Real talk about meditation with an expert who is refreshingly down to earth and totally inspiring.

 

I recently discovered Meredith Gunderson and had to share her with our community. I have been loving listening to her podcast and reading her blog and I am totally recommending her self-study meditation course, Meditation Masterclass, for an incredibly enjoyable way to start meditating.

 

Meditation can seem daunting and abstract but Meredith breaks it down into a practical, enjoyable, do-able journey.  {The Southwood community gets 25% off Meditation Masterclass, check it out!}

 

I’m sharing our honest chat about life’s inevitable changes and transitions, building resilience, the nuts and bolts of meditation and more.  


Here’s our conversation:


You have an interesting and diverse personal and professional background.  Tell us a bit about it. 


Well at the moment I am here in Fulham, London, where I teach and write on meditation but eight years ago my life was completely different.  In fact, I seem to have a pattern of going through massive shifts every few years.  Change has definitely been a constant feature in my life which keeps things interesting but is also pretty demanding on a personal level. 


I think a large part of why I teach what I teach is because I have been in the trenches, in the furnace of change where we find ourselves refining, redefining, reimagining and remerging – and this is so important right now, this ability to change with a deep intelligence.  


Eight years ago my husband was working in the City of London and I was a contemporary art curator.  We had this very “London life” with the usual hallmarks of aspirational success, yet decided it was time to step into change - and holy shit, change is what we wanted and change is what we got!  


In short, we went from living in Herne Hill to moving to the Hebrides for six months, then living at a Cambridge theological college, spending a summer research trip in India, my husband retraining to be become a Church of England priest, my retraining to become a yoga teacher, a move back to London, the development of both of our new careers, six different schools for our daughter, six different homes….you get the picture.  Huge shifts in all areas of life.


I will not for one moment say it has been an easy road but it has provided so much depth and satisfaction, I would not trade it.  The skills in adaptability, resilience, taking ownership, setting boundaries, staying true to the voice within and not beating myself up when things didn’t go to plan have made all the difference.  And whilst life never feels perfect and entirely complete, I can definitely find the peace I need within me despite the chaos around me.  This has proven to be something I have a gift for sharing with others, most notably starting with teaching meditation.


So when did you discover meditation?  What was that like?


My first encounter with meditation was through a book I picked up in 1997 while I was travelling in Edinburgh as an American student, which is so strange because I returned to Edinburgh years later to live with my husband.  The book, Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das is still on my shelf and I revisit it from time to time.  Very simply, it described meditation as an essential part of personal and spiritual development, then explained how to sit and focus on the breath - that’s it.  No App, no guided meditation, no scientific data on how long to sit to get the benefits.  I didn’t need convincing, it seemed really natural to me.  However, it did take a while to establish a regular practice and I did spend a lot of time thinking I was doing it wrong because my mind was wandering, not realising that is part of meditation and best not judge it or myself.


Years ago I was exposed to meditation a lot more than most people because I was at school at the University of Colorado at Boulder - Boulder is renowned for it's open mindedness around spiritual, new age, hippy type stuff.  I started practicing yoga in the late 90’s too.  I just liked this stuff, it wasn’t popular but it also wasn’t ‘weird’.  I was in for a shock when I moved to the UK in 2001 and searched out yoga and meditation classes.  I eventually found some but there was a distinct lack of ‘laid back-ness”!  At this point I began relying more on books – a mix of personal development books, as well as ancient classics.  


And now you teach meditation.  Is there a certain personality that finds meditation easier or are better at it?  What if someone isn't very woo?


It doesn’t matter if you are ultra woo or not woo at all.  Everybody can learn to meditate.  I have taught so many different people – from super high achieving type-A men to really groovy hippy ladies and everyone in between.  The way I teach doesn’t require a particular set of beliefs.  If you are spiritual then meditation is very complimentary; if you aren’t then you will still benefit from it and feel calmer and clearer.  


