Meditation is trendy in America right now.
And as it becomes more mainstream, it is being invited into places where people really need it—like hospitals, schools and corporations. The establishment is starting to recognize its benefits and weave it into the fabric of our big red-taped systems, and people seemingly every where are giving it a go.
Which is all really great news.
But—like the yoga phenomenon a decade or so prior, our striving culture has sunk its over-stressed teeth into meditation and is kind of missing the point. In the same spirit that yoga was morphed into a competitive cardio burn, minus the mindfulness and reverence, meditation is becoming one of those things many people are including in their lives in the name of checking off another box.
But’s that not what meditation is about.
Meditation is many things, but here is what it isn’t:
1. It isn’t a free pass for bad behavior. As much as it would be nice, meditation doesn’t grant us a hall pass to act poorly in other areas of our lives. This isn’t like that chocolate cake we let ourselves splurge on at dinner because we had a salad at lunch or like the margarita we drink at happy hour to reward ourselves for making it to spin class before work.
Sure, life is about balance, and we’re not all going to be super nice 100% of the time. We’re human. But meditation is not a karmic balancing tool to help us sleep better after we yell at our kids or gossip about our friends.
Meditation doesn’t “cancel out” the times we aren’t so mindful or loving in our day, and hard as we try (I’ve tried), we can’t fake our way to gratitude and love.
It is a tool for helping us find more love and compassion, but it does not replace the acts of love and compassion themselves.
2. It isn’t a quick fix or a band-aid for the very real problems in life. One session of meditation is not going to fix a lifetime of questionable relationship choices or chronically low self-esteem. Yes, mindfulness in general will guide us to more insight about ourselves and greater states of awareness and healing, but it isn’t going to magically make us someone we are not in one 20-minute sitting.
Meditation is a practice, a discipline, a choice we make to pull ourselves back into the present over and over again. It is a willingness to see ourselves in a different way and to sit with ourselves when the ego and the mind buck and kick and demand we open our eyes and go back to the old self.
Meditation is not a get-rich-quick gimmick, lose-weight-fast diet. It is a lifestyle choice.
3. It isn’t a pill to help ignore the pain. Meditation isn’t about covering up the pain we feel in our lives. If anything, it has the opposite effect, unraveling all the tightly wound places until we let go of stubbornness and truly looked at ourselves.
While meditation is about focus, it isn’t about shifting focus away from the sore spots. Pain wants to be acknowledged, and when we bare witness to our pain without judgement or resistance, we allow it to move and to teach us.
Pain is our body trying to communicate stuck energy, and meditation is our route to the clog. We can’t clear the energy if we’re looking the other way.
4. It isn’t a fad. We are a culture obsessed with “the next big thing” where mindfulness and self-exploration have become commoditized. And although the rise of meditation is certainly en vogue in our western world at the moment, it’s not because Oprah and Deepak invented it.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. It is a time-honored, mystical practice, and it has much more to teach us than we can possibly learn in one lifetime.
It is here because we have called it into our lives. Because we have become a people with short attention spans and constant stimulation. Meditation is about presence, and when there is presence, there is only now.
Meditation is now.
5. It isn’t supposed to be complicated. There is a saying that meditation is simple but not easy. Simple in that you only have to sit and breathe. Not easy, because the constant chatter of the mind makes it almost impossible to focus your attention for more than a few seconds.
Knowing that, can’t we just let ourselves off the hook at being “perfect” meditators and just enjoy the practice? It has been said that the act of meditation is actually the returning to the focus when it has been lost. So in essence even if we get distracted over and over again, the resilient return to our practice is the practice.
There is no wrong or right way. There is only right for you. Whatever the modality, however long the duration, it is always just about finding presence.
Meditation isn’t about doing it right. It’s about doing it.
Here are three easy, actionable tips for embracing or enhancing a meditation practice:
1. Decide on an amount of time and stick with it. Switch your phone into airplane mode, set the timer for your desired time, and keep at it until the timer goes off. Of course your mind will wander. Of course you may still think about the time. But taking the guesswork out of the timing and committing to a reasonable time for you will help you jump that first hurdle.
2. Experiment until you find the fit for you. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of variations to choose from when meditating. Some people chant. Some people smile. Some people listen to music. Some people prefer silence. With a spirit of fun and lightness, research and try new methods each day until you find one that makes you excited to do it again.
3. Be easy on yourself. No one needs one more thing to stress about in their day. Don’t over-complicate this and don’t be too hard on yourself. Just approach your practice with the same lightness and fun as you would approach play with a child. Your childlike spirit just wants to have some fun, so enjoy.
Author: Kayla Floyd
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Neil Crump