I wonder what I’ll cobble together for dinner tonight?
I really should have gone to the store yesterday. There’s nothing in the frig.
I have to stop listening to the Dipsea app and start listening to Calm, then I wouldn’t suck at meditating.
These are just some of the thoughts swirling in my head as I sit and fail at meditating.
Meditation is something I’ve struggled practicing with any sort of consistency. I’m well aware of the benefits. I’ve felt them. I’ve had periods when I meditate every day, only to give up after 30 days, three months, six months in. I’ve never been able to maintain the practice for longer than that. Even sitting for only ten minutes a day, I feel the benefits of meditating. Yet, I struggle with keeping the habit.
When I meditate daily, here are the results:
- Less reactive.
- Not anxious.
- More patience.
- Not as judgmental towards myself or anyone else.
- Don’t eat mindlessly.
- Listen more.
- Worry less.
- My day goes more smoothly.
- Get quality sleep.
- Increased productivity.
- Less inner chatter during the day and when I’m trying to fall asleep.
- Fall asleep faster.
What is meditation?
Meditation requires the person to sit, notice thoughts, and breathe. Doesn’t sound hard, does it? Yet, most people find meditating difficult.
I know that if I miss a few days or stop meditating altogether, my inner existence becomes much more turbulent. And yet, I still struggle to keep it up.
No matter how much I try to change, I’m a type-A personality. Even when it comes to something like meditation, I want to “win” at it, conquer it, master it, and wrestle it into submission.
If you’re coming at meditation with this sort of type-A mindset, you’ve already lost. You have to come to it with an attitude of acceptance and a low bar for success. Acceptance is key.
Change the goal
The goal is not to feel any certain way going into meditation. As hard as this is, try not to have rigid expectations. If you’re expecting or hoping to feel a certain way, it blocks you from getting there.
Instead, the goal is to feel whatever you’re feeling so that you build the muscle of not being owned by your feelings. If you’re a writer, it is the same principle as building the writing muscle. If you sit down to write each day, the muscle gets stronger. The repetition that builds your writing muscle isthe sitting down to write part. The repetition that builds the meditation muscle is returning to your breath or presence after your mind wanders, which it will. Unless you’ve reached full enlightenment or you’ve been living at a Buddhist monetary for the last thirty years.
You have to get through the habit-forming part, which can take some time. When you sit to meditate, you should just notice what comes up.
Work your meditation muscle — work it out
The bicep curl, the repetition is the practice. Keep the pass-fail bar low.
If you keep in mind the bicep curl analogy, because it is so simple, you’ll keep coming back to meditation. It keeps the pass-fail bar low. Each time — as in every single time — you bring your attention back from what’s for dinner or another thought to your breath, that is one curl: each time you do this, it’s one more repetition building your meditation muscle.
The practice is, thinking a thought and then returning to the breath — that’s the curl. Each time you do it, you’re practicing one repetition.
Whatever thought comes up in your mind is OK because the visibility of what is coming up for you IS the Kryptonite to your inner chatter. Seeing clearly the cacophony of your own inner landscape is how you’re no longer owned by it. And over time, over months, the net effect is that you become more self-aware, and therefore, less yanked around by the evil puppeteer of your ego and inner demons.
Meditation is sitting quietly with your thoughts and committing to feeling. We spend most of our lives trapped in thought.
I’m constantly thinking. It can be a bad habit if you don’t know how to turn it off. I’m a writer; I get paid to think, which makes it especially difficult to turn off. But when I’m able to quiet my mind when I don’t need my writer’s brain, my writing becomes better when I sit down to write.
In meditation, you are trying to drop below the level of thought and tune into the raw data of the physical sensations of the belly rising and falling or the chest rising and falling or the air entering and exiting the nostrils. For some people, focusing on breath makes their anxiety spike. If this is you, instead, focus on feeling your body. You can sit, stand, or lie down. If you don’t want to concentrate on your breath, feel your legs or shoulders or pick a spot on your hands and commit to that point.
It sounds simple, but it is difficult.
Your brain turns on you, and a rush of thoughts flood in; you start beating yourself up because you’re unable to focus on one spot on your hand or your breath. Thoughts dominate. We’re busy, we’ve got a lot to do. It’s hard to sit there and listen to the chatter, notice it and return to the breath or that spot on your hand.
What meditation gives
The difference between experiencing your day without meditation and experiencing your day with meditation is this:
Without a meditation practice it’s like standing outside in the rain in a storm.
With a meditation practice is like standing inside looking out the window at the storm.
Mediation gives you self-awareness. When you have self-awareness, you’re not at the mercy of your or other people’s emotions. As Eckhart Tolle says, you can step back from your ego and thoughts and be an observer. You are not your thoughts; you are the awareness behind your thoughts. Meditation undergirds that feeling.
The chill, relaxed way to meditate
- Find a quiet place.
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Sit with your spine straight.
- You don’t have to sit, you can stand or lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- You don’t have to close your eyes; you can gaze comfortably at a neutral spot.
- Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath going in and out OR,
- Pick one spot, like your belly or your chest or your nose.
- Commit to feeling your breath OR,
- Pick a spot on your body and focus there.
That is it. Sit for as long as you can stand it.
When your mind is all over the place, zig-zagging with thoughts, that is the moment when most people think they are failed meditators. But, just noticing that you’ve become distracted is proof that you are meditating correctly, even if you’re distracted for the whole session.
Clearing your mind is not the goal. That is impossible. The goal is to focus your mind for a second or two on something (the feeling of your breath or the feeling of a point on your body), and then every time you get distracted, start again and again and again. Bringing the awareness back to your breath. That is meditation. That act of noticing the distraction and starting again is like a bicep curl for your brain.
This is the mechanism by which you are training your attention, focus, and self-awareness. The self-awareness you’re developing is revolutionary because as soon as you start to see the chaos of your own mind, that is the first step toward not being owned by it.
“Another way to look at meditation is to view the process of thinking itself as a waterfall, a continual cascading of thought. In cultivating mindfulness, we are going beyond or behind our thinking, much the way you might find a vantage point in a cave or depression in a rock behind a waterfall. We still see and hear the water, but we are out of the torrent.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
Reframe it in your mind and set the bar very low
We are classified as a species as Homo sapiens — the one who thinks and knows he thinks is what separates us; we are the awareness behind our thoughts.
Set the pass-fail bar low to help you practice consistently in the beginning.
The bringing the attention back from your onslaught of thoughts to your breath even once is the bicep curl. That is the practice. The more you can do this, the stronger your meditation practice will get.
Bring a loving awareness to your thoughts, don’t fight them. When you witness your thoughts and bring a loving sense as you view your thoughts, it will make your meditation practice more doable.