I recently came across the idea that the point of meditation is not to be peaceful, or to get away from everything, as it is so often made to seem. Rather, the point is to be present. Present with whatever is happening in your life at that moment. Acknowledging what is surrounding you, and being okay with it.
What a profound change this had on my thoughts surrounding the practice.
In the past, meditation had been stressful. In fact, the first time I tried to meditate I was going through a yoga teacher training. What an ideal time, I thought, to start a regular practice.
Au contraire! My first experience was with vipassana meditation in a group setting. Now, I do not particularly enjoy being in large groups to begin with. So why I thought such a personal practice as meditation would be best experienced in this setting is completely beyond me. And an hour plus of meditation as a first session? Give me a break. No wonder I thought I would never be able to do it!
I was so fidgety and uncomfortable on the wooden floor, couldn’t control my body temperature (despite the piles of blankets), and my limbs took turns going numb and tingly to the point of pain. Every few minutes I opened my eyes and looked around the room to see if I was the only one who wasn’t in a state of complete relaxation. Eventually, probably due to utter exhaustion and frustration, I literally fell asleep. I didn’t speak to anyone about my experience after the fact and forgot about the endeavor completely.
Jump a couple years down the road. I’d gone through serious life changes, including, but not limited to career changes, moves, a complete shift in my social life… it goes on. Suffice to say, I was looking for a way to focus. My brain had been entirely too scattered for entirely too long. I was taking on too much, and getting very little done. Well really, I was thinking about all the things I’d like to do, but becoming overwhelmed at the prospect of actually doing them.
I began reading more about productivity, lifehacking, and other ideas of that nature. And the one overlap I found in most of what I read was meditation. People who seemed to, for lack of better term, have their shit together, all generally cited meditation as part of their daily routines.
“Okay,” I said to myself, “I’ll give the meditation thing another shot.” This time, though, I set myself up (surprise!) in the comfort of my own home, by myself, with a 25-minute guided meditation recommended by someone who’d been practicing for a while. And although I didn’t think so at first, it was 100% more successful than my first attempt.
After the 25 minutes had passed, I thought, “I spent maybe two of those minutes not thinking about how much I was thinking, how distracted I was, how un-relaxed I was.” And that’s what I said when he asked me how it went. “That’s just part of it,” he responded, “everybody’s mind wanders.” What an epiphany! There I was, thinking my mind was supposed to be clear as day, without a passing thought to get in the way of my forthcoming bliss.
NOPE. Wrong. Utter nonsense. Sure it’s possible, on some occasions, to turn it all off. But that is the exception. In general, our minds are full of thoughts. We can’t just ignore them altogether. We can, though, and this is the most important lesson I learned, begin to acknowledge our thoughts and let them pass without judgment. Some days you’ll be incredibly giddy, while others you’ll want to throw a punch at everyone who crosses your path. Both ends of the spectrum (and everything in between) are completely normal and necessary parts of human expression.
Learning to acknowledge that you’re feeling any of theses emotions, and being okay with it, is the magic in meditation. You don’t (and shouldn’t) always have to be peaceful, but you should always try to remain present and open to your own thoughts.