The day that you finally muster up the courage to meditate is the day that a long list of your shortcomings as a human becomes stapled to your forehead. You sit there awkwardly on the cold hardwood in your stretchy pants (because you assume that a hard, uncomfortable surface and unrestrictive pants are gonna get you that much closer to becoming a real mediator) gathering your courage as you resolve to sit – in silence, and without moving – for the next 5 minutes. No text messages. No IG cares to give. No nagging work assignments. Just you and your thoughts.
For years I heard about the benefits of of meditation: better sleep! better mood! better health! better focus!. News correspondent for ABC Dan Harris even touts that meditation made him 10% happier (also an awesome book by the way). Not a bad return on investment for sitting on the floor with your eyes closed.
I admit it. For a long time I was one of those people who talked about meditating, read about meditating, and listened to podcasts about meditating, but in the end I did not do that much meditating at all. Thinking back I’m sure I thought it elevated me to a higher status among my peers. “Why, yes, I walk three miles a day, eat a vegan diet, and I also meditate“. Certainly I convinced myself that those five minutes of silence each month or so counted as meditation, but all in all what I was doing was a whole lot of researching and very little work on the cushion.
I finally bit the bullet on September 13, 2018 when I purchased the Calm app a few days before my flight to Kauai. By the way, if you’ve been thinking about trying a meditation app but weren’t sure about what they have to offer. I’ll being doing a review/intro to the Calm app in the next couple of days. If you’re anything like me, having guided meditations at your fingertips can be the motivation you need to actually start meditating.
So there I was finally (actually) meditating – headphones in, meditation app open, legs poised in half lotus – ready to do this thing. And as I reached the very first minutes of focused breathing I felt anything but calm. I felt but one thing: panic.
Unfortunately, meditation is not simply sitting still with your eyes closed, although that’s part of it. The short of meditation is to sit still and in silence in order to focus on nothing more than your breath. Got an itch on your nose. Ignore it. Get back to the breath. Remember how annoying your cubemate is? Too bad. Inhale. Exhale. Forget to pay a bill? It’ll still be there. Inhale. One. Two. Three. Four. Exhale. One. Two. Three. Four.
It doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders or how often you lose concentration. The idea is to keep coming back to the breath over and over and over and over again until the gong sounds and you can once again open your eyes and wiggle your fingers and toes.
The first time I had given any serious thought to meditation was the day I spent $11.57 on a used copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Sure I had been exposed to meditation in my college gym where I could participate in as many FREE (Yass please) yoga sessions as I could squeeze into my schedule. But I thought only those in India or those seriously into yoga or Buddism ever meditated. At the time no one in my life meditated. Although they did medicate… which I’ve heard gives a similar effect. HA.
Meditation teachers speak lovingly about the “monkey mind.” Monkey mind is that bouncy feeling you get in your brain when thoughts ricochet across your consciousness.
What should I have for dinner?
I bet those squirrels in the neighborhood are fat from MY bird feeder.
So-and-so hurt my feelings when he said such-and-such.
I think I have an appointment today.
My poor little toe is so swollen!
That’s monkey mind – the constant churning of thought. It’s part of being human, but it’s also very very very very distracting.
As a note to my friends here today that are struggling with anxiety and panic disorders: There are certain days when I sit down for my daily meditation and I cannot sit still. My heart is thudding in my chest, I can’t steady my breath, and it feels physically painful to sit still. If someone could tune into the voice in my head during these moments all it would hear is a long, high-pitched, frustrated scream. That’s anxiety. In these moments you will want to give up. But as someone who has sat in that same discomfort and confusing terror I encourage you to give your body grace and gratitude. Take your time. Meditate while lying down or supported on a mountain of pillows. Maybe you want to sit up, but don’t want to stay still? Then breathe and find a little organic movement in the neck and upper body. Find a little sway and breathe with your eyes gently closed. This kind of moving meditation can be incredibly calming. Don’t feel compelled to sit in lotus while maintaining a mudra.
Meditation teaches you how to sit with yourself – your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts – without doing much of anything to them but letting them breeze on past your consciousness. It’s like giving that monkey in your mind a pile of buttons and asking him to move the buttons one-by-one to another pile until you ask him to stop. It’s giving that monkey a job and in turn calming him down and teaching him self-control.
Anyone who tells you that meditating is easy is probably both stuck up and a straight up liar (or maybe medicated, haha). Meditating feels like a wrestling match between the wandering mind (mmm… some cheese sounds nice.), the conscious mind (why are you thinking about cheese right now??), and the body (this is your stomach speaking – I’m hungry). My body is like a two-year-old needing constant care and concern and sometimes shouting loudly when its needs aren’t met to its precise specifications. Too hot? Take off that jacket. Too cold? Put that jacket on. Hungry? Eat. Uncomfortable? Shift. Bored? Pull out your phone. Sad? Eat a Snickers.
Meditation is helping my two-year-old self learn how to sit. I wanted to give the monkey in my mind a job. Now I have been mediating nearly every day for 6 months and I believe that one of my favorite parts about the practice of meditation is that it gives me a safe place to fail. Unless you are one of those sainted gurus in an ashram in India you will fail at meditating hundreds of times each time you sit down to practice. Your mind will wander away from the breath and begin thinking about something random and mundane because that is what minds do. And that’s the point. The point of meditating is to focus on your breath and when your mind wanders to guide the mind back to the breath gently and kindly…over and over and over and over again. It’s failing and course correcting gently and kindly… over and over and over and over again. It’s practicing for daily life.
Imagine if we could all learn how to treat ourselves gently and kindly and then in turn gently and kindly treat others. I imagine there could be some major changes in our world.
Peace, Love, and Stretchy Pants ✌️