Let’s Be Like, Really Really Real:
Previously I tried to come up with words that describes meditation. One thing that I pointed out, and where I think it's important spending some time reflecting upon, is the comment that meditation can be difficult, that it’s challenging, especially when you first get started with a practice. I state this to make sure we check in on what expectations you may have around what constitutes a meditation practice and what it may bring to your life as you get started.
Any new activity can be difficult when you start. I remember watching ice skaters at the Olympics when I was a small child. It looked so dynamic and fun! Then I got on an ice rink for the first time and my ideas of Olympic fame and glory were shattered as I continued to fall for hours on end, resulting in nursing wounds of failure over a gluttonous bowl of ice cream.
When starting something new I find it helpful to view the activity as similar to establishing a new relationship. It's as if we are courting this new activity to understand our potential together. What will our relationship be? We may find that we are instantly fast friends, reacquainting ourselves after a lifetime absence. Similarly, we may discover that we have never been friends and that forging a relationship may entail some significant effort and compromise.
Media coverage around meditation can add to our expectations. We see social influencers and images from meditation retreats where people in flowing clothes are sitting in a lotus posture on the ground with their heads craning towards the sun and an enviable smile on their face. We believe that they are radiating with inner bliss from what we see on the exterior, but on the interior, we have no idea what they are experiencing. So I caution, take care with what thoughts and ideas might arise in you when viewing these types of images.
I’m not doing a good job selling meditation, I understand. And you may be asking yourself, "how is this guy an advocate for meditation?" I know… but I feel that it’s better to be realistic than to set unrealistic ideas and expectations.
I will, and do, advocate 100% for exploring a practice. It can be a life changing for many people. To discover peace inside oneself with no dependencies on the world at large changes people in such amazing ways.
What is critical in my opinion is to understand that, if you struggle with meditation, you are not broken, insufficient or less than. It is a skill for lack of a better word that will improve the more you work at it, the more you practice.
Most importantly, I recommend checking to see what expectations you may have created in your mind ahead of starting a practice. If possible, leave them at the door altogether.
This is something that I wish I knew when I got started. It’s important to level-set and disregard any expectations you may have established or that you may have come to believe. It can be a false and harmful narrative to indulge in.
I was innately drawn to spirituality and meditation practices, yet I was in anguish for a very long time thinking that I was ill equipped, (if that’s the right description even), because I struggled so with the practice. The confusion was a result of being so drawn to something and knowing that it could deliver such peace; the fact that I struggled didn’t jibe with this longing.
One thing I was missing at this time (and to be honest, still missing at times) is patience. Patience with my practice and with my seemingly uncontrollable mind.
When you meditate, there will be times when you sit down and are almost immediately quiet. Whereas at other times, it's like constant black and white static on a television (those of us who remember what that is) … or a more current reference, you've got no bars and can't connect to the internet. It’s important to know that every time you sit to meditate the experience will be different.
There are so many factors which impact a meditation session. For example, If your mind has been really active or you have a lot of stress in your life, it may take longer to quiet down in that session because your mind is so engaged in whatever drama is happening. We are emotionally invested in what’s happening in the stories playing out in our mind. It’s like we’re holding on to an electric fence; it just feels as if we can’t let go.
On the other hand, there may be times we sit down and we’re instantly quiet, with little or no effort. There are things that you can do to set up your practice that will assist you in getting quiet, and I’ll talk about those in future posts.
If we have an expectation that meditation should be easy when we begin, then It’s important to look at where and how we get these ideas in the first place. As with all things in life, beware of sales and marketing promises. 'Well-being' practices are not immune to these beasts. Leave expectations at the door and allow each experience to unfold unaltered by any mental story.
So you look at a picture of a social media influencer appearing blissed out sitting in a field of flowers…and outwardly they may appear peaceful, but inwardly, it’s very possible that it’s a full fledged shit-show in their minds. We have no idea looking at someone what their experience is like.
Again, this is why I can’t hold a job in sales… Yes, you can absolutely get to deepening levels of peace but it may take time. And the most beautiful thing is, with a sustained practice, the levels of peace continue to deepen. One of the most amazing experiences for me, is that I will experience a level of peace and stillness that is new and foreign and amazing and I don’t see how I can feel any more content than I do, then something will shift to where I feel an even deeper level of content that wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities up to that point… and that can continue to happen.
Like anything, it takes practice, practice, and more practice. However, I will call out that during my many years of teaching, there were a handful of people who were naturally good at meditation from the get go and they actually taught me quite a bit, but I would say they are the exception, not the rule. Like with all life skills, some people have ”natural“ proclivities.
Because it can be challenging, it's important to re-energize and motivate yourself when we go through a difficult time with a practice. To help, I do recommend keeping a journal nearby and writing down any meditation experiences which had a positive impact on you. Try to capture as much detail as you possibly can. Write it as a letter to yourself that no one else will ever see. If you really capture the detail of the experience, then when you’re going through a challenging time, you can read over that experience again and it will take you back. In a way, you can re-live it and that may provide you the motivation to keep working.
You want to run a marathon, you train. You don’t walk outside your door and just start running unprepared for miles on end. You train, you practice. Yes you start somewhere, but it’s not running the full marathon on day one.
As you train over time you notice growing strength. You feel new muscles developing. You get excited as you extend your durations. You feel satisfaction as you learn to find your own stride. You revel in the clarity you possess at the end. And that journey continues.
Like starting anything new, be clear about your reasoning and understanding and check in to see if you’ve set up any expectations around meditation.
It's a practice, like anything it takes time. You'll have good experiences and not so good experiences. But like good days and not so good days, one typically follows the other. Nothing stays the same.
Again, we are trying to eliminate the idea that you’re broken, that you’re doing something wrong.
Have a specific meditation or mindfulness questions you'd like to discuss? Feel free to drop me a note on my website.
I wish you peace on your journey