If you want to get into a meditative state more consistently, one method I find useful is to read poetry about meditation. This isn’t unusual. Many meditators describe how talking or reading about these states can often trigger them to happen. Poetry is particularly well suited for this compared to prose because it’s more in the realm of emotions and experiences rather than analytical thought, which is one of the foundations of meditation.
A good way to use this to augment your practice is to read a related poem before or during your sit. In the former, simply read the poem, savor it, then start meditating with that kickstart. In the latter, use the poem as your meditation object. The thing you focus on does not need to be the breath. That is just the most common one. You can either read a stanza of the poem, then meditate, then read another, then meditate, or you can read the poem very slowly, really being present for every line. Another method is to simply choose one line or stanza and use that as your mantra, repeating it again and again, focusing on each syllable, either out loud or in your head.
To find a poem you can either google them or write your own. I find writing my own to be very useful because they are tailor made to my experiences and the approaches I find most useful. I will include one here as an example, but you might find others more to your taste.
In every moment
There is peace
Find it now,
Don’t need a reason
Don’t need a cause
Joy is there
Relax into it
Find your joy
Enjoy the sights
Drink deep this moment
One problem when you’re sad is that listening to a song that will usually boost your mood will seem sickeningly sweet. However, listening to happy music is often a really powerful way to get you out of a funk. Listening to sad music can sometimes feel cathartic, but sometimes it can just reinforce the negative emotions. It can make you feel sadder or angrier, confirming your view that the world sucks, people are terrible, and nihilism is probably correct.
A way out of this problem is to keep a list of songs that start sad or angry, then slowly morph into happy or inspirational tracks. Whenever you run across a song that fits this criteria, add it to your list, then, when you’re in a terrible state, you can pull it up and listen to it. The melancholic start will fit with your current mood, but like a nicer version of slowly boiling a frog, you’ll gradually be shifted into something more uplifting.
Habits aren’t just about flossing and exercising. Habits of thought can be far more impactful on your life, yet most people don’t think deliberately about how to change them. CBT does try to do this, but I have found its meta-approaches for replacing distorted thoughts with healthier thoughts to be sub-optimal. It’s easy to forget the idea you thought of in therapy or while thinking about how to have a more realistic and happy outlook. You do it for a few days, then life gets in the way, it slips your mind, and you’re back to your default patterns.
A trick I have found useful for this is to use Habitica, a gamified habit forming system, to help retrain your neural pathways. The quick explanation of Habitica is that when you do a behaviour you would like to do, you get coins which you can spend on various things in the game. To make this work with CBT, you simply input the desired replacement thought pattern, then you get rewarded every time you remember to do so. This sets up a system to remember and has helped me with an enormous number of patterns that led to unwarranted feelings of guilt and anxiety, and I hope it can help you too.
Katherine Xio Savoie
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science. This blog is where I write about everything, particularly happiness, health, life hacks, and psychology.