When my anxiety was getting to a crippling point, I was searching for answers everywhere. And so many places I looked said, meditation. The problem was, who the hell has time to mediate, AND, when we try it doesn’t really help anyhow. Right?
There is an old zen adage that says, “You should sit in meditation every day for twenty minutes, unless you’re too busy—then you should sit for an hour.” Yet, what happens if we think its not really for us, or that we will suck at it?
When I start to teach different styles of meditation at retreats, I am never surprised at the mixed responses within a group. Some faces reflect excitement, some reflect a knowing contentment (they currently meditate), some faces clearly have the words written across them; “ya. right”. The truth is, I used to have the “ya. right” look too. Mine probably looked more like, “ya f*&%ing right”. When I first started, I immediately stopped.
It is not easy. But it is accessible to everyone.
Myth 1: I Suck at Meditation
The first time I meditated, I sat for about 90 seconds. Stood up and said, “well that was dumb”. That was my lash out. The truth was, internally I just assumed that my particular DNA is not designed for meditation. That I was too anxious, or had too busy of a mind for it. Here is the thing; no one is designed to immediately be good at meditation. There literally isn’t one person that didn’t start a practice and think something similar.
Meditation (dhyana) comes with practice. Lots and lots of practice. The problem lies in the belief that individuals feel they should be able to sit down for five minutes and if a state of complete bliss doesn’t happen then they are just not capable of meditation. This kind of thinking is normal, but not reality. AND, even if you are really good at meditating, thoughts will still come. That is what our brains are wired for. It is NOT normal for our brains to stop thinking. Meditation is a matter of learning to control our thoughts (not eliminate them) thus control our emotions and behaviors.
How to overcome this myth: Start small and with no expectations. I tell clients to find a comfortable seated position, set a timer on their phone for 60-120 seconds and then focus on their breath. Don’t judge it, don’t change it, just pay attention to it. Then, maybe, count in for five on the inhale and out for five on the exhale. Slowly lengthen the breath until the inhale is for eight and the exhale is for eight. Once you have done this process a few times, consider lengthening the timer on your phone.
Myth 2: I Can’t Stop the Thoughts Running Through My Mind
Remember when I said earlier that you won’t stop your brain from thinking? Ya, you can’t. Neither can I, and neither can the most amazing buddhist monk living on the top of a mountain. But you can learn to control them. It’s a process. It takes time to be able to control the thoughts—and a lot of practice. Like, a lot. Distracting thoughts are normal for almost everyone. When we have these distracting thoughts we feel the perfect meditation is not available to us and tend to give up. But I am telling you; it is available to you (if you desire it).
How to overcome this myth: Allow the thoughts to arise and accept them without judgment. Just notice when they come in, acknowledge that the thought is there, and then let it go. I like to think of my thoughts as leaves blowing in the wind. If you saw a leaf blowing near you, you wouldn’t grab it and engage with the leaf. You would acknowledge it and let it blow past. That is how I see my thoughts; as leaves blowing past me. Every time a thought comes in, acknowledge it, allow it to blow past you like a leaf, and then return to your breath.
Why do we always talk about the breath? Breath is life and is a powerful way to drop into our bodies and out of the rest of the world. Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, “When the breath is steady or unsteady, so is the mind.”
Another tool to utilize is guided meditation. For some, sitting in quiet, focusing on the breath, is difficult and frustrating. One of my favorite apps, Insight Timer, is both a meditation timer, but also has millions of FREE guided meditations that can help with anything from sleep, anxiety, depression, cultivating abundance and more.
Why Should You Meditate?
There are so many studies available now, with scientific evidence, of the physical, let alone mental, benefits of meditation. From better sleep, to lower blood pressure, to reduction of anxiety/depression symptoms.
It is, however, a misconception that meditation is easy. Truth be told, it isn’t. Meditation is a practice, but with enough practice it does get easier. It is one of those daily practices, that when used, can dramatically change our lives. It is a choice too. The first time I meditated I told you I gave up in 90 seconds. I didn’t try again for years. Now, seven years of meditation later, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. If I am being honest, nor could my husband or family. On days when I thought I could skip it, he has been known to say, “do you need to go sit in the closet and mediate?”. Now my six year old meditates and asks me to do it with her. Don’t let the fear that it isn’t for you, or that you aren’t capable stop you. Try. Then try again.