What I Talk About When I Talk About Meditating
I've had a daily meditation practice for the past six years.
It's a simple statement of fact (verifiable by the date I started using Insight Timer), but it always feels like it needs a bit of explanation. Not in the apologetic, self-deprecating way that many of us tend to use to downplay our accomplishments (another post for another time), but in a way that makes it feel more accessible and realistic than it sounds.
While I'm not a meditation teacher, I do have some training through an awesome program at work for those who want to bring awareness of mindfulness to their departments. As a result, I occasionally use meditation in the classes I teach and have led some sessions for students and staff.
When I ask people in a group about their experience with meditation, it's quite common to hear statements like "I've tried, but I'm not good at it," or "I wish I were better at it." Which is why it feels especially important to me to be a little more specific about my statement regarding having a daily practice for six years. On the surface, I realize it makes it sound like I've mastered this thing and have it all figured out.
I haven't. Let's break it down.
First, I'll clarify "daily." Do I miss days? Yep, but not a lot. Are there days when I spend the entire time I've allotted to meditate ruminating on my to-do list or that weird thing I said or something I want to write? You bet, almost every day.
Next, I'm guessing that when most people hear "meditation practice," they picture me in a quiet, dimly lit room with candles, sitting cross-legged on a cushion. While my living room is usually dimly lit in the morning, that's about it in terms of ambiance. There is usually some traffic noise outside, and I don't light candles. I do have a really great meditation cushion, but a lot of times I just lay down on the couch (side note: that cushion is the perfect height to sit on while eating dinner at my coffee table and watching re-runs of Jane the Virgin).
Lest you think I carve out hours for this ritual, I will also clarify that most of my morning meditation sessions are 9-12 minutes. I do think there is benefit to longer sessions, and it's something I'd like to work on adding into my practice occasionally, but I also firmly believe that the common refrains of "some is better than none" and "a little bit goes a long way" apply here.
The only thing that feels really important to me, from a routine standpoint, is to meditate in the morning. I've certainly used sleep meditations when I'm having trouble quieting my mind at night or done some mid-day breathing exercises to calm stress in the moment, but it feels important to keep my daily practice in the morning as a way to center and start my day.
So why is that? What's the benefit? What do I get out of spending 10 minutes, lying on the couch in my living room each morning, refocusing my thoughts on my breath over and over and over again?
It's hard to say.
Wait, what? you ask. You do this thing every day and suggest other people give it a try, and you can't articulate the benefits?
It's not that I can't, per se. It's just that it's subtle and hard to put into words. Here's my best try: I remember a couple of weeks into this daily practice, saying to my husband over dinner that I just felt a little bit calmer. Not like all caps CALM, but an undercurrent of just a little bit more ease. It always makes me think of this line from the Ben Folds song You to Thank:
Yeah we put on a pretty good act
And they seemed to all need to believe it
So we danced and smiled and paddled hard beneath it
I'm typically someone who presents with a very calm exterior, but at times, I can feel like I'm "paddling hard beneath it." Like a duck floating peacefully on the water, while its webbed feet move frantically underneath the surface. A daily meditation practice has helped calm a great deal of that. It hasn't eradicated it, but most days I paddle more gently.
Which brings me to what I think is the most important part of the statement I've had a daily meditation practice for six years — practice. It isn't meant to be a test you get an A on, a mountain that you climb, or a race that you finish. There is no being "good" at meditation. And there is no "right" way to do it.
One of my favorite local meditation teachers, Ashley Williams, once explained this as "getting good at returning." Your mind will wander, but you just keep returning to the breath or a mantra you've chosen. And in this act of returning over and over and over again, you start to understand that you have the power to choose to pause, breathe, and center yourself.
To paddle just a little bit less hard beneath it.
Beautiful Thing of the Week
Relevant to the above:
📽 Here I go with those common refrains again— this one is an oldie but a goodie. I've always really appreciated this short video (and Dan Harris' work toward making mindfulness feel more accessible, in general):
❤️ Also dropping this guided meditation here. Loving kindness is one of my favorite forms of meditation, and it feels especially relevant right now.
I would love to hear about your experience with meditation— everything from you've never tried it to you have a ten-year practice. Let's chat about it in the comments!
Be well, find tiny joy-