I don’t like to push my ideas onto people. In fact, I only openly talk about it with those who seem responsive to whatever the topic may be. Otherwise, I see no value in trying to express what I consider “good” or “right” on someone who doesn’t feel the same.
One of those areas is meditation. We can all be told six ways to Sunday it’s beneficial, it’s worth your time, and it’ll help you in a plethora of ways, but unless you see the need or want for it, it won’t go anywhere. And I’m not special enough to change your mind. In the course of telling people I meditate, I generally get a lot of receptivity to the idea but an equal amount of pushback. This is especially true when I ask if they’ve done it or tried it.
People commonly fall into two categories with meditation: those who have tried it and given up relatively quickly, and those who just haven’t given it a shot because they assume they’re burnt to a crisp before they even go into the oven.
Do you find yourself in one of these two categories? Chances are you do, and I’m here to tell you it’s simply because you have the wrong idea of what meditation is. I’m going out on a limb here and assuming you have a clear idea of what the result of committing to a regular practice is based on what you heard – more focus, more happiness, a calmer mind, more present moment awareness. You won’t do a complete 180 from your current lifestyle; more so, you’ll notice changes gradually as you progress. More specifically, you should really notice changes when you reflect back and see how you reacted to similar situations before and after you began meditating. This last area was key for me. It’s hard to see where you’ve gone until you get put into a situation that gives you the easy option to respond in your hard-set ways. Only when you do things differently do you begin to pause and realize that shit, things really are different now.
You Have the Wrong Assumption
Back to my original point. In talking to a lot of people about meditation, I’ve found that most people assume one thing, and that’s some idea that you’re supposed to sit for 20 to 30 minutes minimum without having your mind wander and jump from thought to thought. As if you only know you’ve succeeded in meditation when you can confidently accomplish “blacking out”. So naturally, when you sit down and take a crack at pure bliss, you can write the rest of this story. And it goes a little something like this: you find yourself focusing on everything but your breathing. And like clockwork, this continues for the entire duration of the sitting. Cool? Not very cool when you assume you’re supposed to someday be on the opposite end of where you’re at. You dust your hands off, give the idea up, and assume the gurus inherited a talent for sitting still.
That is not what meditation is. Meditation is the simple act of being aware you are trailing off from your focus on the breath or the mantra (or whatever your central point of focus is) and immediately bringing it back to that central point. Don’t get mad, don’t get annoyed; just bring yourself back. To have thoughts is to be human. And yes, to have 50,000 thoughts in the span of a 20-minute meditation is also normal. If you’re thinking, that means you’re alive, and last time I checked, that’s a damn good thing.
What makes an experienced meditator different from a beginner? They catch themselves wandering almost immediately, and reign it back in to the present moment. This can happen hundreds of times during a sitting. A beginner, on the other hand, will trail off and not realize they’ve become sucked up in thoughts until five, ten, even fifteen minutes has passed. I’ve been meditating for almost two years daily now, and I still find that most of the times I sit, I’m trailing off constantly. But I became fairly good at reigning it in, and that’s where the success has been. Sure, I can get wrapped up in a thought for a few minutes before I realize it, even now. And I also have days where my sitting absolutely sucks, I can’t focus, and I don’t want to be sitting there because I think I’ve got better things to be doing. Here’s the bottom line: a meditation session, no matter how bad, is better than no session.
If someone ever tells you that they’ve been able to meditate for 20 or 30 minutes in constant awareness of their breath and maintain utmost focus, they’re drunk off their own ego and full of shit. Don’t get discouraged so easily just by the thought of meditating. Your mind will race, and it’ll never stop. Meditation is a chance to catch yourself doing it (which in turn brings you to the present moment), and with time, you’ll find yourself applying it in your life outside of your 20 or 30 minutes of sitting. With things like eating, you’ll be much more aware of being in the moment and enjoying every other bite before your mind trails or you look at your phone. (Side note: I would suggest as an easy practice to put all distractions away when eating and use this small time to be in the moment).
I’m here to tell you that your “version” of what you think meditation is, is wrong. You will never sit peacefully in bliss the entire time. Think of it like a game – you’re just waiting to catch your mind wander, and then whip it back into shape by dropping whatever you’re thinking of and getting into the present, be it breathing or repeating a mantra or focusing on sensations in the body, or the 200 other ways you can meditate. This is why it’s considered mental exercising.