I mentioned my failure to meditate in a recent post. What I neglected to tell you is how often I orient instead of meditating and the easiest way to explain the art of orienting is to show you.
Read through the next set of instructions, then try them out for a few minutes.
- Without rushing, look away from your tablet, computer or phone.
- Very slowly and without moving your head and neck too forcefully, glance at whatever is across from you (a wall, window, another person, art, nature, books, signage or anything else that’s in your field of vision).
- Slowly move your head an inch or less to either the right or the left and allow your eyes to follow.
- While you’re doing that notice how your feet are making contact with the ground.
- If you’re sitting, notice your glutes, thighs and back making contact with the furniture.
- Feel how your arms press against your sides, rest against your legs or make contact with whatever you’re sitting on.
- And if you’re lying down, feel how the entire backside of your body is supported.
- Now notice your breath (don’t change it, just notice it).
- Follow your inhalation as well as your exhalation.
- Is it even or shallow? Fast, deep or slow?
In other word, focus on where you are in space, note how you’re breathing and take in your environment. But do it calmly, not quickly.
How Meditation Differs From Orientation
I always think of meditation as quieting the “monkey mind” by turning off the language center of the brain. Specifically the meditater is asked not to follow the thought that pops into her head. She is encouraged to act as a nonjudgmental witness of any ideas that come to the surface then push them away and return to her breath. This type of mental shutdown is wonderful and has great value but it requires a set time and place. You can’t meditate while driving, take a sit when your boss is screaming at you or go into meditation while your toddler is throwing a fit at Wegmans.
What are you supposed to do with all that stress while you’re waiting for tomorrow morning’s moment of meditation?
Meditation also asks that your hips aways be above your knees and most forms specifically ask you to ignore your impulses (don’t scratch the itch, sneeze or cough) and close your eyes.
Whereas orienting gives you similar results while allowing you to stay in your current reality. You can orient while driving or during a difficult conversation. You don’t have to excuse yourself to meditate for 5 minutes, simply orient while doing whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re stressed at a work meeting, orient to the chair, the room, and your breath which calms you down and brings you back to reality. Yes your boss might be psychotic but he’s not harming you. He’s not throwing a punch or a running towards you with a knife.
You’re fine and you need to tell your autonomic nervous system (the one that your boss threw into high gear by being a jerk) that everything’s okay. The metaphorical, sabre-toothed tiger you’ve created in your head isn’t charging at you after all.
Orienting also shuts off your monkey mind but without asking the language center to shut down completely. You leave the narrative in your head because your brain is given something else to do. Hmm…the wall across from me is orange. My right foot is on the ground but my left foot is shaking. My breathing is pretty shallow.
You are also given the luxury to follow your impulses. Noting where you are in space might mean noticing that you need to sit down or that your excess energy is because you need get up out of your office chair and move a little.
Its been easy to start and continue an orientation practice as opposed to maintaining a meditation practice. Mediation is cumulative and helps you over time whereas orientation is immediate and helps you in the present moment. Meditation helps us deal with the chronic affects of constantly being in fight, flight or freeze mode. Orientation is the tool you use to get you out of fight, flight or freeze as it’s happening.
*** Please Note*** If you’re actually in danger, being chased, attacked, or in harm’s way – Don’t orient or meditate. Run! Punch! Or Hide! I’m talking about all the other times when we unnecessarily wreck our adrenal system by putting ourselves into these fear-based modes.
Orientating helps people that experience anxiety, depression, and stress. If you’re someone that worries a lot about future events, orient. If traumatic memories from your past pop into your head often, orient. Instead of always focusing on the story in your head, orientation forces you to acknowledge, I’m here. I’m safe. Everything’s fine.
If you want to learn more, head over to Irene Lyon’s site, poke around her blog, and download her free content.