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Hate meditation? Try it this way.

The first few times I tried traditional breathing meditation, I felt like I was about to jump out of my skin. I felt like I was working so hard to stay focused on my anchor, the breath. Each time my mind wandered, I would dutifully bring my attention back to my breathing. But I got frustrated with myself because my mind kept wandering. I couldn't make it three seconds before getting distracted by something on my To Do List or the sound of a dog barking outside. While this is a completely normal experience when beginning meditation, the breath felt like an elusive point of focus for me.

Traditional meditation often involves using the breath as your anchor to the present. Each time your mind wanders, you bring your attention back to your breathing in this moment. For a lot of people with anxiety, focusing on the breath can feel even more anxiety provoking. "Am I breathing too fast? Is that anxiety?" Of course, these are just anxious thoughts. Even so, it can be helpful to practice with another anchor in order to become more comfortable with meditation.

In the beginning, meditation became a lot easier for me when I decided to try using sounds as an anchor instead of my breath. (If you're a beginner, read How to Meditate and Why You Should here). Sounds work well as a gateway to the present, because you can only hear sounds happening right now. You can't hear sounds in the past or the future. Once I started practicing with sounds, something clicked for me. I was finally able to tap in to the peace of truly sitting and being still in the present moment.

Using sounds as your anchor can also help you develop greater peace, equanimity, and acceptance for what is out of your control. As you practice letting sounds simply come and go, you practice letting your environment be as it is, without having to immediately react. During traditional breathing meditation, you might have labeled the sound of the dog barking or the garbage truck or your kid's video game as a "distraction" that's "ruining" your meditation. During sounds meditation, you can practice noticing the dog barking as just a sound, and then letting it pass. You can label the "liking" or "disliking" of certain sounds as just a thought, or just a feeling, and notice you don't have to respond to that thought or feeling. You can just let the "unpleasant" sound be for a moment, and then fade away. You can let your feeling of like or dislike just be there for a moment, and then also fade away.

Over time, you can develop a habit of being less reactive, more easily letting go of the small stuff. You can learn to let go of wanting to control everything around you, instead letting things effortlessly evolve and change... arise and fade away. Rather than struggling to control things that are really out of your control anyway, you can accept that situations will come and go, obstacles will come and go, deadlines will come and go, your own thoughts will come and go, feelings will come and go, other people’s reactions will come and go. You can let these things simply pass by. Once you can let go of constant reacting, you're free to focus on living more meaningfully in the present, being intentional with what is in your control.

Then try using sounds as a gateway to the present throughout the day with Informal Meditation.


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