non-attachment or non-judgement doesn't mean that we give up or give in. It means that we see where we are for what it is, how it affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. And we respond from a place of kindness and consideration for ourselves and our process of being a small part of all that goes on in the world.
We will be less stressed and anxious when we enter meditation as a practice of adaptability to the things around us and the responses inside of us. We still do our best and plan and have powerful goals and expectations, but this adaptability and mental flexibility to accept where we are, the actual situation, and to flow with that - this is where we will find ourselves becoming less stressed and less reactive.
So, how can meditation help - here are 5 ways meditation can help you become more mentally flexible and reduce stress in the process:
1. Slow down - taking time to pay attention in meditation slows down the body and the mental chatter of the mind that can be overwhelming. It gives you more time and space to make better decisions from a place of recognizing your heart’s intention.
2. Practice non judgement - watching your breath, body sensations, and thoughts in meditation without allowing the mind to go through it’s constant chatter and arguing is a way of practicing non judgement. When this becomes a habit, the negative grooves in our minds lose their power to control us.
3. Release attachment to outcomes - the truth is that no matter how well we plan and how much effort we put in, we don’t have a lot of control. Meditation allows us to just BE. We don’t know exactly how the next inhale will feel - we just watch, and notice. And this practice of acceptance of the present moment as it is can help us to be less anxious.
4. Meet yourself exactly where you are - your mind might be busy or still; your body might feel relaxed or comfortable; you might feel sad or happy or uncertain. Wherever you are is who you are in this moment and needs to be honored for exactly that. You are beautiful in this moment exactly as you are and a practice of noticing thoughts, emotions, and breath can help you when you are in a challenging situation to accept how you feel in that moment and use that information to make the best decisions possible.
5. Practice kindness. Meditation will help you see that constant stream of mental chatter and you may find out that it’s not always that pleasant or productive. You might notice negativity in how you talk to yourself or talk about others or the negative scenarios that you put yourself through in your mind. And once you start to notice these patterns, you can make some space to be kinder to yourself.
This kindness can then become your go to reaction (vs negative self-talk or criticism of others) and from here you can build a positive cycle that sets yourself up to bring more positive things into your life because you are poised in a place of kindness and receptivity to bring other kind and loving things into your life.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I hope that some part of this post resonated with you. And I always teach that meditation doesn’t have to be an hour sitting in easy pose to get the benefits - it could be your awareness of this breath, this moment. And we can all practice that a little at a time.
Email me with any questions @ MindfulLifeOnDemand@gmail.com or just let me know your thoughts on stress, attachment to outcomes, and if you’ve tried meditation.