7 Alternatives to Meditation - Part 2
In this post, I will be delving into the alternatives to meditation I listed in Part One.
1. Intuitive or Non-Directed Movement aka “spontaneous yoga” – This means allowing your body to move intuitively, not following a specific routine of exercises or stretches or planning out what you are going to do in advance. This practice does not have a required time span or promised outcome. The key here is complete permission to move (or not move) your body in exactly the way it is asking for. Now, this can be challenging. I will often start this practice with a set of stretches that I know feel good to me and then from there, or in the midst of these, allow other movements to evolve. The best part is there is no right or wrong way to do this, however, there is an intention to hold. For me, that intention is to be present with the sensations in my body and the emotions these evoke. The guiding principle is to feel what you feel and you are fully empowered to follow what feels good.
2. Free-Style Journaling – “I should journal,” is something I hear a lot, from my clients and from inside my own head. While “shoulds” in any context tend to evoke feelings of failure and inadequacy, there's a hidden wisdom in this statement. Writing about our experiences, thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ruminating or just thinking about things, externalizes our inner world just enough to allow for a type of reflection or insight that can often elude us when we are stuck in the confines of our inner dialogue. Journaling without an agenda, without needing it to sound a certain way or be suitable for other eyes, creates a private space full of freedom.
I often find that thoughts that I'm stuck on, that are cycling around endlessly, will shift or recede after I've written them down. It can be as simple as a list of everything you feel disappointed about or a purge of the negative self-talk that is plaguing you in that moment. Journaling can be rage-filled letters to people who have hurt you, letters you likely will never send but that will benefit you to write. Your journal can also be a space for intention setting, for calling in the experiences you want to have and exploring, with compassion, the changes you are contemplating.
3. Being in Nature- Including Walking Meditation. This one doesn't require too much lengthy explanation. You know how you feel when you are in your favorite nature spot. Maybe it is being near water- the ocean or a babbling brook or a calm, still lake. Maybe it's the forest, surrounded by trees who are drinking up your exhales and giving you their breath in return. Maybe it is in the presence of mountains, tuning into the vibration of the ancient rocks and creative processes that formed them and exploring the different habitats contained there. It is unnatural for humans to live away from nature. We are part of nature. Today, we have to work hard and make time to be in natural, away from cars and buildings and man-made noise. It can feel like an effort just to get there. Make it as simple as you can. Sitting beneath a tree in a city park counts. Closing your eyes and feeling the wind or the sun upon your face counts. Keep it simple and drink it in.
4. Intentional Brainwashing- Listening to Dharma Talks or podcasts/Reading Spiritual or Helpful books/articles. The harmful and inaccurate messages we've received from the time we were young are on continual replay in our conscious and unconscious minds. It is ridiculous to expect ourselves to override these messages constantly as we attend to the various tasks that draw our focus during the day. As we listen to more accurate and supportive messages about our true nature, or about how to work with our self-limiting thoughts and beliefs, we gradually replace old messages with new ones. This is a life-long process, and just as we continually need to feed our bodies nutritious foods in order to function optimally, we also need to regularly be feeding ourselves wisdom. The idea is that the new messages will inevitably push out the old brainwashing we received as children, and continue to receive each day for our society, jobs, families, etc. But this only happens if we keep feeding ourselves the good stuff. It isn't a quick fix. One self-help book or spiritual retreat is not going to create lasting change without ongoing supportive work. There's a wealth of these types of talks and books out there and you get to choose what resonates for you. If you start listening to or reading something and it just does not feel good in your body, then that message isn't for you. Throw it out and find something that fits better.
5. Prayer and Ritual- This one can feel very loaded. Many of us have experienced religious abuse, which I define as the interference with one's innate connection to Divine Love through fear-based religious indoctrination. There are, as we know, other forms of abuse (namely sexual) that occur within religious contexts. In my experience, prayer was a rote, semi-dissociated blip on the daily radar before dinner and bedtime, with much longer blips on Sunday mornings. It was an appeal to God in the hopes that He would judge me as good and not bad so that I would avoid His punishment and win His favors. Oh, and He was a he. The messaging there being, divine is male, so male is divine. So where does that leave the rest of us? Women and non-binary folks get left out of the image of the divine that most of us are fed and that leads to feelings of disempowerment and low self esteem. The good news is, as an adult, you get to define prayer and god for yourself and engage with them or not as you choose without the threat of burning in hell looming over your head. That is a human creation and we can throw it away right now.
For me, prayer has evolved into a felt sense of communion with the divine, expressed through song, dance or quietly holding a question and waiting for wisdom to answer back. There isn't the distinction of the wisdom being mine or god's because the belief system that these are separate has been dissolved. This is a subject for another article entirely.
