Recently, my friend and I were talking about mindfulness, and she told me that she was starting to experiment with meditation. She quickly confessed that she was a "bad meditator," and I thought to myself, welcome to the club. But instead of saying that out loud, I asked her why she thought she was a bad meditator.
She told me she had a hard time sitting still. And when she did, she only got more frustrated because she couldn't get her mind to slow down and be quiet. I could certainly relate, and I suspect anyone who has attempted to slow down for a bit and meditate can, too.
Here's the thing, though: Being "bad" at meditation is just part of the drill—at least at first.
There are several reasons why it's tough to meditate. Our brains are wired to constantly scan, assess, judge, and sort. The judgment and assessing are rooted in self-preservation, and it helps us efficiently process our day-to-day experience. There's nothing "wrong" with our active minds, but it's important to know that its busyness is a part of the human condition.
When you add other influences like the broad use of technology and its impact on our brain chemistry, our culture's bias toward extroversion, and our propensity for multitasking, it's pretty easy to understand why meditation isn't easy.
It also doesn't help that as adults, we have less tolerance for being beginners at much of anything. If you begin a meditation practice with the thought that you will be "successful," "achieve," or "master" anything, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Wisdom teacher Adyashanti says, "Real meditation isn't about mastering a technique; it's about letting go of control."
Many of us are under the illusion that we are in control of our lives, so it's no wonder that when we enter into meditation and are invited to surrender control, it evokes frustration, fear, and sometimes sheer panic.
Even though the odds for silence and stillness may be stacked against us, there are more people now than ever feeling an organic and inspired call toward turning inward, and this points to an awakening in human consciousness.
For those of you who feel inspired to try meditation—but still feel the pangs of resistance, uncertainty, or fear—here are four things that will help you get started:
1. You can't fail at meditation.
Meditation isn't about arriving at a destination or achieving an enlightened state, at least at first. Instead, meditation is about experimenting with gathering your attention and focus. The reason why so many wisdom teachers encourage focus on the sound and sensation of breathing in and out is because the breath is automatic and it provides an anchor to help you focus. Your mind, nervous system, and physical body need repetitive practice to drop in to a state of rest and relaxation, so every time you experiment with meditation, you are giving your body, mind, and spirit an opportunity to remember their natural state of presence.
2. Notice where you place your attention.
Paying attention to the content of your mind—emotions, thoughts, and sensations—is only a small part of your meditation (and life) experience at any given time. Yet many of us place all of our attention on the content of our minds, not realizing there is any other option.
Giving your attention to a micro-part of your experience is like walking into a beautiful garden and focusing only on one rock, not realizing that if you were to shift your attention you would have an entirely different experience. When we focus on a tiny portion of our experience, we miss that outside our focused attention on the rock, there are trees, flowers, water, and a sense of spaciousness and awe. We have a choice about where to place our attention. Our attention is often constricted to the content of experience, and we miss out on the wholeness and great possibilities of our experience.
3. Acknowledge the context of your experience.
The content of your experience is happening within a larger context. When I reference context, I mean the subtle, unchanging, constant energy that has no form, commentary, agenda, or judgment. The energy of context is that it simply "is." Other language for context is "source," "light," "consciousness," "silence," "essence," and "pure awareness." When we acknowledge the context of awareness, it can give us an immediate sense of connection, stability, and peace. We can all acknowledge the awareness of the context of our being at any time because it already exists whether we're consciously aware of it or not. In the garden analogy, just because you are focusing on a rock doesn't mean you are not in the garden.
4. Go for quality over quantity.
I work with a lot of Type-A people, and I notice that when I introduce meditation to them, they immediately want to "master" it. Then, when they sit down for 20 or 30 minutes, they become frustrated, for all the reasons I mentioned above. Two to five minutes of quality attention has a greater impact on your spirit, mind, and brain chemistry than 10 to 15 minutes of fragmented attention. Start off with small increments of time, and make them consistent. Then, when you are ready (and you'll know when that is), you can experiment with what it's like to meditate for longer periods of time.
Remember, when you enter into meditation with the spirit of curiosity, exploration, and allowing, I suspect meditation for you will no longer be about being "good" or "bad." Even by taking a moment to tap into the unchanging, constant energy that has no form, the context of your being will likely radically alter your experience with meditation.