For the longest time I felt that the benefits of meditation were as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, and the Abominable Snowman combined. Any time I would sit for meditation practice my entire body would tense up. My inner voice, which I call my critic, would scream out at me. “You’re doing it all wrong.” What makes you think you can meditate?” “This is useless, give up and turn on the television.” The last statement was often what I listened to. When I did give up, it took me thirty minutes to an hour to feel grounded again.
I read books on meditation from renowned authors on the subjects like, Pema Chodron, Osho, Jack Kornfield, and even my favorite Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh. I could not gain any insight from the books and the harder I tried the more tense I became with each sitting. I remember picking up a book about Zen meditation and the author had pictures of the wrong way to sit, the wrong way to hold your hands, the wrong way to position your cushion. This pictorial added even more stress for me. I couldn’t even figure out the right way to meditate, now I have to be cognizant of the wrong way as well? Sheesh!
I took meditation classes. These weren’t so bad but I never fully felt the connection I was supposed to have. I also had a hard time not “peeking” to see what the other members of the class were doing. Did they all have their eyes closed? Were they all sitting the same way I was? How were there hands placed? Were they as uncomfortable as I felt? And of course there was always the class show off looking peaceful and serene. Then they just had to rub it in by telling everyone in the room how amazing their experience was and how they felt one with God or whatever higher being they believed in. Why were they able to get it so easily and I was chasing after that feeling unsuccessfully?
Then I read the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and it struck me; like her I was trying too hard. I was making meditation far more difficult than it needed to be. I was way over thinking. No wonder I was stressing myself out. I was very hard on myself. I berated myself when I couldn’t get it right. I internalized all of my mistakes. I had to take it easy. But, I have never been one to be kind to myself. I rarely give myself a break. I often beat myself up over mistakes I’ve made or continue to make. (My Buddhism practice is teaching me to be gentler to everyone, including me. But that is for another post.) So I set my mind to being less of a task master and perfectionist about meditation.
With this idea in my head I started fresh. I looked at Thich Nhat Hanh all over again. He has been a great help through my practice in all aspects and I knew he could help again. I was right. I began with the simplest of steps, “bring awareness to your breath.” I could do that. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches you to think, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” He then recommends that you dissect this into it’s smallest usable parts, “In” and “Out.” Simple, right? He reminds you not to berate yourself when thoughts enter you mind. You just say to yourself, “thinking” and then return to the consciousness of your breath. For this part I deviate slightly and instead I just mouth and think to myself, “shhhhh.” Now, it is not the “SHHHHHHH” you use in a movie theatre when the teenagers behind you are talking and giggling and texting throughout the movie. It is the loving soothing, “shhhhh” you use to quiet a baby that is crying or fussy. You are not angry with that baby and you should not be angry with yourself.
After trying this several times in my meditation practice I noticed I was improving. I wanted to go further and the ability to do that came to me thanks to Buddhist Geeks. This is a group I’ve talked about in previous posts that focus on how technology can help enhance your Buddhist practice. On one of their podcasts they had the developer of the Rewire App, which I highly recommend. This app helps you remain in the moment and focused. The way it works is having you focus on the absence of sound. You can tie Rewire to the music on your mobile device or you can download some of their compositions. As you meditate the music plays and at periodic intervals it will stop. When it stops, you tap the screen to acknowledge that the music halted. If you take too long or tap too soon the mobile device will vibrate forcing you back into the moment. The app can even be treated as a game because in the end you see how many “meditation” points you’ve gained. This has taken me even further in my meditation practice.
Now, I’ll admit this may not work for everyone, especially those that take themselves and their meditation too seriously. But, I tend to be more light hearted and less serious by nature. I have a playful spirit and this works for me. Do what is best for you and your practice.
I know this works for me because Thich Nhat Hanh reiterates in his mediation guides that you should remind yourself as you focus on your breath, “Breathing in I clear my mind; breathing out I smile.” I often find myself with a small smile playing across my face as I meditate now. This is my sign I’m finally picking it up and finding some semblance of peace and joy.
- Goal of meditation (alexsblog.org)
- Thoughts on Meditation (sjcwellness.wordpress.com)
- Day 1: Crap! I Lost My Sacred Ash, or, Why I’m Trying Meditation (inthegardenofeva.com)
- Meditation Posture (stuffmybrainthinks.com)