So you start applying the rules: go to a quiet room, light some candles, dim the lights, play some soothing music (or not) and sit. It takes a few moments to get into the right posture – you try them all: cross legged, chair sitting, kneeling, lying on the bed, they all seem to cause some discomfort to your body. After a few long minutes you decide to go for cross legged - you feel this is the real thing, after all it is on the cover of all health magazines! So you close your eyes and start breathing. You try to relax your muscles, focus on the gentle music and the breath. “Yeah, that’s easy”, you rejoice,” I can do it”. “Nice”! Then, before you’ve even reached your fourth deep breath, you realise you’re making a grocery list in your mind, setting a meal planner for the week and before you know it, you’re mentally going through the recipe for raw chocolate cake for the weekend, as you’re having friends over. “This isn’t working, I just can’t focus”, you worry. “I don’t think meditation is for me”. Nevertheless, you decide to give it another try. You bring your focus back to your breath and try relaxing again. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out... This time you’ve got it!
But, again, before you have any time to savour the victory, your mind has already decided the seating plan for the Saturday dinner and it’s now busy choosing the right tissue napkins to go with the table cloth. “Oh, this is not going to work”, you decide. “I’m obviously too busy and have too much on my mind right now. I’ll try another day when I don’t have so many things to deal with”.
And that’s how most people introduce themselves to meditation. But the verdict you give yourself after that first session is really important. You can either go for: “No one can say I haven’t tried. It’s just not for me. It’s probably more suitable for the more spiritual kind of folks” or “Boy, it’s hard quieting this chattering box, this is going to take a while”!, which leaves the door open - or at least ajar!
I believe it’s important to keep in mind that almost everyone attempting to meditate will have had a similar experience to the one outlined above. Meditation is a process, it just gets better and better every single day and it’s not something that you need to be good at, it’s just something that you need to be willing to experience.
Mindful meditation as “you” time
How you perceive the act of meditation is really important. If it feels to you like a task, then I guess it’s better to reframe it so that it becomes something you look forward to. You might want to see it as your “you” time. Any amount of personal time is very much welcomed in the anarchy of our busy lives, so meditation can provide that safe and undemanding place where you go to, well, meet yourself. Your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. The entirety of you.
When you do start your practice, be gentle with your expectations. This is utterly important, because if you set your mind on achieving something in particular, not being able to meet that goal will bring along disappointment and a feeling of not doing it right. Simply be there with your kind awareness and just notice without judging. Meditation is not about accomplishing something, at least not in a practical and tangible way. I would say it’s more about exploring and cultivating emotions, sensations or ideas.
Once you’ve started meditating you might notice that the mind seems to just get in the way of your achieving that long sought after relaxation. Don’t fight it. Let the mind manifest itself, it’s what the mind does. Simply notice your thoughts, let them be and then let them go, one by one without following or paying particular attention to any of them; nor need you judge yourself for not being able to keep a blank mind during the meditation - that’s not necessarily the purpose. You might have become aware of the fact that the harder you try to push away those thoughts, the harder it seems for you to acquire any sense of serenity. The truth is that the less you try, the easier it becomes. It sounds simplistic, but often this plain truth eludes us.
And so this attitude of tolerance, patience, lack of expectations and judgement becomes one of the most important emotions one can cultivate during a meditation practice. I don’t believe the aim is to stop our state-of-the-art Swiss mechanism of a brain from working so that we no longer hear the ticking of our worrying thoughts, but more to witness and try to better understand its ways.
If you find it hard to stick to your practice...
... just know that it’s perfectly all right. Many people find it hard to commit as they might think they’re not good at it, or that it will interfere with their religious practice, or that they’re not the spiritual sort so why would they need it, or that they’re too busy and meditation is obviously for people who have lots of free time, and so on. If you find you’re giving yourself excuses for not meditating or being mindful, don’t blame yourself. Be patient. But, also, be perseverant, in the most gentle and non-judgemental way.
And so, in this safe space where you learn to let go of control, of expectations and simply live your present circumstances with the aim to cultivate a better understanding of yourself, the journey within begins. So, travel widely!
Written by yoga and meditation probie,
Monalisa E. Formagiu
My name is Monalisa and I live in the UK. I have been on a journey for the last three years trying to teach myself the way out of chronic pain. I am quite dedicated to my yoga and meditation practices as they have become the load bearing structures of my healing process.
And I must confess I no longer look for reasons as to why I shouldn’t stick to them (except for when I come up with the most ingenious excuses and that’s when I have to at least give myself credit for my inventiveness and celebrate with ... a yoga session!) But it’s not all play, as I am also studying and training to become a psychologist and life coach and am happy to be able to put all the hardship to good use. Hurray!
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