I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’ve always sucked at meditation.
While attending Buddhist meetings as a kid, I admired the adults who could chant for hours without concern for the time or their circulation. I had no idea how they maintained their laser-like focus.
When we were supposed to concentrate on world peace, my mind was a jungle gym of ideas and worries about how long this was taking or whether kneeling on my feet would cause them to fall off. After a few seconds of focused prayer, my mind was off to the races.
Over the years, I came to understand the various stages of sleeping feet from the pin-like tingles to the rush of blood that causes you to lose your breath to that moment when your foot feels dead. Sometimes, I’d try to invoke a different sleepy foot stage during these meditations just to pass the time.
I was too ashamed to share my experiences with the adults around me. I just figured I was a lousy meditator.
My mind can still be a jungle gym of ideas. Sometimes when I’m meditating it’s hard to sit still, or some part of me will itch like I’ve been stung by a bee. These things are more likely to happen if I’m tired, worried, or not feeling well.
After years of study, here’s what I learned:
There are no meditation heroes. Sure, there are gurus and religious leaders like the Dalai Lama who are meditation pros. But even they struggle from time to time. Instead of trying to meditate perfectly, let each session be its own experiment.
The rush of thoughts, wiggles, and those tickly, itchy feelings are completely normal. The brain’s main job is to keep you safe. It does this by making up stories about your experiences. Sometimes it ruminates on the past so it can learn from its mistakes. Other times, it rehearses future events to help you be more successful. When focusing on the present moment, sometimes you can actually feel your nerves activating. Hence that itchy feeling.
If you’re a wiggly person who hates sitting meditations, try movement. Kristin Neff has a great standing meditation called Soles of the Feet. Many writers find a good walk solves their writing problems. If that’s you, give walking meditation a try. Walking meditations tend to enhance problem-solving because you are swinging your arms across your midline.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is simply to give your mind a choice. That moment when you notice you’ve been focusing on all the brands of toilet paper you wish you could buy and then say to yourself, “Oh wait, I’m meditating” is your victory. Savor it and keep telling yourself that attaining this realization is enough.
Do you suck at meditating too? What’s your meditation pet peeve? Share it in the comments.