How to Approach Meditation and Where We Get Stuck
Teaching meditation and mindfulness is difficult. Not because meditation is complicated and not because people are incapable. Perhaps it’s because it is too simple. How do you describe to someone how to be present? Well friends, I am about to try.
The good news is the easiest part of developing a meditation practice is starting. Right now take a moment to bring awareness to your breath. Notice your inhale and exhale. Just breathe. And...Voilà! You’ve started your practice. Really, that is all it takes to start. So do it now! Stop putting it off because you don’t have the time. You do...right now!
Now, the trickier part is developing a habit of consistent practice. This is where I see people struggle. And I’ll tell you why:
Most people are looking for a quick fix.
They are expecting to feel better mentally and physically after spending a few minutes meditating for a few days. When people don’t see change they aren’t able to justify “just sitting, doing nothing” as a valid path that will lead them to reach their goals. It is in this mindset where meditation practice fails.
Why Can’t I Meditate?
It’s not that you are unmotivated or are just “bad” at meditating. The problem is when the action of meditation is used as a means to get somewhere, to achieve some goal. If you approach a meditation with the idea that it can help make your headache go away, you are already approaching the present moment without complete acceptance. You are resisting the headache because you wish it to go away (and this wish is a thought). In the bigger picture, if you decide to meditate everyday for the reason that it will make you happier, it won’t be long until you realize that meditation cannot “make” you anything.
Why do we expect progress from meditation?
If you’re like me, you do your research about things before putting time and effort into them. Well, the research in meditation and mindfulness is becoming more abundant and is generally very positive. However, the very nature of scientific research is problem solving. Therefore, researchers are looking to prove that using mindfulness techniques can help solve problems like anxiety or depression and lead to a better life.
Approaching mindfulness or meditation with a problem to solve implies that there is something to be fixed. But meditation brings you to the present moment and from here you understand that you are whole already. You completely accept every part of you and understand that there is nothing to be “fixed”. It’s confusing, but applying scientific research to study presence is contradictory. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against this research, it has led to better understanding of these ancient practices and has helped many people find structure in mindfulness. But it also can lead to misunderstanding of “the point” of meditation, which is where some people get stuck.
So, Why Meditate?
It’s hard to do something or develop a habit if there is not an end goal or chance of a positive result. I get it. But I’m encouraging you to think smaller. Instead of setting the goal of “feel better eventually”, make your goal presence in this moment. The best gift you can give yourself is taking time each day to be fully present. Approach each day or meditation as a new moment, separate from the last and from the future moments, because the past and future moments do not exist but in your thoughts. Whether you are stressed, anxious, excited, sad, or content, give it your full attention in that moment, let your thoughts come and go (don’t try to stop thinking, it likely won’t work). There is a whole internal universe for you to explore. Be curious, it’s fun! Don’t fear what you might discover, whatever it is can’t hurt you.
THIS is the point of meditation.
But...I Do See Progress
Now to confuse you even more. You will see positive changes in you if you meditate. Clearly, the research shows this. What will those changes be? It’s different for everyone. “Positive” is subjective; a judgment. Maybe you will be less reactive. Maybe you will start to observe your emotions and thoughts rather than attach to them. Again, try to approach noticing these changes with curiosity instead of a specific intent of reaching a goal. Over time (again, how much time is specific to each person), you might find it easier to be present when you are meditating and your ability to focus might improve. But these changes will catch you by surprise because you are not expecting them.