If you’re one of those people who’s wigged out at the thought of spending too much time inside your own brain, I totally get it. Life is hard enough without dedicating time to focus on your thoughts.
But don’t worry. Meditation is so much different and better than that. And with apps like Headspace, you can ease yourself into the intimidating world of meditation gradually. Once you’re there, you’ll start to see the benefits: Studies show meditation helps reduce stress, improve concentration, increase happiness, and promote self-acceptance.
We talked to Kelton Wright of Headspace about how she started meditating, how it changed her life, and how she would’ve done things differently if she could do it all over again.
Tell us about the very first time you ever did meditation.
My first time meditating was actually using Headspace in 2014. I was working 60-70-hour weeks in advertising, and I was struggling with panic disorder. I took a week-long vacation to Guatemala with the intention of using that time to get my priorities straight. It was there that a woman recommended Headspace before my return flight; I binge-listened to the first 10 days during the six hours from Guatemala City back to Los Angeles. It was my first time in years flying without taking medication for panic.
What do you think would have made that first time easier or better?
I wish someone had told me that the point is not to clear your mind of thoughts, but rather to have a better relationship with the thoughts that you have. People often think their minds are meant to be totally clear when they meditate, but that’s unrealistic (if not impossible). It would be as if, when you started packing to move, you were disappointed to find all your things were not already in boxes. Before you can clear the space, you need to sort through the things. And in your mind, those things are thoughts.
What are one or two things that happened as soon as you were done meditating that made you go, “Oh, wait, I need to be doing this”?
After practicing meditation, it feels like that first day after a cold virus is over: You can finally breathe. When I first started meditating, I noticed immediately how out of touch with my body I was: regularly slouching, taking short and shallow breaths, tense through my shoulders and stomach. I’m so much more aware of (and happier in) my body now.
What’s the scariest thing about doing meditation? How should first-time meditators get over that fear?
People are often afraid of being stuck with all the thoughts they try to distract themselves from throughout the day, and those thoughts can seem to intensify when you sit with them. But your mind is trying to distract you. Now, when I have a truly troubling thought, I compliment my imagination, because while that thought isn’t something I want, I just see it as an attempt by my brain to get me to engage. I treat them like TV show plot ideas. When a truly stressful and discomforting thought comes in, I giggle and think, “good one” and then let it go.
Describe the perfect meditation environment.
It may be easier to learn meditation in a peaceful environment where you feel comfortable closing your eyes for a bit, but there is no perfect meditation environment, and I don’t know that there needs to be. Meditation, ideally, allows us to become more resilient, compassionate, less reactive, less aggressive. So when you’re learning, it’s nice to practice in a quiet, temperate room, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you may find you like to meditate all sorts of places. My favorite place to meditate is at the airport; my practice gives me the ability to be relaxed amongst all that chaos.
What do you wish people who’ve never done meditation knew about meditation?
You’re not “doing it wrong” if you can’t stop thinking. The idea is to be aware of your thoughts, not to delete them. It’s improving your relationship with those thoughts, understanding when to take them seriously, and when to just let them pass. Having the ability to choose when you engage with thoughts of anger, fear, and stress? That’s life-changing.
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