We are in an advice-giving era. Our social media feeds erase the things we do every day (dishes, anyone?) and polish the rarer, extraordinary moments. We read blogs and websites and self-help books because, gosh darn it, we should be better, we can be better, and every New Year's Eve, we will make a new resolution that will only surpass the year before.
Personally, I'm exhausted by all of this. Are you?
I am a meditation teacher who is currently writing a book on meditation for people who have no time to meditate. As I have been writing, I have also been reading and practicing mindfulness. During this time, I realized that I only really started liking meditation when it made sense to me.
In other words, there were a lot of stressed-out, acting-out times in my life when I truly "should" have sat down and chilled. But the should is what got me. Like many people, there is a small part of me (and sometimes a big part of me) that likes to rebel. I don’t want to be told that I am living my life wrong because although I have a lot of things to figure out, I can solidly declare expertise on the subject of me.
Meditation and mindfulness have become even bigger shoulds as they have become more popular. They have been added to the pile of other shoulds—self-denials that, when we don't follow through on, turn into self-criticisms.
If you really don't feel like getting on the meditation train, let me give you permission not to beat yourself up.
You can still find your center and your flow—the place where time just flies by—in other areas of life. You can move away from the do-accomplish-succeed loop and take a breath in your own way. I encourage you to brainstorm what that means to you, but here are some simple ideas:
1. Have a sound-free night.
No TV, no podcasts, maybe even no talking. What do you do? How does it make you feel? It can be a little confronting, so you might want to start small.
2. Walk for a (really) long time.
We try to make things more efficient, but clearing the mind doesn’t necessarily happen quickly. Walk longer than you normally do. Notice the amount of time it takes for you to feel more relaxed. Self-awareness is something that emerges within meditation, but it can also emerge in the moments we already have with ourselves.
3. Do the thing you would do for a living if you didn't have to worry about money.
Many people have dreams about being artists or musicians or writers. Putting the pressure of your mortgage on your passion is a lot for it to bear, but this doesn’t mean that you have to break up entirely. Make your secret passion a part of your life and allow it to help you come alive. Doing what inspires us just draws us more fully into the heart of who we are.
4. Set your own goals.
If you are living your life according to all of the shoulds—from where you exercise to how you eat—it is time to put your own flavor back into your life. Write down what your day would look like if you called all of the shots. Just because it may not be possible to do all of it at once doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to do some of it sometimes. Meditation can help us to see our own truth, and this exercise can as well.
5. Change a habit.
Whether it means listening to your body when it hurts rather than working through it at the gym or flossing your teeth in the morning, a new habit can change the lens through which we see the world and ourselves. (I’m going to remember this the next time I ignore my floss.)
All of these are ideas have no place in your life unless they resonate deeply. Meditate; don’t meditate. The most important thing is not to should yourself into a guilt spiral.