Who me, meditate, are you crazy???
What comes up when you hear the term meditation? I know for me I used to have so many judgments. I would think, oh that’s not for me; I’m not spiritual, I don’t believe in enlightenment. Other judgments included ‘I can’t do that, I can’t stop my thoughts, It’s too hard when I try to stop my thoughts.’ And when I realized that it was less about stopping my thoughts (its not, more later…) and more about seeing my thoughts, I thought I don’t want to see all those messy ugly thoughts, they just remind me of what I am trying to get away from. I don’t want to be reminded of how bad I already feel. Plus sitting there for 30 minutes without doing anything, that’s crazy.
I hear from friends, clients so often the same line of ‘reasoning’. ‘I can’t do that, its too hard…’ So what changed? For me, I just got really tired of feeling bad.
After years of encouragement by so many people I respected; teachers, therapists and friends, I decided that maybe it worth a shot. What did I have to lose, I’ve tried so many other things and I’m still feeling the same.
Maybe I can clear the frost off my brain ???
A compassionate act that involves accepting all parts of ourselves.
I’ve shared in previous posts
how helpful it is to be open to all our experiences. One way to be kind to ourselves is allowing ourselves to feel all our feelings; good and bad, happy and sad. One way we can do this is by practicing meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a buzzword these days that everyone is using, but I think it’s important to truly explain what it means. According to Webster’s dictionary, mindfulness means ‘the state of being conscious or aware of something.’
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”Jon Kabatt-Zinn, developer of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program
That's for all those 'spiritual' enlightened folks wearing robes, chanting in Union Square...
I like to separate meditation from mindfulness as I feel people have resistance to the term, but often these judgments stem from lack of knowledge. Meditation as defined by Webster’s dictionary has a few meanings: 1) to engage in contemplation or reflection 2) to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra ) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. When I see this last definition, I realize even more so why so many people have resistance, as here it is defined and believed by the masses, as a way to find spiritual enlightenment. I am grateful that I am able to discern what this means for me, as I also hold judgments and biases about the idea of enlightenment. And I hope to offer a perspective that is helpful if you are one of the many who holds this understanding, and consequently feels resistant to ‘meditation.’
Its like we're tourists who occasionally visit the present moment when the conditions are favorable and we like what we see, but we tend to not hang out for very long. Meditation helps us learn how to sustain our attention in the present -JON KABAT-ZINN
Whats my intention?
Yes, meditation has been known as a path towards enlightenment, but it is also quite simply (as stated above) a mental exercise of concentration. Ones’ intention does not need to be to reach a heightened state of spiritual awareness. It can be simply as a way to get to know oneself. By practicing the exercise of concentrating on the breath or another object (walking, eating, sounds…) one can develop a different kind of awareness of oneself in the present moment. This is why I practice meditation. I practice to develop mindfulness. When I am more mindful I am able to be with my thoughts, feelings and emotions in a more kind and compassionate way.
"Emotions are like waves. Watch them disappear the distance on the vast calm ocean." Ram Dass
What are some of the benefits?
The simply act of practicing mindfulness of the breath for a few minutes a day has offered me a way to see my thoughts, feelings and emotions in a different way. I am not so attached to them. And I have come to see how they (thoughts, feelings and emotions) are constantly changing. So when once I believed my thoughts to be true and lasting, I now can see that they change and are not rigid and fixed. This space I get by seeing the thoughts as separate from myself allows me to check in and ask myself if this thought (often a negative, self critical thought such as ‘I screwed up again’) is really true. At the same time, I can respond differently than I used to. If I am able to see that it is not a true thought or a helpful thought, I can respond with a different response. Instead of ‘Yes Julie you did screw up again like you always do.’, I now can offer myself some compassion. I can remind myself that I am human and that I did my best.
Mindfulness makes the ordinary things interesting. - Sharon Salzburg
In relationship to feelings, I am now more skillful at noticing I may be feeling sad and at the same time I understand that this emotion will pass. Sure I might feel sad again in a few moments, but I have created some space in my mind. Instead of the usual pushing away and resisting these unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings, I can sit with this feeling, in a compassionate way. By sitting with myself and being open to what I am feeling in the moment, I am being kind to myself.
What meditation is and what it is not
So to come back to the practice of MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS, I want to repeat a few key factors:
1. Meditation does not have an end goal of stopping one’s thoughts or clearing ones head.
It is not possible to clear one’s mind of all thoughts, which is why people so often misunderstand its purpose and consequently think its going to be impossible and ‘not for me’. 2. There is no goal other than to be present with one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions.
3. It is a practice, which allows one to just be present in the moment with oneself without judgment. Feeling more peaceful might be a result but that’s not always the case.
4. And it can take time to see a difference. Like any new habit, it takes time and effort. But that effort can be as simple as sitting on the edge of your bed for one minute every morning for a week, a month or a year
5. You can not fail at meditating
Many new meditators find themselves believing they are failing at meditating. They believe if they haven’t achieved peace and stillness in their mind, that they are doing it wrong.
6. But once again the only goal is to be with oneself and to practice kindness and compassion while doing this.
After so many years of allowing the inner critic to be so powerful, and reinforcing those not so kind and compassionate messages why not try something different. Instead of continuing to abandon yourself by pushing away hard to feel feelings, what do you have to lose? You might even notice you like it…
Contact me if you'd like support and guidance to practice meditation and learn more about how this simple, yet very hard act can help you get to know yourself better, relieve symptoms and feel more at ease!