When you start to meditate regularly, it will feel as if you are developing strength and endurance in your head that you can then apply mindfulness in your everyday life. If you notice yourself struggling to apply mindfulness with specific experiences, meditation provides an opportunity to work on your skills to address those challenges.
If life was a sports pitch and mindfulness was the game you played on that pitch, meditation would be the practice drill that improves your capacity to play the game and succeed. Meditation is the focused practice of mindfulness skills.
That’s why people often divided mindfulness and meditation into two different steps. It’s just like playing football: if you struggled to keep running during matches, you’d run even harder during practice sessions off the field, so you’d have greater capacity available to you during a game.
Related: Benefits of Meditation for A Healthy Stress-Free Fruitful Life
How to Meditate?
Like any kind of drill to develop a skill, meditation is difficult. You may struggle with it (a lot). Meditation is not a magical panacea that brings instant calm and tranquility, washing away anxiety and every other emotion you don’t like. Meditation is a practice, not a light switch.
And it’s a practice you need to begin incorporating into your life. It’ll take time to make space for it, so get started. I’ve included it at this point in the article because it’s not something to do after you get your mental health and emotions sorted out. Start now, even if it’s a struggle.
If you don’t meditate, meditation is very difficult and you won’t experience any of the benefits of meditating. If you don’t practice meditation, it’s completely natural to struggle to pay attention, to have difficulty handling emotions, or to be incapable of stopping that hamster wheel of thoughts spinning in your head.
And, if you do meditate, meditation is still difficult, and you might experience some benefits eventually. So enjoy the practice of meditation for itself, not for some distant outcome you’re craving. Treat it like a friend. Don’t bring it into your life only to take from it. If you’re selfish with meditation, you will have an unhappy relationship with it.
With meditation – or practicing any skill we explore in this article – you can come to enjoy the challenge of bringing that skill into your life. I hope you can discover that the challenges of meditation are also benefits of the practice. They’ll bind your friendship together.
3 Mindfulness Exercises by Positive Psychology
Meditation Is a Human Practice
Meditation is the oldest ‘new thing’. Religions around the world have played an important role in carrying this practice from ancient times into our contemporary era. Meditation is a fundamentally human practice. You sit there, you breathe, you be. It’s a focused, intentional practice of being mindful of being. It strips away everything except existence. It’s as human as you can get.
Religion can be part of that or not. When I’m talking about meditation or mindfulness through this platform, I’m talking about them as actions that anybody can practice. Religion need not be attached to the exercise of meditation any more than it need be attached to any other exercise. Whether you pray or swear before doing deadlifts or cardio is entirely up to you. The same goes for meditation.
Why Do People Struggle with Meditation?
That struggle is useful. I also struggle with my meditation practice, and it helps me learn how to meditate. My unruly puppy mind constantly wants to run around, chase after every stick my brain throws for it and find inappropriate places to stick its nose. Even when my mind does come back to me in the present, it’s usually dragging something dead and messy it’s dug up from the past.
Learning how to get my mind to sit and breathe with me has been a long and useful journey. From years of training, my mind has learned always to run off into the past or the future to look for the next uncertainty to throw at me. Finding time for meditation is also challenging amidst all of the competing priorities in my life.
I’m sure you also have a long list of things you could be doing at any moment, and that list is always growing longer. I hope you learn the benefits of prioritizing meditation on that list. It’s not something I can convince you to prioritize. If you don’t run, it must seem absurd to see people waking up early to go jogging in the cold morning air.
If you haven’t experienced the benefits of that practice, it’s impossible to imagine why somebody would prioritize it.
Note: Let’s talk more about running as a way to help you get your meditation practice going.
How to Meditate: Consider How You Would Become a Runner
Starting a meditation practice is analogous to starting a running practice. They parallel each other to an uncanny extent, in skills, and outcomes. On top of that, whether you join a meditation group or a running group, at the end of the session, you’re guaranteed there’ll always be people whining about their knees. If somebody wanted to start running, she would start small, she’d do it with a partner or join a group or get a coach, she’d make time in her life for it, she’d do it consistently if she wanted to see results, she’d make changes in the rest of her life to support her running, and so on. This is all true with meditation as well: no one can convince you to do it; you have to want to practice and make time for it.
