How meditation builds emotional resilience

How meditation builds emotional resilience

One morning as I eased into meditation, I set up with great care to sit for my usual 45 minutes. I took a deep breath to settle in. As I did, I closed my eyes, felt my sternum lift, my shoulders drop and my jaw and tongue release. I took a breath and as I did, I felt a single hair rest across my eyebrow, my nose and the end of it settled on my upper lip. With each nostril inhale and exhale, the hair vibrated; it danced across my face and tickled my lip. With each breath. Every breath. Tickle here, tickle there. I had already begun my meditation and decided to welcome it. So I sat with it. Sure, I could have opened my eyes, reset my timer and moved the hair, like I would have done in the past. But on that morning, I found it to be an opportunity for exploration.

The opportunity to witness with radical presence

Could I be with this out of place hair? Could I relax into myself and watch?

These days my primary meditation is mantra. So as I focus my mind on my mantra (and my mantra on my mind, thanks M.C. Yogi), I also create space to contemplate the effects of out of control circumstances like this hair tickling my lip with every slow breath. This was the opportunity to strengthen witness consciousness. This was a call to show up with what was, as it was.

I noticed the mental chatter resisting the uninvited distraction. I noticed the tension clenching throughout my body as it wanted so desperately to move. I sat with it. I dove right into it, feeling the hair tickle and wiggle and dance. I dove right into the strong desire for this experience to be different; the desire to move the hair. I felt the itch. I breathed into it. I felt the desire to scratch the itch. I noticed regret I had for not moving the hair and starting over. I watched doubt in myself arise because this felt like an impossible distraction to sit with. The cacophony of thoughts went on and on. Yet still I sat. With it all. As it was.

Breath. Mantra. Witnessing. Breath. Mantra. Witnessing. And soon it shifted. Surrender came. Acceptance showed up. Once the mind became still, the resistance stopped. The mental chatter subsided. The irritation, the desire to change it, the lack of control, it all fell away. I broke through the barrier of desire not only to move the hair, but also to scratch the itch. I became one with the moment, practicing from the place within myself as pure witness consciousness. I become one with what was. The tension softened.

As I sat, I cultivated the tenacity to stay with it

I had the courage to witness my internal world (all layers of being; physical, mental, emotional, energetic, spiritual and beyond form) and it’s reaction to this seemingly small inconvenience. In that moment, I let this be out of my control. I let feeling out of control be. And that’s what I uncovered. The mental chatter of resistance. The strong urges of desire. The resistance to what was. And as I sat, as I witnessed more and more, I grew stronger. The curiosity to witness how my internal world responded added richness and depth to my practice. That’s what I practiced.

So the next time life gives me a distraction, like living with chronic illness and chronic pain, living through a pandemic, lack, loss, change of plans or a sold out grocery item, I can sit with it. I can remember that I built up this muscle of resilience and just like with that rogue hair, I have a choice: to resist reality or to watch my internal world.

Strengthening the muscle of witness consciousness

If I choose the latter and strengthen my muscle of witness consciousness, I will rest in unpredictability and uncertainty with curiosity instead of resistance. I can let myself be a part of life, flow with life, instead of feeling like I’m missing it or that it needs to be different for me to experience it. Life will work for me, instead of against me. That’s the new story I can tell. This new perspective naturally stabilizes my mood, which in turn helps me respond rather than react. It gets me in touch with the majesty of the simple moments. We don’t need extravagance to be with what is. There is joy and possibility in each moment we’re alive, especially those moments that we’re aware that we’re alive.

Sitting with what is, as it is, is transformation itself. Becoming the witness to what is, as it is, is where our power and control are, because shit like a hair across your face, tickling your lip when you’re trying to focus and relax is the universe’s way of saying “Hey, there’s so much more to life when you look within and you have more power than you know.”

How to practice mantra meditation

  1. Choose a mantra that has meaning for you. Ask yourself what is the desired outcome for this practice? The mantra can be a word or a phrase. It doesn’t have to be Sanskrit but if you are interested in choosing a Sanskrit mantra, I highly recommend reading Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand for a more in-depth look at the science of how mantras positively affect the mind/body connection and expertise about Sanskrit mantras.
  2. When you choose your mantra, try it out by chanting aloud or silently. Feel it in your heart space. Let it bring clarity, focus, healing and let it uplift you. Let it be a support for your wellness journey. If it isn’t, choose another one and try it out. I recommend you stick with the same mantra for at least 6 months – 1 year for best results.
  3. Once per day, find a comfortable seat (cross-legged or straight leg, on the earth or in a chair with a lengthened spine and feet flat on the earth) and silently repeat or chant aloud for 5-60 minutes+ (highly recommend a morning practice to focus the mind for the day). I recommend you begin with 5 minutes per day (like I did), then add time on, working your way up to at least 20 minutes per day for maximum benefits. Take slow breaths and stick with it, even on days when you don’t want to and it feels hard. Remember: there’s no such thing as a good or bad meditation. You showed up; let that be enough.
  4. Option to silently repeat or chant the mantra throughout the day when you notice stressful thinking or want to take a break from mental chatter.