Most of my students, the people I attract, tend to be women who are high functioning and expect a lot from themselves.  They like to get things right, they spin a lot plates and often forget to fill their own cup.  There’s a story they are often caught up in and it goes something like this…"I have to do all the things or all hell will break loose."


There’s also a few of these lurking around:
"I don’t have enough time for myself and I don’t like being this busy but I don’t know how to change it."

"I need some calm but as soon as I slow down, my mind is going crazy with distractions."

"I have achieved so much but I’m not feeling satisfied.  Why is this?"

"I know I need to be more present but I’m not sure how." 

"I love life but I’m exhausted."

"I have no idea how to fit my wellbeing in."


So how does someone start?  What is the best way to get going and keep going?


Start sustainably.  You can begin with something really simple like 3 mindful breaths in the morning.  We get into trouble when we overthink, so I really urge people to just do their practice - whether that’s 3 relaxed breaths or 45 mins in silence - do it and then get on with your day.  A daily practice, even if it’s 5 minutes, will be much more transformational than longer practices that are done only once in a while.  I am a HUGE advocate of daily practice and prioritising regularity over length.  I have seen how this works with clients and there is also plenty of scientific data on this.


If you are new to meditation, it helps to have something structured to guide you.  I prefer courses or books to Apps.  My online Meditation Masterclass is based on my signature in-person course that has successfully taught many, many people to meditate.  It covers everything you need to get going and keep going.


However, the single most important thing you need is ~ you.  Your ownership and your intention, swiftly followed by taking action and getting started.  The momentum will build and it can also help to have a buddy, so doing a course or reading a book with a friend who wants to meditate is a bonus.  But keep it light, don’t put a ton of pressure on yourself, build up the practice and knowledge bit by bit.  

 

We hear all the time how meditation is good for us but how does it actually work, how do we know it’s working, how long until people get benefits?


That’s an excellent little bunch of questions.  Let me break it down and try to keep this really simple.  One of the easiest ways to describe meditation is like a shower for your brain.  Our thoughts can get gunky, heavy and stuck and repetitive.  Meditation is like a power washer that brings in the calm and clarity we need to enjoy life and steer it in a way that’s best for us.  Pausing and learning to be present has immense benefits to our mind, body and soul.  We get into habits, some of them serve us, some of them don’t, some of them were really useful ten years ago but are toxic now.  In order to grow and change and adapt we need to be present to our habits, present to our choices.  This requires awareness - and a particular type of non-judgemental awareness.  From there, possibility dawns but if we are stuck, and stuck in a state of judgemental resistance, we are actually in a brain state that is frankly - stupid.  Chronic stress inhibits creativity and lateral thinking.  Meditation is a rewiring of the brain to be less reactive, less stress-y, less anxious, less blame-y and more aware, more open, more receptive, more compassionate, more creative, more magnetic.


In terms of know if meditation is working, you aren’t going to be the only human ever who won’t benefit from pausing.  Instead of questioning if it’s working, try allowing it work.  If you are a person who really needs a lot of ‘proving’ for buy in, if you err on the sceptical then definitely invest in a course that feels good to you.  The sceptic mind is pretty crafty at creating distractions and doubts which keep us stuck exactly where we are - so do what you can to reassure and quiet it.  Meanwhile, try five consecutive days with a guided meditation or just ten mindful breaths a day each morning or begin a course.  Do a little audit of how you feel when you start and another in five days time (or two weeks, whatever feels achievable for you) and you will see that it is working.


I have a little thing I tell clients….Benefits begin as soon as you do. 


Tell me about how you create space time for meditation?  Everyone is so busy and fitting another thing in can be a real challenge, what do you suggest?  What works?


My best tip for this is to do it in the morning.  Do something in the morning ~ five breaths, five minutes, ten minutes or longer.  Whatever you feel is reasonable for you.  The morning gives the most gains, the brain is in an ideal state for meditation and you set yourself up for a great day when you begin with some meditation.  


