Straight talk on the subject of meditation | Guest column

By Kristin Fernald, MA LMHC

Special to the Weekly

When I was 26 I signed up for my first 10-day silent meditation retreat. My mother’s response was “Why on earth would you want to sit around and think for 10 days?”  Right, why would I?  The truth is, “thinking” is not what meditation teaches. I get plenty of that everywhere else!

So what is meditation? The word invites many different images: a quiet, thoughtful time of sitting in nature alone; monks in a monastery sitting for hours on end; a spiritual Yogi sitting peacefully beneath a Bodhi tree.  It is typically an image of sitting for a long period of time on a cushion, cross-legged and eyes closed. It looks really uncomfortable. It can bring up feelings of resistance (“I could never do that”; “I’m too busy to meditate!”) or fear (“isn’t it a religious practice?”).

Meditation is all of these things and none of these things. It is both an experience and a practice. The practice is one of deep concentration and focus of the mind. The experience is one of relaxation, peace and open-heartedness. It is quite simply a practice of being with what is in the moment. No religion. No expectations. No convoluted postures. You can be walking, sitting, dancing, … It is more about how you engage in the moment.

In our modern world of high speed everything, our minds are moving fast along with everything else. We are always projecting our thoughts into the future or pondering something from the past.

Rarely are we in the present moment, noticing what we are experiencing. Our ability to focus is undermined by constant distractions. Meditation helps us be more focused and on purpose in our lives.

As a psychotherapist, I see how much of the suffering that people experience comes from their thinking. We trigger the stress response in our bodies through our anxious or fearful thoughts.  Being able to bring your attention back to the present moment, to right now, your story begins to lose its steam. Your body begins to relax. The fight/flight response is no longer triggered. You are home.

Neuroscience today tells us that our brains are changeable. The neural pathways that support certain habit patterns of thought and behavior can be changed over time. And what is one of the most effective means of changing a pattern? Meditation.

It is a simple practice that you can take with you anywhere.

If you are interested in learning the basics of meditation, Kristin is offering a free introductory class on Wednesday, March 5, 5:30-6:30 pm on Orcas; Thursday, March 6, 7:00-8:00 pm on Lopez. For more info call 468-3785 or e-mail