Last month I participated in the Real Happiness Challenge. What does that mean? It means I meditated every single day for a month thanks to the daily guided meditations that dropped in my inbox from Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher for over 40 years and writer of many books on meditation.

In fact, years ago when I was contemplating joining the meditation bandwagon to combat stress, the first book I read was Salzberg’s “Real Happiness,” a book that made meditation less intimidating and more realistic in my eyes. That book made me think, “I can do this. This is not impossible. This is going to help me in so many ways.”

And so began my meditation practice. I went on to create a meditation station in my home office. I read two more of Salzberg’s books and a handful of others. I downloaded apps with guided meditations. And I officially started calling myself a regular practitioner of meditation.

Then last January, I discovered that Salzberg was offering a month-long challenge to get people to meditate every day for a month. I completed that challenge, meditating and learning how to bring mindfulness into my everyday life.

When it came time to sign up for the Real Happiness challenge again this year, not only was I onboard for the daily meditations, but I also blogged about my experiences on Salzberg’s website.

So what did I take from the 2019 Real Happiness Challenge? Here are 5 things I learned.

When I’m stressed, I can find my breath.

Sometimes in moments of stress, I stop and realize my shoulders are crunched up to my ears or my hands are in fists or I’m holding my breath. And all it takes to release that pressure cooker of stress is to find my breath.

Taking one deep breath helps me to recognize my stress. Taking a second deep breath releases that stress. And taking a third deep breath helps me move on.

Meditation has taught me how simple yet important it is to just breathe. No matter what, I can start over and find my breath. Whether I’m getting distracted during a meditation or overwhelmed with to-do’s or I’m angry/frustrated/irritated/tired/sad/fill-in-the-blank strong emotion. The breath is always there for me.

I have to remember to be mindful.

As Salzberg says, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”

Mindfulness is the state of being aware, focusing on the present moment. It’s about fully paying attention to what you’re engaged in, rather than being on autopilot. It’s about not fretting over your to-do list while you’re in the shower or walking the dog. It’s about enjoying your food instead of rushing to grab the next bite. It’s about realizing that everything — whether positive or negative — is temporary.

It’s not difficult to be mindful in our everyday lives. We just have to remind ourselves to take the time out of our busy schedules for mindfulness.

Lovingkindness is a reminder that everyone wants to be happy.

Metta, or lovingkindness, meditation is when we send out well wishes to all beings everywhere, including ourselves.

I first started doing lovingkindness meditations because of someone in my life who frustrated me on a regular basis. I didn’t think that a few words I said aloud by myself could help me deal with the irritation and stress this person caused me, but I tried to remember what Salzberg says: Everyone wants to be happy.

So whenever this person popped into my day, I reminded myself that he wants to be happy. I have no idea what goes on in his household or what he’s dealing with privately. And I’d repeat:

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be safe from harm.

May you live with ease.

I knew he couldn’t hear me. But putting that lovingkindness energy out into the universe aimed at him always made me feel better about my interactions with him. Maybe it was because I was humanizing him, or maybe it was because he really did catch that vibe from me. Either way, it convinced me that metta meditations really work.

These meditations also reminded me to send that lovingkindness inward, especially when I’m being too hard on myself or need a little extra self-care.

May I be happy.

May I be healthy.

May I be safe from harm.

May I live with ease.

Meditation can happen anytime, anywhere.

Most people think of formal sittings when they think of meditation. I did too, which is probably why it always seemed so intimidating to me. Sitting still isn’t one of my strengths.

Salzberg’s taught me that we can meditate anywhere. We can do walking or eating meditations. We can do body scans lying down. We can even meditate while washing the dishes or waiting in line at the grocery store. If we can breathe, we can meditate.

Meditating is contagious.

A few weeks ago my 11-year-old daughter got braces. On the drive home after her appointment, she explained to me how she got through the procedure without a lot of pain or discomfort.

“I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see the equipment being put in my mouth,” she said. “My mouth was numb so I couldn’t feel it. And I just laid there and didn’t think anything.”

“So, you closed your eyes, relaxed and cleared your mind?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“So you were meditating?”

“No, I wasn’t meditating.” And she described it again.

“News flash: You were meditating.”

I rarely meditate in front of my kids, but they hear me talk about meditating and the benefits of establishing a regular practice, especially during last month’s challenge. They know I have a meditation station, that I have apps that play guided meditations and that I take deep breaths to calm myself.

Conversations like this with my daughter remind me that I’m modeling meditation practices, and whether my kids know it or not, they’ve learned how to meditate and reap the benefits as well.

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