Want definitive proof that self-help has helped changed my life for the better?
Let's look at this picture of me in the fourth grade that someone just posted on Facebook:
I mean, it's all there. The insecurity. The gawkiness. The unsure nervous nature that ruled most of my life until I started to do more serious work on myself. Obviously, the majority of real progress comes from working with great therapists, but as much as I hate to admit it, making extremely embarrassing self-help purchases has made a huge difference, too.
When you spend the majority of your life doling out negative self talk ("You did that wrong." "You look stupid." "You're ugly." "What's wrong with you, why do you have to be so hard on yourself anyway?") it can take some very dedicated action to reverse the trend.
And during the holidays, let's be honest, many of us inadvertently regress to some of our bad childhood habits: beating ourselves up, listening to parental criticism that is cruel and misguided, even just overall mental paralysis because we're so bogged down by our own negative internal gunk.
Well, have no fear, friends, because I promise that you do not need years of intensive therapy to get through the next several days. Instead, let's do the quickie bandage listen-to-these-meditations-that-will-put-you-in-a-better-mental-place-instantly fix.
It's hard to believe that five little iTunes downloads could make a difference, but they really do. (Oh and most of these I think you can find free on YouTube; but I included the purchase links because I like to have this stuff on my phone so I can put it on if I'm on an airplane, at the waxer, whatever the stressy situation might be.)
An added bonus: A lot of them knock you flat on your butt and really help with insomnia, too, which is terrific if it's late at night and your mind is racing. Happily, all of these are priced around $5 to $10, and the difference they make in your life is well worth the expenditure. Unless, of course, you've done a guided meditation before and thought, "This is the stupidest thing ever," then don't waste your time. Because this definitely ain't for you.
In total, I probably have more than 20 different guided meditations in my library that I turn to (and a lot of times, I'll play these when I'm giving a friend reiki, which I love to do for people, with my favorite experience still being giving it to a dear friend who had just given birth to twin girls in the hospital). Out of those 20 options, these are truly my top five picks for diffusing a holiday visit where you feel like you're just about to flip.
I told you these were going to be embarrassing, didn't I?
So I used to always think the whole "inner child" thing was this hilarious bit of material that standup comics had to mine for laughs because the concept was just so idiotic. And then when I did some more intense psychodrama workshops and plumbed the depths of the dysfunction in my childhood, I saw how effective a visualization it was to nurture and protect the little girl in me, longing for boundaries. I've been doing this one a lot lately, and every time, I wake up so refreshed and energized.
They say that all of therapy can be boiled down to one principle: Learn to parent yourself. And that's exactly what this will help you do.
This is the meditation that taught me the metta bhavana which is the idea of very actively wishing yourself and others loving-kindness, even when you might be so bitter or furious or vengeful toward someone you can barely breathe. Whenever I feel low, paralyzed or just caught in what feels like a pit of despair, this meditation functions as a mental bath of light and love. I know for me, without fail, the one thing that can cheer me up is doing a kind action for another person. That's the effect this meditation has. By forcing you to actively and genuinely wish others well (including people you don't know that well and people who you know best of all), there is a leveling effect where you see, as cheesy as it sounds, that all of humanity really is one and we're not so separate after all.
Loving-kindness is all well and good, but let's say you just came back from Christmas dinner and your relatives have told you that your career is "cute," your willingness to look the way you do is "courageous" and "plenty of people die alone these days." You are boiling over in rage and you're a little worried you might just "Firestarter" burn them all up with your mind.
Not to worry. This is a special meditation that allows you to really release some of your deepest angry feelings and rage-against-the-machine get it all out. As much as happy thoughts are lovely, sometimes for very deep and festering wounds, you just need to scream and release the hate that might be corroding your heart first. This beautiful and powerful meditation offers an amazing release (you get to zap and kapow-y people in the visualization exercise) but it's ultimately gentle in its power (look, they exploded, and now in their place, after all the explosions are over, they're actually still there, except it's a new sweet rendition where you see their little inner child and all of your old wounds have healed and everyone loves everyone).
Good ol' Kelly Howell. This chick must have made a fortune off of all her meditations. She's got "The Secret" guided meditation, attracting wealth guided meditation, creating your destiny guided meditation, I'm just waiting for the gluten-free one to attract the right wheat-free people into your life. But as ridiculous and completely over-the-top as this synthesized music and imagery journey is, man, does it knock you out and take you to a place of vibrant and rich relaxation. I use this meditation more than any others if I am giving someone reiki, and every time people fall under the trance of her voice, and when they wake up, it's so clear they are fully recharged.
I wasn't sure if I should include this or Brian Weiss or Doreen Virtue's goofball "chakra clearing," but I decided to go with this sucker, because I re-listened to it when I was walking my dogs tonight, and wow did I feel high after. Sometimes I really miss smoking, and the one thing that gives me a buzz akin to the delightful ways of nicotine is breathing very deep and from the diaphragm. The instructions on this meditation had me doing exactly that. (By the way, this is a hypnosis so if you are very susceptible, definitely do not listen when you are walking your dogs unless you are certain it won't knock you out, as I would feel really guilty if you crashed out on the concrete because you got hypnotized.) This meditation is all about doing away with negative self-talk and the habits we can get into in beating ourselves up or putting ourselves down. It is a wonderful classic (although the little song that a chick sings in the background "Give yourself love...Give yourself time...Time heals with grace..." might make you burst out laughing the first time you hear it, so just try to power over to your internal Earnest Mode so you don't get distracted).
And...that's my list!
If you're really good at meditation, you obviously don't need any of these cheap tools, but good at meditation I am not. My brain immediately starts putting together a to-do list, so I actually kinda do need some ridiculous voice singing to me in the background about sparkly lights and cool breezes.
So do you meditate? What works for you? Are the holidays mad stressful to you too or do you actually not need tricks like this? Tell me!
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.