All of us are in need of a little bit of meditation from time to time, especially if we struggle with anxious thoughts. But, if you’re someone like me—an over-thinker that always needs to stay busy—meditation feels like a whirlwind of restlessness and impatience. Thankfully, Alanis Morissette—singer, songwriter and meditation aficionado—came to the rescue in an Instagram Live interview with New York Times Fashion last week where she answered my biggest question: How do you control racing thoughts during meditation and focus on the present?
Anxiety affects around 40 million adults—almost one in five people. But, we doubt that this many people also practice meditation. Why? Because it can be scary to “go in”—the term Morissette uses to describe taking a deep dive into your mind and pin-pointing where your anxiety is stemming from. “When I first started meditating, the first step was to be less afraid to face my anxiety. I’m also such a rabbit hole,” she adds. “If I think of something, if I’m researching something, if it pops into my head—a memory, anything—I follow those threads and then I’m out of the stillness.”
But, no matter how much your thoughts may wander or how scared you may be, there is always a way to re-center. Morissette explains how focusing on what you hear, feel or see can be portals to concentration. She also notes that choosing something to focus on—like a mantra or saying—can help to keep the mind engaged and situated on the present. “It’s important to be forgiving of yourself because we have this mindset where we have to stay still, but that is the opposite of meditation.” Think your thoughts, try to bring yourself back to center, but also know that whatever direction your meditation is heading that day is okay!
Morissette says that learning these balancing tactics didn’t come to her in one day. Although meditation acts as a life-saver, her journey with the practice started with music. “Whenever something was bubbling up—I didn’t know how to process it because I was too young—I would write a song.” Eventually, she found ways to deal with her anxiety even though she was on tour. “I would be in these environments that were so exciting and so overstimulating but going back to the hotel to meditate. A lot of times, I’d introduce some sort of physical or somatic practice like stretching or yoga—that would help to bring me back to my body.” This practice still reigns true for her today.
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In quarantine, we have the time to find the type of relaxation practice that works best for us. For her own unique practice, Morissette’s goal is to have a direct experience with awareness (also known as presence practice). “Meditation, for me, is like an inquiry. It’s like what’s happening right now—oh look, I feel agitation in my spine, or woah I feel kind of floaty. Anything can be a portal or a doorway into the experience and there’s no right or wrong way to do it—that’s the key!”
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