Meditation has a secret.
It doesn’t work for everyone (GASP!).
Of course, this isn’t what we’re told about this powerful, ancient practice. The list of amazing meditation benefits for mind, body, and spirit are practically endless (and easy to Google). Need to get more grounded and focused? Stressed out? Experiencing pain? Want to connect to your inner guidance? Meditation is the cure for all your ills.
But if you ask the average person, they’ll tell you (likely in great detail) the TRUTH about meditation; how they can’t sit still or quiet their mind, they can’t fit it into their day, or they tried it and didn’t like it or didn’t get any effect.
It could even be said that meditation benefits all people, but not all people benefit from meditation.
The true dirty secret of meditation involves the pressure we feel to always be doing something, and to do it as a means to an end, which creates for us a meditation practice that is more like a checklist than personal development. In turn, this can lead to some pretty undesirable outcomes. For example:
When we do something repeatedly, especially something we know to be good for us, we eventually settle into a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. A general smugness that we have “arrived” at some unnamed place of perfection and contentedness. Unfortunately, this just isn’t so. Meditation isn’t a destination. It’s a choice to show up for ourselves and our needs at that given moment of practice. Today it might be stress. And tomorrow it might be the pain. A year from now, our whole lives might look different. When we settle on a specific overall intention at which to “arrive,” we rob ourselves of the opportunity to show up and accept ourselves just as we are, in that moment. We keep feeding our human desire for control and achievement, rather than embracing our soulful need for fluidity, change, and yes, even struggle.
Lack of Enthusiasm –
Once we become complacent, we quickly become bored. Meditation was once a way to solve a problem. Once that problem doesn’t exist anymore, why keep doing it? Our enthusiasm wanes and we go back to seeking more ways outside ourselves to assuage our internal needs. This is mostly because we’re always looking to create the perfect scenario for what we think will help us achieve our goals. We think that once everything falls into place, we’ll feel better and all will be well. However, it’s in choosing to feel better first that everything actually does eventually fall into place. For that to happen, we have to realize that our enthusiasm for meditation – or anything else – is created by our inner thoughts, not by the practice of meditation, or by the positive outcomes.
Too Much Discipline –
Even if we don’t let complacency and lack of enthusiasm get the best of us, we can also be affected by internal or external pressure to be disciplined. It’s likely you’ve heard more than once that you NEED a daily meditation practice (maybe you heard it from me!). And it IS an honorable goal. However, I know so many people (myself included) who are overwhelmed by such a commitment. Yes, we manage to find time to eat and sleep and brush our teeth each day. And yet we feel guilt for not being able to fit in something so universally healthy as meditation, even for 5 minutes. Perhaps this is a reasonable consideration, and we might need to look at our schedule to see where we can build in time. But we also need to keep in mind that anything we force ourselves to do, even for a good reason, is likely to fail. It’s not a shortcoming to resist things that feel forced. It’s a deep message of survival. Of course, meditation won’t literally kill us if we force ourselves to do it. However, too much expectation on the outcomes and focus on the necessity of meditation, and it, too, can have unintended and unwanted outcomes, ultimately that we no longer want to do it at all.
In light of this, and coupled with the fact that meditation is one of the most recommended personal and spiritual development practices (I’ve experienced all the reasons why it doesn’t work, and it’s still my first recommendation to anyone who will listen), what’s a seeker to do?
I admit that, despite my five or so years of practice, I still struggle with this. What I’ve learned is that before we sit down to meditate, or participate in any practice for that matter, we can ask ourselves a few important questions:
“How is this practice helping me?”
We owe it to ourselves to be really honest about how we spend our time. Meditation can be a healthy and inspiring way to enhance our lives, but only if we check in regularly to ensure it’s still meeting our needs in its current form and in that moment.
“What do I need most today?”
Sometimes when I’m honest and listening, I hear that I need movement, sleep, to read a book or to give myself the gift of nothing at all. If you’re honest, you might hear something other than meditation too, even if you feel you NEED to meditate. So, then we need to honor our soul’s response.
“What cycle of life am I in right now?”
Like all of nature, human life has ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Knowing where we are in our cycles helps us to discern what might best support our current needs. Maybe we’re in a cycle of mostly “doing.” Mediation might be a great antidote to that. Conversely, if we’re in a cycle of mostly “being,” we might get more out of a mindful or creative activity that is more active, like a walk outside in nature or organizing a space in our home.
“What am I resisting?”
Often, we fear the silence and stillness of meditation because we’re just not sure what’s going to come up. Or, we know what’s likely to come up and we don’t feel like facing it. Sometimes it’s enough just to have this awareness; allowing our feelings to be seen and heard. And sometimes, this awareness asks us to take that extra step and sit with it for a while, to resist the resistance, but we have to ask the question first.
“What am I expecting meditation to do for me that I should be doing for myself?”
When we make meditation the answer to all our problems, we’re going to fail every time. How could we not, when the answers are all within us already? Meditation is the path that helps us get there, not the actual answer. It isn’t meditation that actually makes us more peaceful, relaxed, or heals us from our pain. It’s our mindful commitment to ourselves and our practice of self-care and seeking to honor our unique and changing needs in the given moment. Whether that’s meditation or taking a walk or seeing a doctor for a consultation, the real power is in the asking, the listening, and the honoring of the response.
Do you struggle with meditation? Do you take the time to honestly assess your practice (or lack thereof) on a regular basis? I challenge you to honor yourself and your needs by using these questions, or any others that you find helpful. Then come back here and leave a comment and tell us how it went!