Our thoughts matter—especially when it comes to mood episodes and stability. I can’t stand sitting still long enough to meditate, but here’s how I learned to stick it out, to “turn out the horses” and let my thoughts run free.
Struggling to Switch “Off”
As a workaholic and a parent of three preschoolers, I struggled with the concept of meditation at first. It can feel a bit foreign or awkward to sit in a room, alone, with your eyes closed. Plus, I’m accustomed to being “on” all the time, and it’s not easy to switch “off” and sit with my thoughts.
However, I think it’s important for everyone to have a dependable way of getting centered. And as a person with bipolar, I must acknowledge that “getting centered” needs to be done early and often.
So, I took it step-by-step.
I know that we are creatures of habit. And the only way to establish a routine (of any kind) is to assign some of our time to it. It might take some mustering, but we can all find that discipline if we look for it. I wish I had more helpful advice than “suck it up”—because creating a routine is an important step. Thoughts are important. Dedicate some of your time to setting them free.
Unleash the Beasts
I’ve spent some time around various horse ranches, and one thing they have all had in common is that they “turn out” the horses to roam freely every day. The horses that provide services (like therapy for differently-abled people); the horses that are being trained (for racing or shows); the horses whose owners have them boarded—all of them are given a chance each day to roam around in a field and do as they wish.
For a similar reason, it’s beneficial to our well-being if we can remove the responsibilities, the focus, and the expectations for a bit and give our thoughts space to roam and settle.
For me, “turning out the horses” is the metaphorical definition of meditation.
Careful with the “Soda”
Speaking of metaphors—have you ever opened a shaken-up bottle of soda? You can’t tell from the outside just how fizzy your soda is, so you turn the cap slowly to let out just a bit of pressure at a time, so that it won’t explode everywhere and make a mess.
—If you need inspiration: Think about something stoic, calm, and permanent—like a giant sequoia, or God, or the Grand Canyon, or the Dalai Lama. Try to become unflappable like that.
What Time Is It?
Thinking about time is complicated when it comes to meditation. This is how it usually goes for me: “Am I supposed to keep up with how long I’ve been meditating? But … I’m trying to clear my mind, not to be concerned about what time it is. Oh—I’ll just set an alarm! But now I’m stressed about the alarm going off. WTF.”
I choose not to set an alarm because it makes me nervous. You may feel differently, though—because I do think it’s helpful to have a feeling for how your thoughts come and go when you are learning to meditate.
—If you need inspiration: Play music that can gently indicate to you how much time has passed (or do as I do—put on some birdsong radio!).
Where Are We?
Find a place where you can be alone. It’s great if you can have a particular room or area dedicated to meditation, but that isn’t necessary; the ultimate goal is to be able to do it anywhere. But for beginners, I think it’s a good idea to be in a place where there isn’t a risk of interruption by another person.
—If you need inspiration: To designate/christen this space, Mise en place. Mise en place is a French culinary phrase which means “everything in its place.” You don’t have to polish the room, just move one thing to its right place, or at least a more pleasant place. It’s like a French culinary / Feng Shui hybrid thing. Look at you! Fancy and brilliant.
What Do I Do with My Body?
The “how” will look different for everyone. Listen to what your body needs. Sit if you want to sit. Or stand if you want to stand. Think about being open to a great chasm of emotional space.
—If you need inspiration:
Stretch your head and neck (comfortably) toward your left shoulder; take in a deep breath, and slowly push into the stretch a little further.
Think briefly about your day. Imagine what it would look like if it were a single photograph or painting. Let out the deep breath.
Stretch your head and neck (comfortably) toward your right shoulder; take in a deep breath, and slowly relax into the stretch a little further.
Think about sitting next to a river, watching some fallen leaves float downstream. Imagine putting that photograph of your day on one of the passing leaves, then watching as it flows with the others atop the gentle river current. Let out the deep breath.
Why Should I Do This?
I know that during (hypo)manic times when there’s hyper-focus in a certain direction, it can seem impossible to redirect the freight train of thoughts. But the only way to get a ball rolling is to push. You can prioritize your mental wellness, and you will benefit from doing so.
Keeping thoughts bottled up all the time is not healthy for any person—and that goes double for people with bipolar (ha!). It’s in our best interest to find our own way of meditating (or releasing mental and emotional pressure), so that we can avoid bipolar-driven disasters.
I can’t help but think of what Donald Fagen of Steely Dan says in the song “Your Gold Teeth, Pt. 2”: “It’s your game; the rules are your own—win or lose.”
So, give your soda time to decompress; unleash your horses; and get started with your own meditation routine! Let me know how it goes.
Brooke Baron has a BA in English, a minor in philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. She is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Bipolar.
Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep.
Brooke now specializes in "New Human Orientation" from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee.
In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including bipolar II disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw. She offers consulting services for the bipolar community at Better Bipolar Balance.
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