Well, “wrong” is a judgment, and one of the tenants of mindfulness practice is non-judgment, so no, the problem is not that you are doing it wrong. Although, judging ourselves and feeling wrong or not good enough is what gets in the way of doing a lot things that are beneficial to us. The biggest barrier to meditation is the belief that there is a right and a wrong way to meditate. The best mediation practice for you is the one that you do.
Dr. Ellen Langer, the first tenured female psychology professor at Harvard University and Mindfulness researcher for the last 35 years says, “Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So, if you make the moment matter, it all matters.”
When I start treatment with new clients one of the first things we work on is increased mindfulness, increased presence in the moment and decreased mindless, impulsive behaviors, or reactivity. For this blog, I am going to speak directly about meditation even though it is only one form of mindfulness. I am trying to stick to writing blogs that I would read myself, which means it can’t be aversively wordy.
“I’ve tried meditation, it’s not for me. I have a busy brain.”
Myth # 1:
Mediation is the art of being able to be completely still, thoughtless, and relaxed.
Sometimes that happens for a few moments. It likely happens more to folks who are dedicated to their meditation practice and have been practicing for a long time. If you have a busy brain, your meditation workout is even better. Since meditation is noticing your thoughts without attaching to them or judging them, and returning to the present moment over and over again; then the busier your brain, the more reps you are doing. The more repetition the stronger the muscle.
Like any other practice, it is not always the same. The ability to allow ourselves to be exactly where we are without having to fix it or change it, is likely one of the most beneficial skills an individual can poses. We practice this state of being present without needing to change anything, in part, to build exposure to tolerating discomfort. When life is not as we think it should be, and people are not behaving as we wish they would, is when we need increased tolerance and the ability to be non-reactive. We practice every day so when we need these skills, they are available to us.
Myth # 2:
Meditation should leave you feeling relaxed and/or peaceful.
This is true, sometimes, but at the beginning and even for seasoned practitioners, we notice we are feeling anxious, having a lot of thoughts or judgments, struggling with being present or staying focused, or having difficulty with sitting still. Feeling peaceful and relaxed is awesome, and we are often not given the perfect set of circumstances to be mindful, therefore practicing no matter how we feel is much more useful and practical for our daily lives. I don’t know about anybody else but I am usually pretty chill at home on my mediation pillow, it is when I am on the 4/5 train during rush hour that I need my mediation muscles.
Meditation is not always immediately reinforcing, if you know how it feels to go back to the gym after taking more than 20 days off, you know that initial workout is not you living your best life. And after about a week or so, you feel back on track and exercise is your friend again. It is always easier to stay on track than it is to get on track, and there is an initial getting on track that must happen.
Mediation is like medication, you don’t always notice the effects right away, the practice has to get into your bloodstream. I usually experience the benefits of my mediation practice in moments, in increased capacity to detach, accept, and allow life and circumstances to be exactly as they are, especially when I don’t agree with them. I joke with my clients that being skillful when emotionally dysregulated is like trying to do your taxes while you are being chased by a lion. We need to learn the skills, build the muscle, have exposure to tolerating discomfort so we can use them when we need them.
Meditation Starter Kit
- Start with something realistic and manageable. I usually suggest 3-5 minutes. Transcendental Meditation is incredible and I have many colleagues and friends who swear by it, but 20 minutes twice a day is not where most people start. Let’s start where you are, the best practice for you is the one that you do.
- Pick a time of day, be consistent and gentle: It is important to be consistent when trying to build a habit and it is equally important to be flexible and forgiving. First thing in the morning when you wake up, during your morning commute on the train, right when you get home for the day, or before going to bed. It is helpful to pair the new practice with a habit you already have, for example if you journal in the morning, you can meditate for 3 minutes right before you journal.
- DO YOU: Find a practice that works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other people or judge yourself. Some people really like guided meditation practices, while others like to focus on their breath in silence. I have clients who love using mantras or inhaling a word and exhaling another word, for example inhale peace, exhale fear. Find what works for you, start where you are, and practice every day. Remain flexible, because “what works for you” will change. Stick with it, you got this.