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  • Writer's pictureJulia Lee Barclay-Morton

Meditation to reduce stress

Lilacs in Brooklyn Botanic Garden

An article in the New York Times today talked about how stress levels are one of the main drivers of the immune system and lowering stress is one of the primary ways to boost your immune system. The first idea for that offered was meditation. Given the stressful situation we are finding ourselves in all around the globe, offering tools to meditate feels important. For me, I have been going between calm and freaking out and all around the houses. I live in New York City. I could write a whole blog post about that, but instead I want to offer what I have discovered about meditation, through a daily 25 year long practice that has sustained me through huge changes and traumas and joys and everything in between—and hopefully demystify it.

I have meditated daily since 1995. Given certain issues I have had to deal with throughout my life, doctors are amazed I am not sick. I tell them I meditate, and then they nod. Oh, OK, I get it. As anyone who knows me knows, it has not turned me into Ms. Calm, but it has saved my life.

I am not a Zen monk by any stretch, but here are some super simple ideas to make meditation less intimidating. And honestly, y'all, if I can meditate, ANYONE can meditate.

1. Just sit somewhere. Comfortably. Can be on a chair, a cushion, wherever. But it needs to be comfortable, and ideally you back is supported either by your posture or good lumbar support. If you have a back injury and sitting is not possible, you can lie down.

2. Breathe. If you want a focus you can become aware of your breath in and out. You can also do some focused breathing. You can count breaths.

3. You will have thoughts, that is OK. You don't have to push them away, but you don't have to hold onto them.

4. If it becomes somehow so much noise inside you think you can't bear it one more moment, can use a mantra, or a simple prayer, something calming and focusing. Or some form of breathing exercise.

5. If possible, just allow what comes up to come up. You don't have to control it.

6. There is no such thing as a good or bad meditation. Someone wise told me this. She explained how she could sit one day and have thoughts racing through her head the whole time, and get up and have a super calm day. I call this the garbage disposal meditation. All the shit is whirling around in your head for the time you are sitting, so by the time you get up, it's clear. On the other hand, she said, she could have a super calm seeming 'Zen' meditation, then get up and snap at someone and be irritable all day. Either are fine. Because the fact is for that period of time you are sitting and not acting like lunatic on any random thought.

7. I do this for 25 minutes every day. As early in the day as possible is ideal, but any time is OK. You can start shorter, 5 or 10 minutes. Just see if can be a daily practice.

What happened for me is I woke up one morning and was about to act like a lunatic like normal, as if the most basic administrative chore was an emergency and dragging my then partner into it. And I had a moment when I said: wait. No. Don't. And I went to sofa with a cigarette (no joke) and cup of coffee (still have the coffee) and sat for 20 minutes. In the course of that twenty minutes I had a millisecond of peace. And that was enough to get me to do it the next day. And then the next and then the next.

Until now 25 years later. Every day. Including 9/11 in NYC. I mean Every Day.

I hope this helps. The main thing is you don't need to be an expert. There is no magic way. It is super simple. Don't psyche yourself out. All you have to do is show up. And stay awake for the journey...wherever it leads.

One of my photos taken during retreat walking from West Manse on Westray, Orkney Isles

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