“As we practice meditation, we get used to stillness and eventually are able to make friends with the quietness of our sensations.”
~ Sharon Salzberg
I once heard a meditation instructor claim that ‘these other guys claimed to be enlightened but you could just tell their practice was crap.’ I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t sitting at the Mean Girls table. Lindsey Lohan was nowhere in sight, so I came back to the words that just landed with further curiosity.
Is no discipline immune from competition? Are we, in our hyper-Americanized-must-do-more demeanor just thinking about how to push ourselves in a practice that is not about pushing at all?
I was disheartened by the prospect that meditation wasn’t going to fill my mind with unicorns and deep space visualizations.
In my beginning practice (and I still consider myself a beginner) I started to notice that the lack of instant gratification I was getting was provoking an internal dialogue that went something like: ‘Meditation? Sleep. Meditation?!!? OK, five minutes. No, boring. Hard. Too many thoughts!!! Sleep.’
I judged myself. Hard. I wondered why I couldn’t just man up (proverbially speaking) and stick with it. I realized I was being bossy with myself, and nobody enjoys the company of the bossy girl. I had brought the girl to the party who was looking everyone up and down, and she had taken up residence in my mind, specifically casting stares at my meditation habits.
Where I was taking on this practice to learn a little something about openness, authenticity, and compassion—I was allowing my own predisposed notions dismantle my ability to let go and let it be what it was.
In the most ironic of dances, we must relinquish control to gain a better understanding. This is, at it’s core, what I understand to be a basic truth of approaching a meditation practice. We get tripped up into thinking we can predict how it’s going to go, that we’ve got it figured it out, that we are ostensibly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘sporadic’ or ‘doing it right’; but none of these are true or productive and this knowledge tends to be left out of the ‘Five Steps to Your Best Meditation Ever!!!!’ guides.
It’s a daunting thing, surely, to approach creating a space where we can actually sit and look at our thoughts, to then be able to recognize how much time we spend actually identifying with them. It is the biggest ego buzz-kill ever to accept that we are not actually our jobs, our gender, our killer shoes, our hybrid cars or even our physical bodies, at all.
We aren’t our brains. That is not us. We are whatever is left after all of that.
The thing is, if you’re making the effort, and creating the space, to sit with yourself for however many minutes, however often enough you set aside the time to do so—it’s enough. Sure, there is always the encouragement to seek toward more regular and lengthier sessions, but if you’re even thinking about making the time to meditate, you are doing more than a lot of people have chosen to do. Whatever you are doing is enough. No judgment.
You are perfect as you are, even though you can always be better. That is the truth.
I continue to find that the most important instruction given to beginning meditators, and the most important reminder for those who do not consider themselves to be so, is to be gentle. To be kind with ourselves is both a means to an end and an end in itself.
Whatever you are doing is enough, because once you accept what you’re doing, you create the space to feel comforted and expansive. We can then recognize, easily, whether we have the room or energy to do more.
And we can do so willingly, without coaxing or condescension. Whatever you are doing is enough, and you are doing it right. You are doing it right because there are no hard and fast rules about how you can approach contemplative practices (read: different styles or forms of meditation or mindfulness).
You can walk and do it, you can eat chocolate and do it, you can play the piano or, more dangerously, drive a race car and do it.
It is the zone that we like to so frequently reference entering when we are doing something we love the most. It is the unshakeable space where everything else disappears but the present moment, and a deep awareness is brought to the action you are taking. In meditation, we are doing this with our breath or a mantra or sending loving-kindness to ourselves and others.
There are best practices for a reason, there are traditions and lineages for a reason, but the most important thing is to start absolutely anywhere with what feels right and to let it be enough, no pressure.
Whatever we do is enough, but we still must be aware of our growth. Often, our enough today is different from yesterday and this is where we can’t forget to take action.
It is an act of self-love to know when we are ready to grow—perhaps by sitting for five more minutes or perhaps sitting five days in a row. No matter on the numbers, no attachment to getting better or even doing it right because it just isn’t the point.
In the beginning, (or even in the middle, or even when you decide you are a master) it’s so easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by committing to what may sometimes seem like another task. I know this too well.
It’s an act of trust to keep going, to know that you are working at something which is working at you—and it doesn’t matter where you measure up because there is no measure to be taken.
You’re doing it right.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Jessica Sandhu / Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons