It’s time to address this issue: for years, I’ve shamefully felt I’m a failure at meditation.
It seems like a great thing to be “good” at. Especially for someone who does what I do for a living—Practicing a holistic lifestyle.
Recently, I’ve turned a corner in my meditation. I want to share this with you because, as I’ve been quizzing folks lately, I’ve learned most of my friends think they “can’t” meditate, either. That they’re somehow broken or dysfunctional.
Lately, I’ve been studying Buddhism.
My daughter, Emma, age 19, is in Thailand doing a humanitarian internship. I told her my goal is to read 3 books on Buddhism by the time she comes home in August. She has loved Buddhism since she was very young. We bought her Buddhas, small and large, to decorate her room with for many years. I’m going to Thailand, myself, this Fall.
I’m fascinated by Liz Gilbert’s struggle in Eat, Pray, Love, where she meditates for a month straight in an ashram in India. Fighting her easily-bored mind, obsessing about her just-failed marriage, her month of meditation was, at first, anything but peaceful and still.
I’m fascinated by Buddhist monks who spend thousands of hours of their lives quieting their mind and becoming totally emotionally disciplined.
I suck at meditating. I want to just admit this right up front. But this year, I’ve revisited the subject, started doing it again, and have learned enough to give myself—and hopefully, you—some hope. Enough hope to stick with it.
The health benefits of this age-old practice are starting to be borne out by actual research. The brain actually builds new connections when you meditate regularly and serotonin increases. (Who doesn’t want more serotonin?)
Many report achieving a more rested state from daily meditation rather than from napping. However, meditating once in a while is almost pointless: it’s like exercise, you simply must do it every day.
Buddhism says that the mind is like a wild monkey. Total Attention Deficit Disorder. Jumping off the walls and the ceiling. Even worse, Buddhism describes the mind as sometimes like a DRUNK wild monkey. A drunk, wild monkey who just got bitten by a scorpion. It’s not a pretty metaphor, but doesn’t it feel like the inside of your brain?
When I read this metaphor, I felt strangely better. My mind isn’t “defective.” Neither is yours. The fact that your brain is always tearing off in a “thought story” doesn’t make you crazy, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have a Ritalin deficit. It means you have a normal but undisciplined state of consciousness. It means you have been subjected to a lot of stress. It means you live in the world with the rest of us, bombarded by stimuli like no other people in the history of the planet.
It means you need meditation. What if you could change all that, control it?
And in Buddhism, “the mind” doesn’t mean that grey matter we call the brain. It’s more than that. It’s a state of consciousness that encompasses the brain, heart, feelings, thoughts—far more than your brain.
In a minute, I’m going to demystify meditation. I’m going to gently take away your thought that you need to take classes in it, read a book on it, or practice it with expensive CD’s, religious texts, or chants in another language. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing, in simple steps, that anyone can do, spending $0.00.
(You can do that stuff if you want to. Learning is good. There’s a Great Courses in Mindfulness on Audible, by a Harvard PhD, and I really loved listening to all 12 hours! My perspective isn’t the only one, of course. But keep in mind people meditated for thousands of years before a few people started making money MYSTIFYING it. If we’re trying to “clear the mental clutter,” let’s start with decluttering how we think of meditation.)
Like yoga, meditation is always “practice.” And it’s worth something, even if you finish your meditation totally agitated and anxious. (It happens! To the best of us. Read up on it—it was a surprise to me to learn that others have this experience. A lot.)
Even if, in your 20 minutes of meditation, you achieve a clear mind, without mentally chasing off after “thought stories,” for only 15 seconds at a time, a few times, that’s progress. It’s worth doing. Meditation is HARD. Did you know that just a few minutes every few hours of CLOSED EYES is immensely helpful to your eye and brain health? Think on that. This will help you see even your “epic fail” meditations as “worth doing!”
