WHAT MEDITATION ISN'T

 

“I wasn’t very successful.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this when someone returns after an experiment with meditation. This last time was from a fairly new client, who has a history of stress & anxiety.

I’d sent her off to close her eyes and sit quietly for ten minutes at least three times between that day and the next time we were scheduled to meet, two weeks later.

She did her experiment, then said those words: “I wasn’t very successful.”

“Ugh”, I thought. “Not again.”

I wasn’t thinking that because what she said was akin to failure, I was thinking that because I obviously didn’t do a great job preparing her for the assignment. It was on me.

Before she set out for her experiment, I gave her the talk. The talk about what meditation isn’t. I’d like to share a version of it here with you:

There is a myth (very deeply rooted, obviously) that meditation is about emptying your mind. It’s not.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, meditation is, “to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” Note: Nowhere does it say, “stop thinking” or “empty your brain.”

I believe this myth is the reason that people don’t try meditation, or try once and stop. It was the very reason I kept myself from the many benefits of meditation for years. My mind was super busy and I thought there was no hope of stopping it, so why try?

Our minds are built to think, so that’s what they do. Expecting thought to stop is unrealistic and very few people on the planet can even come close.

Instead, know that thoughts will be there and practice detaching from them rather than running with them.

The best example I have for this is the stock ticker at the bottom of the financial news. The symbols are nonsense, they don’t mean anything (detachment), UNLESS you own a particular stock and it means something to you (attachment). Then you’re off and running…Is it up? Is it down? What does this mean for my portfolio? Will I ever be able to retire? I’ll be a bag lady in the street. Etc. Where the busy mind will take you is without limit.

As a new meditator, this WILL happen, you’ll be off and running. As an experienced meditator, this WILL happen. One day you’ll have a quiet mind eager to detach, the very next day it will be abuzz and never once detach. It’s all OK. Just notice if you’re off and running, and pull yourself back to detachment—if you can. Back and forth, ebb and flow.

A popular way to nurture detachment is to concentrate on your breathing. As my yoga teacher says, “When you slow the breath, you slow the mind.”

Please know, there is no failure in meditation. None. Period. It is simply a practice. A practice with many, many well proven benefits.

I encourage you to try it knowing you can’t fail. You just might like it.