For a long time I was annoyed by the media and social pressure telling me to meditate and by gurus who promised a world of joy, peace and happiness from it. It made me feel bad for not partaking in a life-changing activity.
I am still a little bit annoyed by the whole thing. But that is because I’ve tried it, I felt the benefits and I know I should do more. I just don’t always make time. On many days I choose 10 minutes of more dozing in my bed, or 10 minutes more of Netflix, or 10 minutes more of finding excuses. After all, that’s relaxation, too, right? And I don’t want to be shamed for it.
Meditation the “right way”
And yet. Whenever I meditate, it feels so right. Whenever I manage to do it regularly for a period of time, I feel that my body and mind are deeply thankful. After only 10 minutes of meditation, I feel relaxed, yes, but it goes far beyond relaxation.
Of course, you have to find the right way to do it. And by “the right way”, I mean the one that suits you best. Ignore those who declare there is one perfect kind of meditation (theirs). Ignore your prejudice about meditation. If you are curious about it, go to the internet and check out several options until you find something that feels good to you.
I have decided for myself that the essence of meditation is not about sitting in a contorted position or being able to levitate spiritually for a length of time. I am not able to do either — so does that mean that I cannot enjoy the generally recognized benefits of meditation, that I am deemed unable to meditate, that it is not for me?
Try a meditation app
In my case, what broke the ice was the Headspace app by Andy Puddicombe. No dreamy voices, no spiritual nonsense, no obligation to sit in a lotus pose (my back aches!). Just a sensible voice, some humour, kindness, flexible timing, and gentle guidance through thematic sessions, for example on anxiety, sleep or appreciation. You are not sitting in silence alone with your thoughts. You are accompanied on a very simple journey. Because yes, meditation is simple. Not always easy, but simple.
When I meditate, I sit on a chair or a sofa with a pillow behind my back, or I lie in my bed. Purists will tell you this is sacrilege. I tell you that it works for me. I can focus on my breathing and thinking, not on my joint pain or the cold floor. When I meditate, I sometimes get annoyed in the middle of it, because I keep thinking about the grocery list, what I should have said to such-and-such, what makes me angry. But I continue. Why?
It is generally assumed that “meditating” means “emptying your mind”. That, actually, is quite impossible for any regular human being. Meditating works like this for me: you focus your mind on what is actually happening right now (not on what you are thinking or feeling or worrying about). That means that you focus on observing yourself sitting and breathing, or on visualizing something empowering or soothing. After a few seconds your usual thoughts will come galloping back, but you just focus again for a few seconds on what you are doing at this moment, which is breathing. Does this sound boring and tiring? It’s not. By doing that you are allowing your mind a few blissful seconds of simplicity and presence and quiet, and you will have interrupted the endless churning for just one moment. And that’s something, right?
The benefits of meditation
Practicing that can be frustrating. But practicing will make you gradually better at it. The more often I meditate, the more I see a difference. The maximum I have managed was 26 days in a row. I notice the benefits in small but significant ways in my everyday life. For example: when I am getting annoyed, angry or anxious, when I’m about to vent my frustration or start on a spin of negative thoughts in my head, meditating enables me to remember to stop for a split second before I embark on those negative feelings, thoughts or actions. In that split second, I take a breath, and that calms me down just a notch, which gives me the opportunity to think, identify what’s happening (Is it real? Is it worry? Is it anger?) and decide whether the negative feeling or behavior that is about to overwhelm me is really the only option or if it will make me feel better. I can still decide to give in, shout, criticize, fear or lash out, but I can also continue breathing for a bit, calming myself down a little bit more, let it pass, and decide on a more temperate or positive course of action. And having less negative feelings, thoughts and actions makes my life nicer. It also makes me feel more empowered.
Get off autopilot
I feels good to not always be overpowered by automatic reactions: you have the choice to let go, to turn to something else, to react differently. Meditation helps you get back some of that power. The name of the app I’m using says it well: meditating gives you “headspace”, a tiny bit of quiet time in your mind which helps you to hear your voice, know what you really want, what is best for you, to take a step back and see your situation in a different light, and give you the freedom to decide what you want to feel and think and do, instead of being submerged by your emotion. That is why it is most useful to practice meditation as a preventive activity. Don’t wait until you feel bad.
Yet, despite all that, I am too lazy to meditate every day. And that’s fine. I know I always eventually go back to it, for soothing, for help, for grounding, for peace. I am not floating in a state of perpetual bliss. Every day is not sunshine. But when difficulties arise, meditation gives me a tool, a help to manage them better emotionally and be a more focused and serene person. A tiny bit. But a bit.
So the thing about meditation is this. We are imperfect. We often know what’s good for us but we don’t do it. Meditate when you want. Meditate when you can. Do it your way. Try it, stop it and then take it up again. Just don’t brush it aside without giving it a go. You can practice it in an imperfect way and still see the benefits. Find out for yourself!
Featured photo Shutterstock
Elisabeth Cardoso lives in Abu Dhabi. She has been practicing meditation and Pilates for a few years. She works as an ambassador and is also interested generally in well-being and human interest subjects and stories.