For everyone who thinks they can’t meditate: have you ever watched Netflix? If the answer is yes, then you’ve most likely been in a meditative state. In fact, any time we become engrossed in something, whether we consider it work or play, we may enter into another state of consciousness. Our attention becomes absorbed in what we’re doing. Time moves more quickly or slowly than usual, and maybe, for a moment, we lose ourselves in the activity. We no longer form judgments and opinions about how we’re doing. In other words, we’re not thinking, we’re just doing and this is a meditative state.
Now, the absorption we feel when binge-watching the new season of Stranger Things is a state of meditation, it’s not the practice of meditation. In other words, you’re not residing in your own experience but the character’s on the screen. However, the principle is similar. In meditation, we intentionally tune into the feelings of the body and allow the thoughts to become background noise. Just as we allow our own internal monologue to become background noise when immersed in Eleven’s battle with the demogorgon.
There are many reasons meditation feels ‘hard’. Here are the three excuses that I hear most often from people who are interested in meditation but don’t have a consistent practice. ‘I can’t sit still for that long’ or ‘I don’t have time.’ ‘I can’t quiet my mind.’ ‘I don’t want to sit and observe my thoughts, I’m afraid of what I’ll find.’ I get it, it seems daunting, especially if we have this view that meditation is peaceful and bliss and calm. But it takes effort to start any new habit and develop a new skill, so let’s look at these three excuses more closely.
If you feel like you can’t sit still, are you the same person who is watching Netflix? Many of us sit for hours straight at work or while watching TV in the evening. You won’t form a meditation practice if you don’t really want to. Just like you won’t become good at the guitar if you never pick it up. For those who feel like they don’t have time, are you the same person who is watching Netflix? Many of us have the time, we just need to reevaluate and reallocate where we’re spending it. You also don’t need to start off sitting for 20-30 minutes. Because it’s a practice meant to be practiced throughout your life, you’ll have plenty of time to get there. Start with just 5-10 minutes and build gradually by adding a minute or two a month.
For those who say they can’t stop the mind, good news, you don’t have to! Meditation is not about becoming empty or free of thoughts. It’s about letting go of our desire to engage with them. Meditation is an art that has no end, not something to be achieved. I found that one of the hardest parts of meditation was not getting frustrated when thoughts arose during meditation. This is part of the practice too, we practice letting go of trying to manipulate a result and our expectations as a whole. Yes, it can be a long process, but the impacts of our meditation will start to show in our life much before we become ‘good’ at meditating.
Many people have adopted a Western Medicine view of meditation, that it’s like aspirin for a headache. So when these folks try to meditate, they’re barraged by all the stressful thoughts and feelings that are typically in the background but are brought to the foreground when as they tune into their experience of mind and body. This is more of a problem in expectation. As we start the process there will be a point in which we are very aware of our thoughts, and if those thoughts are self-deprecating then the experience may not be enjoyable. This is also part of the practice. To be self-compassionate and hold space for ourselves to be vulnerable. To know these thoughts do not determine the type of person we are or what we’re capable of.
One thing that I emphasize in teaching meditation is how important consistency is in practice. Meditation is a life practice that continuously evolves and impacts every area of how we operate and interact, but only if it’s part of our everyday routine. If you were to only go to the gym once a week you may feel good after going but your body won’t change all that much. Or, you may just be in pain because you’re not used to the physical activity! Meditation is the same, we won’t see long lasting results unless we practice every day, even if it’s for 5 minutes. In fact, it’s best to start small, with an easily manageable amount of time and to increase the length over time.
You can read all the books on meditation and attend talks with famed spiritual teachers but it won’t change a thing (except maybe your desire to start meditating!). Meditation is not an intellectual exercise and the knowledge that is found as a result doesn’t come through research or knowledge. It comes through direct experience and engagement with the practice. So, the next time you’re watching Netflix and the credits roll, you have a choice. To let the autoplay loop continue, or to turn off the TV and tune into your own experience.