I like practicing mindfulness meditation, which focuses on cultivating an awareness of my thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. For years, meditation frustrated me. But as my beliefs about the practice have changed, I’ve meditated more consistently and felt better afterwards.
These are 5 beliefs I have about meditation that I didn’t believe in 2019. While etched in text, they’re not etched in stone. I’m excited to see how these beliefs change in 2021. This is a snapshot, not the whole story.
- Meditation is not about attaining a perfectly peaceful mind. In fact, I don’t think it is about creating a particular state of mind at all. Trying to do that frustrates the process for me entirely. Effort creates separation between what is happening while I meditate and what I want to happen. This effort requires thinking, and thinking takes me out of the role of the observer and into the role of the doer. Not a place I want to be. Instead, meditation is about giving the mind space to move freely and my awareness a chance to simply watch it happen. I use the app Headspace, but it took years to understand the power of the name itself.
- Meditation is not about feeling Zen. While being frustrated by pursuing peace is not pleasant, my awareness of that frustration while meditating is great. I read somewhere that the thought of enlightenment keeps us from being enlightened. I am not trying to reach a peaceful Zen state because that is a thought that takes me out of the moment. And it’s also easy to mistake a Zen state with dissociation, which is not helpful to engaging with life after the session. Meditation is about watching the negative self-talk, seeing the stories my mind plays on repeat, recognizing the physical discomfort. Not ruminating on it, but seeing it for what it is, embracing it, and then letting it go and returning to the breath or the senses.
- The most frustrating meditation sessions are the most helpful. Seeing the chaos is wonderful. When I feel my mind racing and my breath ignored while meditating, I get curious and watch, without trying to change it. When I don’t push back, the chatter slowly quiets down. The chatter never goes silent, and worrying about that is counterproductive. The beauty is in how it quiets and dims at all.
- Meditation is more beneficial when done more frequently. I used to think that meditation was like riding a bike. Learn how to do it once and you keep the skill, that feeling, forever. I don’t believe that anymore. My mind and body are always growing, changing, working. So cultivating awareness requires consistent growth, change, and work as well. Meditating 10 minutes a day is better than one hour-long meditation session a week. Two 15-minute meditations are more helpful than one 30-minute session. The frequency helps cultivate the awareness for when I need it most: in stressful and trying moments when I’m not in a calm, peaceful state. Meditation is not to feel good. It’s to observe and accept when I’m feeling bad.
- Meditation is not something to get good at. The practice is the whole point. Some people play football to win a championship. Well, with meditation, the practice is the workout, practice, playoffs, and championship all collapsed into one. It’s the whole experience. I am skeptical now when my mind says, “I should skip a day because I’m getting good at this.” That misses the mark entirely. Consistent practice, no expectations. Just keep showing up.