If you took one look at the featured image for this post and despaired that your meditation practice doesn’t look or feel like this, don’t worry. Mine doesn’t either. I just figured it was more aesthetically pleasing than a picture of me with greasy hair in an oversized pyjama top, crammed on my bedroom floor and peeking at my iPhone timer with an eery, slack-jawed look on my face. And Pinterest surprisingly doesn’t have a whole lot of shots of people meditating on rattling trains on the commute home from work, or trying to concentrate in their backyard while their dogs lick their face. And that’s cool. Stunning pictures of gypsy queens meditating in sun-dappled rooms are rad. I like them. It’s like spiritual porn. It looks amazing but you know it isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of the real thing, so you’re not about to go try recreate it or deprecate yourself for not having it.
You might be thinking “So you’re telling me what we see on the internet isn’t always real? Wow Caitlin, in other news, water is wet.” But listen, how many times have we decided we just weren’t “good at meditation” or “meditation wasn’t for us” or we’d “failed a meditation session” because it didn’t match up to some idealistic view of it we had in our heads?
For me, I really like it when things happen fast.
I like the exhilaration of my world unfolding quickly around me like bang, bang, bang. I like new friendships that explode and progress with rapid-fire speed. I like the euphoric rush of a new project, when the world is wide open and the possibilities are endless. These things make my heart feel good. They make me feel present and on the pulse and alive. I want to feel these things every day. So I do everything in my power to construct my life and welcome as many of these experiences as possible.
There is an undeniable element of instant gratification to these things. We get that burst of euphoria, our hearts racing at the high of it. But we also almost have something somewhat tangible or measurable for ourselves, to feel like we’re progressing in some way: we are now etched in the memory of our new friend, just like they are in ours, in a way that we weren’t this morning. Or we’ve put pen to paper to map out preliminary notes for the project. For me, it’s somewhat like this with surfing too. I almost have something to go home with. ‘I caught three waves.’ Or ‘I finally nailed the bottom-turn.’ Not for anyone else, just myself. We don’t do these things for the results, we do it because it brings our souls to life, but at the end of the day, in an achievement oriented world, sometimes we kinda feel like we need to have something to show for the expenditure of our time.
This exact head space has been the exact reason my relationship with meditation at times has been a pretty piss-poor affair. When I was there and in it, and in what felt like the center of my soul and the center of the eye of the universe, I felt freaking amazing and I never wanted to let it go. The calm, the clarity, the perspective, the overall feeling of wellbeing and freedom- amazing. But sometimes it didn’t work. Sometimes my mind wouldn’t co-operate and as I tried to beat it into docile submission, my thoughts and emotions just raced even more, turning into an inward attack? Why couldn’t I do it? Was I really that sub-par at life I couldn’t even succeed at doing nothing?
I’d feel vulnerable, like i’d failed, and i’d mourn the ‘wasted time.’ And overshadowed by the risk of ‘wasting time’ I often would make a time and a place to meditate, write it in my to-do list, make it a date. Then i’d chicken out and leave it hanging there in the restaurant until the waiter had to come up and say ‘look, I don’t think she’s coming, man.’ I’d be in the kitchen snacking, or looking at pretty meditation pictures on Instagram, or messaging cute boys. Sure-fire hits of instant gratification. Things that made me quick instant bursts of the feelgoods and that I had control over. It seemed safer than going into something that had to potential to either make me or break me. Oftentimes I didn’t want to take the risk.
That was until I realized firstly, meditation is not about controlling thoughts but just noticing them with detachment, and secondly that there’s no such thing as being ‘good’ at meditation. Glorious explorations into the sublime aren’t always waiting for us no matter how much we eliminate the distractions, make a space, make a time, light a candle, do our homework, want it bad enough. When we’re shooting goals and achieving desired outcomes we feel in control of our lives, positive and satisfied. But with meditation, sometimes we can cross our t’s and dot our i’s and sometimes meditating is still going to feel a bit “wretched or boring or like nothing much at all” as Rebecca Pacheco explains in article “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Meditation.” The shit bits are just as vital a part of the process as the euphoria and intense love of the universe and epiphanies. As Pacheco says:
“All experiences of meditation are good and valuable because they cultivate the skill of being present, of strengthening the mind. How many other skills would we expect to master without much practice, especially life altering ones? Moreover, it’s not only the immediate results of meditation from which we benefit. They accumulate over time, whether 45-minutes here or 5-minutes there. Like modern yoga, depictions and descriptions of meditation can be very skewed, prioritizing the beautiful, effortless, and happy-no itchy noses or furrowed brows- which is why it’s important to gently remind ourselves that these are images.”
I recently had dinner with a Kadampan Buddhist nun who had just finished a week in silent meditation. She said for the whole time she sat in a sour mood, watching the negative thoughts run through her mind with a heaviness she couldn’t shake. This was someone who lives at the temple, teaches classes daily and has been all over the world, teaching meditation and Buddhist teachings by the thousand. A seasoned professional. And we’re beating ourselves up because we’ve sat down three times and ‘just couldn’t get it?’
So what do we do now?
“Forget the images,” says Pacheco.
“Forget how other people do it. Grab a spot, set a timer, close your eyes, [try observe the thoughts racing through your mind as opposed to being emotionally attached to them], and breathe. That’s all. It might not look like much, but when it amounts to you being less dominated by your thoughts, emotions, agenda, and judgements and more at peace with yourself, it is everything you need.”
And if that just doesn’t do it… We also found the best meditation app ever. The H*nest Meditation app offers “peaceful meditation with just a pinch of salty language.”
“Breathe in strength; breathe out bullshit” in the perfect yoga-teacher-during-savasana voice.”With each breath, feel your body saying, ‘F*ck that,'” he continues.
…We didn’t say, the app did ! 😉