You may just be doing it right, says David Ferguson in The Guardian on July 3, 2016.
I suck at meditating. I’m one of those perennially distracted people who knows they need to meditate, has meditated in the past with some success and who knows they should meditate more, but who finds it so much easier to do things like dishes, laundry and exercising than to schedule time to do nothing.
‘To really empty your mind, you’d have to be sedated or dead and neither of those states is particularly conducive to spiritual growth.’ Photograph: Jim Wileman
When I read this Forbes article touting mindfulness meditation as the “next big business opportunity”, my initial impulse is to grind my teeth in frustration. Co-opting a centuries-old spiritual practice as the engine of your hip new startup strikes me as kind of like trying to repurpose an astrolabe as a controller for your Xbox, but whatever, Silicon Valley kids. You do you.
The science of the article is clear, though, and multiple studies have shown that people who meditate regularly experience improved focus, a greater sense of wellbeing, reduced stress and increased creativity. So if a bunch of Soylent-swilling bro-llionaire wannabes want to join the rest of us on our yoga mats and focus on their breathing, does their motivation matter?
Like a lot of people, the most challenging aspect of meditating for me is “clearing” my mind. After years of trying to sit and empty my thoughts and giving up because my brain seems to be persistently, irritatingly noisy, a friend finally explained to me that no one can entirely empty their mind. That’s a myth. To really empty your mind, you would have to be sedated or dead and neither of those states is particularly conducive to spiritual growth. Even when we’re asleep, as our dreams show us, we’re still thinking, feeling, worrying and having opinions.
The key is to detach from all that mental noise and stop trying to direct traffic. I try to imagine myself now on a riverbank and the noise of my thoughts and feelings and opinions is a river flowing by, separate from me.
This morning during my meditation session – which, honestly, I mainly did because I knew I had to write this piece – my mind flitted from thumbprint cookies to a scrap of lyrics by the punk band Au Pairs to what I’m going to make for dinner to how awesome it would be to have an entire glacial crater lake full of mint chocolate chip ice cream. The key was to let go of all those things and let them drift and stop feeling that lurching sensation I get in my gut when I’m over-stimulated and harried and some new outrage comes spilling down my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Part of successfully meditating for me has been letting go of the need to get it right. I spent half my time before thinking: “I’m not doing this right. It’s not going to work if I’m not doing it right. Am I doing this right?”
My yoga teacher told me once when I blew a pose and came crashing down on to my mat giggling at how dorky I must look, “Laughing at yourself is good yoga. The only way to get it wrong is if you’re not trying.”
I would say the same thing about meditating. Yes, I suck at it. I’m not that great at yoga either, but do I really want to go through life as a spoiled Former Gifted Child who only wants to do things I’m good at and which win me praise? (Well, actually, that’s exactly what I want to do, which is why it’s especially good for me to get out and do things that I’m not good at.)
I gave up on “getting it right” on a fall morning at the beach. I took my earbuds down to the end of the board walkway leading to the water and sat down to do a 15-minute guided meditation. It was terrible. The wind was in my face, the sun was beating down, the act of trying to focus on my breathing was like trying to thread a needle in a wind tunnel. After about 10 minutes, I gave up to go inside.
But when I stood up and turned around to face the house, I was exquisitely, almost hallucinogenically aware of the hot, rough boards against my feet, the high keening cries of the seagulls and sand-pipers overhead and the bright sun-blasted colors of the shore at midmorning. I felt full of peace and calm.
“Damn,” I said to myself. “I guess I did it right.”