What people often find is that if they do a little something in the morning, they feel positive about it and this creates a momentum, rather than another to-do list item, and they often find they easily and happily do another practice during the day.


Another top tip is just to give yourself a break if you miss a day, a week, a year.  Just re-start, no fuss, no bad-mouthing yourself, just simply restart!  You can be creative with meditation practice and there are lots of styles so I advocate feeling around and trying different things - BUT don’t switch it up too much.  If you are trying a different style, do it for five days in a row, then try something else.  We go into this issue of a sustainable practice a lot in the course…


You say intuition is time saving magic, can you expand on this and the link between intuition and meditation? 


Ooh yes!  Intuition is totally time saving magic.  It is a great editor.  Like an Anna Wintour in your head unapologetically saying, "yes", "no", "yes", "no".  No rambling apologies, no asking for permission, no indecisiveness – just pure knowing.  Efficient, calm, clear knowing.  When we meditate we build our relationship with our intuition.  We become more clear, our boundaries are upheld, we aren’t leaking energy everywhere trying to please everyone.  We keep our cups full and everyone else can get the overflow rather than empty us dry.  


Once we are more proficient at being present thanks to meditation, we can begin to work more intentionally with our intuition.  We learn how to dialogue with it, how to tune in, how to recognise it.  One quick tip is that the ego will have streams and streams and streams of often convoluted and doubt-y or tense inner monologue; whereas the intuition is calm and brief with its input.  {So brief that we often dismiss it mistakenly thinking things can’t be that simple, while simultaneously wanting more simplicity but then doubting it when it arises from within!}


And you are married to a priest?!  People think things like meditation and yoga are at odds with Christianity, yet you and your husband collaborate.  Can you tell me more about this? 


Ross, my husband, and I don’t see spiritual traditions as being at odds at all.  There are so many ways to express and explore belief, so many ways humans have been pondering the mysteries of life throughout time and this fascinates us.  Many people don’t realise how much contemplative practices and meditation as well as mysticism there is in Christianity.  We are both big believers that it’s not our job to judge and prefer to discuss and explore points of intersection rather than drawing any lines in the sand.  We have a podcast, The Vicar & The Mystic where we discuss life’s big questions from varying points of view.  We feel it is essential to dare to understand points of view that differ from our own.  There’s always space for deeper understanding, deeper connection and more nuances and that’s not threatening, it’s beautiful.


Finally, we have discussed how our homes are sacred spaces.  What do you do to create peace and calm in your home?


I am such a homebody and my home has always had to be a haven so this idea of home as a sacred space really, deeply resonates for me.  I am hugely sensitive to my surroundings so things like texture, colour and smell are definitely catered for.  I like natural materials but with an eye to design and craft and a bit of the unexpected to keep it interesting.  My home is very squishy, I collect blankets and have tons of pillows.  Books are everywhere and I ain’t no minimalist!  There’s art, focal points and lots of small vases for bringing flowers in from the garden.  Ceramic mugs and special tea pots encourage me slow down and be more present with a cuppa and I am an essential oil junkie.  {We have six diffusers in the house!}  Sunday afternoons I usually give myself some pottering time to move things around a bit, sift through any clutter and light some candles.  We are fortunate to live in a lovely Arts & Crafts vicarage and have laboured a great deal in her renovating!  


But by far the most potent way I have found to create a sacred space is to love and appreciate it.  A loved space feels the best no matter what the materials, location or budget!  Make it yours.


 

Try Meredith Meditation Masterclass with a 25% discount here.

 

Find Meredith:

Website with Blog & Podcast

Instagram

Join her mailing list 


Related blogs & podcasts:

On change – Why my Soul Loves Change but my Ego Freakin’ Hates It

On personal life changes – We Did it but We Never Could Have Planned It

On Meditation Apps – Why I Wean My Clients Off Of Meditation Apps

On Anxiety & Pandemic – Podcast: Anxieties & Awakenings


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