Using running as an analogy, consider the following as you start your meditation practice:
If you haven’t been meditating regularly (or at all) it’s natural to not have the skills or capacity to meditate for very long. Start with 10 or 15 minutes each day for the first week. Even if you’ve meditated in the past but have taken a break for many months, you’ll find it’s difficult again – just as you would find running difficult if you took a break from that for several months.
The ability to pay attention is exactly like your capacity for cardiovascular endurance. If you’re not consistently exercising and improving it, then it will decline. If you run a 5K race but then stop training after it, how long would it be before you couldn’t run 5K without stopping? Not very long. So plan for the long-term with meditation. It has to become part of your life. Consider how you’ve made other practices consistent parts of your life – even unhealthy practices. What makes them stick?
Push into the discomfort while acknowledging your limits
Start small but challenge yourself. It’s OK to struggle with meditation. Find where it’s difficult and permit yourself to struggle. You’ll discover where your limits are. Gradually push into them. It might be useful to start with guided meditation audio tracks because they give you something extra to focus on. Try searching online for Jon Kabat-Zinn’s recordings for the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course.
Be kind to yourself. Why would you be able to meditate?
You might be really bad at meditation. Unless there’s a special reason you shouldn’t be bad at it, expect to struggle at it. That’s wonderful! You’re on an exciting journey with this practice. If you want to judge yourself or get angry at meditation for not ‘working’, you can do that, but adding that extra baggage will only make this experience more difficult.
How will you enjoy sitting and breathing with your brain if you’re also hauling around heavy judgments and big assumptions? Would you expect yourself to run a marathon a month after you started running as a hobby?
Expect the unexpected
If you were new to running, you’d experience aches and pains and pleasurable sensations and all sorts of fascinating side-effects. Shin splints? Higher libido? Who knows what might happen?! You’ve never used your body like that before and, if you’re new to meditation, you’ve never used your mind like this before. Whatever experiences you have will be awesome experiences to have while meditating.
You can be mindful of those emotions, thoughts, or physical sensations. That is the practice. Invite them to sit beside you while you breathe. Let them pile on top of you. Let them run away on their own. You don’t have to judge them or yourself for experiencing them. You don’t have to get rid of them. Can you be willing to let them be?
I don’t meditate at the same time every day. I also don’t exercise at the same time every day. Some days line up, and others don’t. My schedule is constantly changing. What’s important is that I set aside time to meditate. In the morning, I figure out a time to meditate, and then I defend that time.
It would be easy to think of a million reasons why I’m too busy today and can always do extra meditation tomorrow to make up for it. But that meeting with my breath is something I respect as I would any other meeting. I can’t reschedule a meeting with such an important partner. It might be the most important meeting I have all day.
Explore the practice
One of the benefits of adopting such an ancient practice is that you can support yourself with an immense array of books, videos, audio tracks, apps, scrolls, and even stone tablets. You don’t have to meditate in a vacuum. Explore different types of meditation. Read about meditation in books written by people who died centuries ago. Any challenge that you run into is a challenge that somebody else has already encountered and written a book about. Dive into that wealth of wisdom.
Connect with other people
A great way to support your meditation practice is to connect with others. It’s like joining a running group – it can help with consistency and overcoming challenges along the way. You don’t even need to do it in person if there’s no group in your area. Connect with people online who share similar meditation goals and practices. Finding meditation buddies can help to remind you to meditate, and you can discuss how to overcome challenges together.
Modify your practice to fit your context
Not everybody runs in the same way. Some like trail running, others like obstacle races; some hit the treadmill at the gym or run as part of triathlons, others ditch running in favor of skiing or swimming or racing wheelchairs. However, common to all of them is that they’re building endurance and strength by pushing their limits.
There are many types of meditation. Explore what works for you. Try not to get caught up in the superficial characteristics of meditation. If you can’t sit cross-legged on the floor, don’t. Find a way to practice that’s comfortable for you within your context.
Set goals that rocks can’t do better than you
As with anything related to mental health, don’t forget this fundamental principle. I find it useful to set goals that are entirely in my control. I control how long I meditate each day. That’s about it. I don’t control what pops into my head or what happens around me while I meditate. I don’t control any feelings I might have while I meditate. And, I don’t control any long-term outcomes of meditating. I only control paying attention to my next breath. How long will you meditate each day?
Also Read: Practicing Real Happiness with Mindfulness