Meditation is something that I’m still pretty new to, but boy has it been so powerful for me in the short time I’ve been doing it. When I first started meditating I thought, “This is it”? And now I’m getting to the point when tell my hubby, “I need to take a few minutes to meditate.” It’s becoming a part of my life. It’s valuable and it works.
Today I’m giving the floor to my guest expert, Linda Catling, of Cafe Meditation, who has answered all of the questions I personally had to ask her about this fascinating topic.
The Benefits of Meditation with Linda Catling
Iviana: Linda, tell me about yourself and your meditation journey.
Linda: I was always interested in meditation, even as a kid. I dabbled in college and spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, where meditation is part of the culture. I got serious around the time I turned 30. One morning I woke up with this crystal-clear thought: “I feel like my mind, my body and my spirit are completely disconnected.” After that I learned meditation from a book and practiced on my own. About a year later I connected with the meditation community that I’m still part of, 26 years later.
Once I got going I was pretty gung ho. Since then, I’ve done many retreats and worked at two meditation centers. I was authorized as a junior teacher in 1998. In 2010, I was appointed a senior teacher in my community and served in that role until 2017. Last year, I created my company, Cafe Meditation, to inspire and support women on their meditation journey.
Iviana: What has meditation done to change your life and what are the benefits of meditation?
Linda: Learning to meditate was the beginning of huge changes. I went from being constantly stressed and anxious to being far more even-tempered and happy. Before I started meditating, I had the “dream life” – great house, job, husband, etc. – but only on paper. In reality, I was struggling. Over the years, most of that perfect-on-paper life has fallen away, but meditation is still hugely important.
I don’t claim to be a perfect meditator (or a perfect person!). I have good days and bad days, like everyone else. The difference is that now I don’t take things so personally. It’s much easier to bounce back after a downturn. I’m also kinder, more flexible, and more understanding.
Another interesting change has been the mind/body connection. The first time I dreamed in color was after I’d been meditating for a couple years. Around the same time I felt my feet on the ground for the first time. I remember this very clearly. I was hiking in Vermont and had this sudden awareness of my feet. It was quite startling and rather wonderful. I’m also much more coordinated!
Iviana: What super power has meditation unleashed in you?
Linda: I’d like to think that I’m wiser than I used to be. I’ve always been intuitive, but now it’s easier to trust that inner sense of “knowing” and let it be my guide.
Iviana: Can stress and/or anxiety be reduced through meditation? If yes, how?
Linda: Definitely! So much of our stress is based on what we think about the future – that we aren’t going to measure up or the world isn’t going to give us what we want. There’s this great quote from Mark Twain, “I’ve experienced some terrible things in my life and some of them actually happened.” That’s the essence of stress. We worry so much about things that haven’t happened and may never come to pass.
Meditation, by contrast, trains us to live in the here and now. When bad things happen in the present we can deal with them. When good things happen we can appreciate them. But when we stress about things that might happen, we have no control – which makes us feel even worse. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the future, of course, just not all the time.
Another cause of stress is defining ourselves by external circumstances. It’s natural to focus on our relationships, work etc. But when we base our happiness entirely on these situations, it’s stressful: A relationship ends and we go to pieces. We lose our job and we don’t know who we are any more.
One of the benefits of meditation is that we get to know an aspect of ourselves that’s unaffected by the outside world. I think most of us have experienced this spontaneously. For example, we suddenly feel happy for no reason – it might be pouring rain and we have a stack of bills to pay, but nonetheless we’re cheerful. Or unexpectedly our heart opens and we feel love for someone we barely know. Meditation enables us to access fundamental human qualities, like joy, kindness, and compassion, on a more regular basis. Different styles of meditation cultivate different aspects of our being. For example, breathing meditation leads to greater peace, while loving kindness meditation makes us more compassionate.
This isn’t to say that once we start meditating we never feel stress. But it may mean that we don’t take the ups and downs of life so seriously. We can feel what we feel and then let go. Even new meditators can experience this. It might only be a glimpse at first, but with regular practice anyone can become calmer and more content.
As I’m not a mental health professional, I prefer not to address the topic of anxiety, which can have many causes. However, some of your readers might like this article from the Harvard Medical School, which indicates that meditation can be helpful for treating anxiety.
Iviana: What other things can you use meditation for?
Linda: When we’re present, our mind and body are working together – instead of the mind flying off in one direction while the body is doing something else. This makes us more focused and fully engaged, which benefits everything we do.
Meditation is a wonderful form of self-care. It works beautifully with other modalities, like exercise and different types of therapy. I’m sure it would be a perfect complement to your program.
Iviana: How do you structure your days around meditation? Any tips on doing it with a busy schedule?
Linda: I like to start my day with meditation and do another session in the evening. That may sound like a lot but it doesn’t have to be. Plenty of research shows that just 10 minutes of meditation, done regularly, can make a big difference. If you could do two sessions on most days, that would be fantastic. But even if you only meditate a few times a week, it’s worth doing.
When we’re busy, we tend to prioritize what’s most important to us. So the first tip is to think about why you want to meditate. If you’re not sure, it probably won’t happen. But if you believe that meditation will help reduce your stress and increase your focus – and this is important to you – you’re much more likely to do it.
Once you’ve made the commitment, it helps to link meditation to other things you do everyday. For example, you might meditate while the coffee is brewing or after you brush your teeth before bed.
As with any new habit, it’s good to create supports – like a special place in your home that’s just for meditation or have your phone remind you to be mindful.
I also recommend reading books about meditation or watching videos online – anything that inspires you to meditate.
Iviana: What’s the simplest way to get started with meditation?
Linda: It depends on your personal style and what’s available. Having the support of a meditation community is enormously helpful. If there are local groups in your area, check them out. The community that I belong to offers free, weekly introductions to meditation. Many communities do this.
If you can’t get instruction from a real person, books, apps and online programs are a good choice. Take a look at what’s available and see what “speaks” to you. There are so many options, so you really need to listen to your gut.
Iviana: This has been packed with so much value! Tell us what you’re working on so we can get our hands on it!
Linda: I offer an online coaching program for women, where I meet with them on Zoom (audio or video chat). I currently have three packages – one for brand new meditators, one for people who already meditate but are feeling blocked, and one for people who have specific questions they want answers for.
I’m also creating on a 4-week, interactive course to give women a really solid introduction to meditation and a forum for asking questions and sharing experiences. That should be available by the end of the summer.
Thank you so much Linda, for sharing your story and such valuable information with us. If you haven’t already, sign up for her 5 Day “Learn to Meditate” e-course as I went through it myself. It was so easy to follow and jam-packed with value. You’ll be well on your way in no time!
And if you got as much value as I did, please share this interview with a friend or family member. Meditation is powerful and everyone needs to be doing it!