How We Do: We Meditate

By Shabnam Gideon

Well, some of us do. We might not do it every day, and we definitely don’t do it right at the scheduled time of 11 a.m. But, hey, we’re doing it.

I joined the Focus Lab crew about a month ago. How stoked was I to learn that my new work peeps had just been led through a meditation workshop by a dear friend of mine? And that we had meditation time marked on the team calendar? As calmly stoked as a newbie lets on.

Let me be clear: I’m a relatively new meditator, my practice is as regular as my Crohn’s-prone bowels, and the closest thing I have to a guru is the one-eyed cat next door with a steadfast gaze. But, I have learned a few things about meditating over the past few years that have seriously helped me shape and maintain my mental and physical health.

Back in the day when I was living in Atlanta working for the company that gave me my software- and web- development legs, I was struggling to juggle a demanding and unrewarding job, a town that was too new and too big for me and my country britches, and a serious case of anorexia. After months of breathtaking abdominal pain, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Fast forward 3 years, and I was in Savannah, taking 20 pills a day, had cataracts from the oral steroids, and was weak, sick and just generally pissed off at the world.

What’s a gal to do? Admit defeat, honestly. Try something else. I’d been following a detox plan that included breathing exercises and improved communication with, yeesh, loved ones. After dragging myself through the first week, I realized I was actually in less pain and had more energy and even optimism. For real. So I forced myself to do the breathing exercises for 5 minutes a day.

That’s like 300 seconds. I thought my brain and body would explode from the inactivity.

But no, after just a few weeks of losing a whole 300 seconds a day, I realized not only how much better I felt physically, but also how much I learned about myself and my stress levels while sitting and breathing. I was hanging onto so many thoughts and feelings that I didn’t need to be carrying around. I kept that up for months, and haven’t taken Crohn’s medication nor starved myself skeletal in the 10 years since.

For those of you inclined to science-y explanations, it’s like the conservation of mass theory: whatever you take in either remains or is released. Yeah, we all know the food/poop cycle, but how much do you pay attention to the stress/release cycle, or the slow building of tension that initially seems like it should be manageable but then sets up residence in your upper back and then you roll out of bed one morning and can’t look left? That’s what I’m sayin’. That stuff hangs around just waiting for a muscle or organ or entire functional body system to make its unhappy home in.

Meditation forces you to remember the state of YOU that is at rest, that is real, that is healthy, and reminds you of what that feels like physically and mentally. It’s a forced inward glance, honoring what is within you and ignoring what is without, if just for a little while. The plan is that you learn to remember that state in you, and eventually carry it with you, even while you’re answering emails or prepping for a meeting or trying to communicate with tact when you’re actually pretty peeved. That state affords an equanimity that tempers our reactions to events by allowing them to happen instead of stuffing them down, preventing “bad” happenings from stressing us out by giving them their due and then letting them go.

So, we meditate during the workday. For 12 minutes, on 3 days. Sometimes we introduce some of the specific methods we’ve learned over the years, but mostly we just focus on our breathing and on tuning out the things outside of us. It can be hard to take one’s mind away from the cacophonous environment of emails notifications, HipChats, Nerf guns contests, conversations, and plastic snake pranks (right?), but it sure adds some perspective and energy to my day.