Today, I am celebrating 171 consecutive days of meditation. As I wrote in this post, I’ve meditated on and off for years, but never quite committed to it. The thing is that I never needed studies to convince me that a regular meditation practice is beneficial. I’ve been my own test subject. There is no doubt in my mind that sitting on a regular basis has a positive affect on my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Yet, if you are anything like me, the knowing and doing are very often outweighed by outer influences.
Thinking back, I find it ironic that, based on studies, research and direct evidence, the very things that should have caused me to embrace meditation, for example, stress, anxiety, a lack of focus and concentration, a mind filled with never ending thoughts and other burdens. In addition, fibromyalgia made sitting in one position very painful and it was impossible to focus on the breath while my body was screaming in agony. I found a plethora of ‘reasons’ not to meditate. Sitting in stillness was a dream that eluded me repeatedly.
Near the end of 2013, i was beginning to regain control over pain. In my case, fibromyalgia manifests itself with, among other things, daily pain. On a scale of 1-10, my pain level hovers around a 5–every single day. For the preceding 4-6 months, my pain level had routinely hovered between 8 and 9. This, for months on end.
With my pain level returning to normal levels, and the coming of a new year, I felt it time for me to take action to repair the damage that constant, intractable pain caused both to my body and psyche. Thus, at the end of the year, I set an intention to begin a daily meditation practice both as a declaration of ‘taking care of me’ and as an antidote to the barrage of thoughts in my mind.
In all candor, at the time, I had no reason to believe that it would turn out differently than it had in the past. In hindsight, I now recognize that there was a major difference. In the past, I approached the intent to mediate with my logical mind, with considerable attention to its notable health benefits. I find that the thinking mind, that which separates us from lower life forms, is subject to profound degrees of both brilliance and wisdom. Yet, it is also feeds our fears, insecurities, self-doubts and any number of negative emotions. If allowed to, it can led us astray as had been the case when I bought into the multitude of ‘reasons’ that, in the past, made it easy to quit meditating.
When I choose to resume meditation months ago, I was fed up with following the advice of my head and choose instead to rely on the feelings in my heart. Following my heart, I made the intention to return to meditation, and I felt ready to confront the obstacles and hinderances, including the pain. Unlike all of my past failed attempts, I’ve meditated successfully for 171 days.
Although I am in every way, a meditation novice, after some reflection, I realize that there are factors that are instrumental in helping me to maintain a consistent meditation practice. They are by no means intended to supplant the advice of more experienced or expert meditators, but they are observations that are based on my personal experience.
- Pick a style of meditation that works for you. There are many types of meditation practices, even “laughing” meditation. It is important that you choose a type that you like. }Just note that It may not come immediately and may require some trial and error.) Just because I prefer focusing on the breath, does not mean it is the practice that is well-suited for you. Do your research. Either obtain a good book describing the various types of meditation or put your research skills to work on the internet. (If you hew to a method that is not your conscious choice or one that is not right for you, you are most likely to give up the practice.) Even after choosing one, if you find that it is not your cup of tea, try another. Ultimately, you want to find a practice that you enjoy and can envision maintaining.
- Approach your practice with joy, as opposed to a duty. Think about it. What is your mindset about those tasks that you feel obligated to accomplish? At some point, we become resentful and must force ourselves to complete them. On the other hand, think about those activities that we enjoy doing. We look forward to them because they bring us inner peace, calm, satisfaction and other positive feelings. Instead of obligation, we feel pleasure and an air of excitement at the prospect of doing them.
- Pick a specific meditation schedule and stick to it. Doing so, allows both your body and mind to integrate the practice into your day. As you begin to practice, be mindful of how long you choose to practice. Do not commit to sitting every day, if you don’t sincerely believe it to be feasible. It is better to begin slowly, and over time, to build up to where you which to be. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving up out of frustration because you misjudged your ability to maintain your chosen schedule. Once you are practicing on a consistent basis, your body will begin to crave meditation. There is a point when you realize that you are no longer wrestling yourself to the cushion; it becomes as natural as brushing your teeth.
- Remember the mantra ‘begin again.’ When I first began meditating, I was advised to think of my mind as an endless blue sky, and my thoughts as clouds passing through that sky. The aim of the type of meditation that I practice is to simply note those “thought” clouds as they pass by, and to resist the urge to attach to them. For example, a thought enters your mind reminding you that you need to go grocery shopping. In the best case scenario, you acknowledge that thought and let it go as it floats on by. If, however, your response to the thought is to begin visualizing your grocery list, you’ve attached to the thought and your attention is no longer focused on the meditation. Once again the mantra ‘begin again’ comes into play. When you realize that you have attached to a thought, simply bring yourself back, for example, to your breath and ‘begin again.’ No judgment, no recrimination, just ‘begin again.’ At the beginning or on particularly stressful days, you may find yourself beginning again numerous times, but like in falling down, it is the getting up and beginning again that matters.
- No two meditation sessions are alike. Like life in general, some meditation sessions come easier than others.
- Those days when you feel most like skipping your practice, are in fact, the times when you most need to practice. Over the last three months, pain from fibromyalgia, migraines, a sinus infection, a couple of really bad colds and depression, gave me serious pause to skip practice. At one point, I was too sick to even sit up. It would have been so easy to give in to the temptation to skip practice. I mean, they were valid reasons, right? At least, that is what my ‘thinking’ mind assured me. Fortunately, my heart brought me to the cushion and I never regret it. Nevertheless, on those days, 5-15 minutes may be more realistic and doable than my normal 50 minute practice. The goal is to show up for whatever time that you can manage, even if it is only for 5 minutes.
- Don’t compare your meditation practice to that of others. Meditation is not a competition, and as I said earlier, your meditation choice and experience are most certainly to be different than that of another meditator.
- If possible, find a meditation partner. Given that I live outside of Austin and for health reasons, it is impractical for me to join a group meditation in town. So, I had to come up with a creative solution. As it happened, I learned that a Facebook friend meditated as well. She lives in Illinois and I in Texas, but we agreed to come together at a predetermined time to meditate together. It works beautifully. Knowing that Jen is counting on me and is meditation at the same time, provides me additional incentive and motivation to meditate, even though, we are miles apart.
You might find additional helpful information in this blog post in which I wrote about my meditation routine.
In sum, sitting in meditation becomes less about what you should do and more about what you must do for yourself. For a Type A personality like myself, the stillness required for meditation, is a welcome change. The mental to-do list evaporates and I give myself permission to stop to embrace the stillness and the moment. It is a gift that I give myself–one that I treasure.