Because the practice of meditation may be just as worth your time and effort as your GREEN JUICE / SMOOTHIE and your DAILY WORKOUT and your GETTING ENOUGH QUALITY SLEEP and your GETTING ENOUGH CLEAN WATER. Put meditation in there as the 5th super-important thing. That’s how big a deal it is!
I like some YouTube meditations. They’re free, and there are lots of them. Most are too long for me. For a long time, my resistance was, “I don’t have time to meditate.” I wanted to spend my time doing active things—I literally NEVER have as much time as I want for tennis, yoga, skiing, and socializing.
Are you like me? I’m changing my thinking on this.
Bob Proctor’s Abundance Meditation on YouTube is nice, in the morning. I think the long term goal would be to not have to listen to anything at all…..to be completely still, completely serene, empty my mind, and be a non-judgmental observer of my thoughts, learning to be completely present.
The long term goal is to find peace in a tumultuous world, anywhere you are, in any circumstance. Many say it takes 10 years, or 30 years, to achieve that. I’m going to choose to be at peace with how long it takes and my imperfection.
Because I’m not there just yet. And I won’t likely be there anytime soon. Peace to you if you haven’t arrived at the ultimate state of transcendentalism, either. Namaste. Be on the path and work towards more “flow.”
Meditation is “work,” like all good things. I’ve arrived at the decision that it’s work worth doing. I’m committed. I’m far more Zen now than I was 15 years ago, despite more stress, more disappointment and more responsibilities than I ever had back then. That’s progress, right? Very slight progress every day means massive progress in a year or a decade.
Here are the basics of meditation, that anyone can do:
- Sit somewhere. Doesn’t have to be on the floor or in any kind of lotus position. A chair or couch is fine. Sit with your spine straight. Don’t be lying in your bed. You are trying to associate good, aligned posture with the aligned Zen state you are aiming for in your meditation. This also helps you not doze off.
- Set a time. Start at 20 minutes. Maybe one day you work up to 60 minutes, but commit to at least 20 minutes a day. And do it Every. Single. Day.
- Do deep breathing, if you wish. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Count, if you wish. Progressively relax different areas of the body, scalp to toes, if you wish. Place your hands facing up with your thumb and middle finger attached in a circle and slowly chant, “oooohhhmmmm” if you want. (It gives you a focal point. Repeating a mantra is another focal point you could choose.)
Nothing wrong with those techniques, but the most common principle is to keep opting out of the “thought stories” you find entering your mind. Focus on the breath. (The thought stories are normal—be patient with yourself, but just keep letting thoughts go and re-focusing on the breath.)
Notice the sensation of breathing in ways you’ve never actually been conscious of before. Choose specific things about your breath to focus on every time your mind strays and you must come back. If you stay completely focused on your breathing for 30 seconds at a time, you’re doing great! It’s not easy. It’s a discipline in controlling your mind that can have very positive effects on your life.
Above all, once you go through these focusing rituals (or not), strive to be fully present in the moment, attempt to sit with no judgment, observe thoughts like clouds that pass through without attaching to them. If you feel pain or discomfort, or you’re bored, just observe it.
Be an observer of what is happening in the moment you are in. Try to stay fully present—it’s a good practice, because most of us do 99% of our thinking about what happened in the past, or what may happen in the future.
Opt out of judgment—of yourself, of others, of situations. You are increasing mindfulness, which is part of the gain in the practice of meditation. In the rest of your day, you might judge too often, feel anger or impatience, but try to release that during your state of meditation. Towards an eventual peace and acceptance in the whole scope of living. The more you practice meditation, the more likely you come to leverage what you learn to a state of more peace and acceptance and even love throughout your day.
This is all meditation has to be. You can do it with peaceful music, or silence. On a mat, or not.
I’m going to meditate for 30 days straight, 20 minutes each day, no matter what. No matter how chaotic my day is or my consciousness is. If for nothing else, I’ll do it, even if I keep feeling like a “fail,” just for the discipline of DOING IT and what I may gain in the long term from it. Do it with me?