Meditation is a deep and broad subject, one that may be viewed through the lens of spirituality, science, or psychology, among others. A million blogs can (and have) be written about meditation and all of its benefits. This blog, however, does not seek to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a simple and accessible way for the average person to begin a daily meditation practice for therapeutic benefit. That being said, if you begin your own practice and find it meaningful, I encourage you to explore all that it has to offer! Zen meditation, kundalini meditation, transcendental meditation, chakra meditation, and so many more. Embark on your journey and create a practice that works for you.
Essentially, to build your “mind muscle”. So much of our suffering exists in our minds. Take, for example, an anxious college student who has a big project to present to the class. In the days and hours leading up to it, he may be thinking such catastrophic thoughts as “I am going to do terribly”, “what if I mess up?”, “I am going to look like an idiot”, and more. These thoughts trigger the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol, which prepare the body for a flight-or-fight response by increasing the heart rate, producing rapid breathing, inhibiting digestion, and producing other symptoms such as sweating, shaking, tunnel vision, among others. Over time, this can lead to chronic inflammation, immune system suppression, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and other issues. Whoa. Not to mention, that all of the worrying could prevent the student from doing a good job on the presentation. Now, take a step back and imagine that instead of going down the rabbit hole with those worried thoughts, our college student instead was able to notice them, detach from them, and move on with the actual doing of his project without these interfering thoughts. Yes, this is what is possible when you have built up your mind muscle. Thoughts and emotions can come in and then go out; we do not need to attach to them!
How to Begin?
Keep it simple. The following are merely suggestions; feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.
A word about trauma and meditation
Meditation is beneficial for everyone, but if you are someone who struggles with flashbacks, dissociation, or intrusive thoughts and memories, please take the following into consideration:
My approach to therapy is one that I describe as being individualized, eclectic and creative. This means that I like to take elements from different therapeutic approaches and weave them together in order to find which combination has the best outcomes for each client. How do I do this? It is difficult to describe, as each session moves like a dance through my mind in which I strive to take in my client's emotional experience and play with ideas of interventions and creative solutions.
I can offer an example of one way that I combine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Art Therapy. I find that CBT is useful for challenging and changing negative thought and behavior patterns in order to improve the way that we feel. I also find that CBT lacks the "heart and soul" or inner intuition that Art Therapy can bring into the room. Therefore, pairing the two is in a way the combination of mind and body, logic and emotion, thought analysis and innate wisdom.
I would first like to introduce the idea of Cognitive Distortions. Cognitive Distortions are illogical inaccurate thoughts that our minds use to play tricks on us and convince us of things that are not based in truth. These distortions usually reinforce negative thoughts, emotions and self-perceptions. To read more about cognitive distortions and the 15 common types please click on the link below to read the article.
Now let's imagine that you are struggling with some cognitive distortions. We can talk about them, name them, challenge them, practice replacing them with more logical positive thoughts. These are all researched methods of CBT with proven positive outcomes. I use these methods but I like to take it one step further with Art Therapy. In which case, I would likely ask you draw these cognitive distortions. Picture what they look like in your mind. What colors are they, what size, what shape, where are they located in your mind? Can you also draw how they affect your emotions, your physical body, your relationships? These questions are just the starting point because art therapy is a process and it takes each individual on a unique journey. I , as the art therapist, am the travel guide giving you the map and the tools to take the story one step further in order to find some insight, self-discovery, expression or solution to a problem.
Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle. Much more than a circle, it is a symbol for wholeness, with no beginning and no end. Its shape is one that has been existent in nature since the beginning of time. One can find its shape in a cell, a flower, a tree, a snowflake, a hurricane, or even in a familiar face. The mandala is a quiet power, silently inherent in our lives, whether or not we consciously know of it.
For thousands of years, the mandala has been used throughout the world in many different ways; functioning as calendars, astral observatories, ceremonial centers, and objects of ritual and meditation. What makes the mandala a universal symbol is the fact that regardless of religion, lifestyle, beliefs, and values, all cultures have made use of it in one way or another.
I wrote my art therapy master's thesis on mandalas and their effect on adolescents with anxiety and depression. I have found that over the years, my experience with using mandalas in counseling has supported my original theory that mandalas provide a safe space for healing creative expression. No matter the age, ethnicity or problem of the client, as long as they were willing to create, I have witnessed that the response or outcome has been the same. I have seen individuals who have not picked up an art material since they were a child, find that the circle invited them to express an emotion through art in a way that their words could not express. I have also observed the mandala's power as a tool for relaxation and mindfulness, where in the act of coloring a balanced design brought peace and focus to one's state of mind.
In conclusion, and to put it more simply, I have witnessed mandalas work wonders for my clients, so they may work for you too. I invite you to trace a paper plate on a page and scribble something inside. It doesn't matter what it looks like, because it represents your inner emotion and energy, which is not meant to be judged. Or if you would like to try to color a mandala design, put on some calming music and focus all your attention on the colors you choose and the motion of your hand on the page. For some free printable mandala designs, click on the link below.
Free Printable Mandalas