I am including ritual in this category as well. I define ritual as an intentional act meant to evoke the sacred. It can be as simple as lighting a candle with intention, or as elaborate as any constellation of actions, words, symbols and objects you dream up. The essence of this is giving yourself permission to connect to that which you hold sacred, and to do so in your own unique way, releasing the idea that there is something innately wrong with doing it your own way rather than the way the Fathers have told you. They are not more connected to the divine than you are. Period.
6. Creative Exploration – Maybe you know what you love to do already and just need a little more permission to do it without it having to be “good,” by some (non-existent) objective standard. If you don't know what you love because that part of you has been routinely squelched and suppressed, here are some suggestions and guidelines. Drawing, painting, dancing, singing, writing songs, writing poems, building things, inventing, sculpting, knitting, crocheting, sewing, collaging. Any modality that piques your interest is inviting you to come play. The only guideline you need to bear in mind is that you are doing this for you. As an alternative to mediation, this is YOUR practice, intended to deepen your connection with yourself and your creativity. Have compassion for what arises. Feeling “uncreative,” or that you are doing it “wrong” or that what you are creating is “worthless” or needs to be hidden deserves compassion. You absolutely have permission to share what you create with no one or everyone, this is YOURS.
For the first chunk of my adult life, I was convinced I was simply not a creative person. My self critic was so strong that it was able to shut down my desire to explore creativity altogether. When I began seeing a therapist at age 26, she encouraged me to draw in the moments when it was hard to find words for what I was feeling. The invitation to express creatively for the purpose of healing rather than “making art,” loosened my inhibitions just enough to allow me to explore this modality and my own innate creativity. For me, drawing was and still is a form of active imagination, a dialogue with my unconscious. I don't share my artwork with others or try to make it objectively “good,” this is just for me. It did lay down a pathway for me to explore other modes of creative expression that I do share more publicly. For me, I had to have permission to exploring my creativity in a private and non-goal oriented way in order to heal.
7. Engaging in Conflict – Okay, here's the juicy one, as promised. I really should have written, “Engaging in Conflict Mindfully,” because that's what I'm talking about here. The word conflict is charged for many people and can evoke felt-sense memories of hostility and aggression that drive people further apart. It is these very experiences that have, in part, led me to develop a personality style that we might call “conflict avoidant.” For me, I'd much rather pretend everything is fine in order avoid relational dissonance. Meanwhile, I'm privately fuming and feeling increasingly alienated from the individual with whom I'm experiencing hurt or difference. Because avoiding conflict is my go-to, mindfully moving toward conflict in relationships is transformative. It brings me into more authentic relationship with myself and with the other and pushes all of my edges. It brings me closer to truth. It is a practice in being present with my discomfort and my desire to run while staying engaged with the very thing, the relationship, that is triggering my discomfort or wounding. It is teaching myself to be honest about my pain without immediately blaming and distancing in response to the hurt.
Ram Dass writes, “As you start to go for something deeper in a relationship, you start to meet another human being in truth. And truth is scary. Truth has bad breath at times; truth is boring, truth burns the food...truth has anger...And you stay in it and you keep working with it and you keep opening to it and you keep deepening it.”
And, now, one more for good measure.
8. Going to Therapy - You may think I included this one because I am a therapist. And that's partially true, but really I am talking about my own personal practice here. Going to therapy is part of my walk.
Some of us begin therapy from a place of overwhelming pain, and there's often a sense of shame associated with seeking this particular form of support. I know this was very much the case for me. My reasons for being in therapy today are very different from when I began... and then again not that different at all. I began from a place of hopelessness, grief and a deep mistrust of myself. I didn't believe I could direct my life in a way that would bring happiness and healing. I needed support to process intense emotions and increase my insight and awareness of my inner workings and relationships. Today, ten years later, I still utilize therapy to support my emotional processing, insight and awareness. But I'm not there because I feel hopeless or don't trust myself to be “okay without it.” I've experimented with that and know I can be “okay without it” in the same way I can be okay without a number of different supports and practices. The truth is, going to therapy makes me a better me. It is one of the practices that supports me in thriving and growing, through providing a supportive and non-judgmental relationship that is just for me, a relational space for me to explore my own experience in a way that is different that any other relationship. I come to therapy now more from a place of want than need, although there are some weeks when I really, really need it too.
I think the major thing that has shifted for me with therapy is the belief that I'm broken and that's why I'm there. I'm not broken. And neither are you. And neither are any of my clients. We are innately whole and our wholeness gets covered over by the brokenness of the world and the suffering inherent in the human condition. Therapy that is based on empowerment and unconditional positive regard supports us in remembering and reclaiming our wholeness and loving the parts of us that feel broken. I am here to offer this type of support to you.