​Perfect meditation is a pipe dream but I’ll keep practicing

“Experiences manifest while you sit there trying not to brood.” Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Meditation is free but hard. You are being asked to sit still or lie down in a quiet room and observe your thoughts for a set amount of time. It was terrifying and hard to me, so naturally, I had to try it.

Just don’t do it sitting crosslegged at first. All you’ll be thinking about for the first ten minutes is how inflexible you are, if you last ten minutes at all without itching and twitching.

Meditation, like an instrument, requires daily practice, which is why I haven’t missed a beat in over a year (it’s actually more like two but where’s the proof?). I have been using the meditation app Insight Timer to keep track of my progress. Here’s what that looks like:

My dashboard on meditation app Insight Timer

Getting to this point didn’t happen overnight and involved a series of steps. You don’t start by learning Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu on the piano; you might start with Twinkle Twinkle and progress through several stages before trying your hand at Chopin, right?

My head was such a mess, I first had to sort through my thoughts by journaling. I wrote about that here: This is what happens after 100 days of gratitude.

I couldn’t sit still for long stretches (certainly not crosslegged), so I then had to spend a few years releasing tension and building mental strength with the right kind of physical activity and learned how mindfulness is forged in the gym.

I’m no meditation Chopin and still feel like a novice. I can probably play the equivalent of a Mozart sonata in my meditation practice. I can sit there for 20 minutes (roughly the length of a sonata) and not twitch. My first few attempts are now nearly two years back when toilet breaks and two deep breaths counted as meditation. I’m passed that now.

There is no set formula or rules for meditation, by the way, and don’t let anyone tell you there are. Several techniques range from controlled breathing to finding other points of focus and ways to occupy your mind, but in the end, you can play Bach in its original form or jazz it up. We’re all unique.

It’s a practice steeped in cultural traditions, and I certainly don’t feel comfortable with uttering “namaste,” saying “Om” or “Kali Ma shakti de” 100 times, but mantras work for some. To me, it’s silent prayer by another name, but if it feels weird or too out there, then I don’t do it. I mix and match a few techniques.

If you don’t want to sit still and meditate, you can do moving meditation, like Yoga, or spend a set amount of time writing, which, let’s face it is also a form of meditation.

I thought meditation was woo-woo, spiritual nonsense. People get into it for a variety of reasons, including enhanced performance, stress reduction, concentration, and just generally, to feel happier and more balanced. I don’t notice any of those things. I think my tennis game is better and more controlled, but I lost all my matches this season, so I’m not sure.

“Meditating felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was floating in zero-G with my thoughts echoing and dissipating in a luminous cave of light.”

I can’t seem to think of a day without meditation anymore. Somewhere along the road, meditating felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was floating in zero-G with my thoughts echoing and dissipating in a luminous cave of light. All my senses tingled, and I thought, okay, that was cool, how do I get to there every time I do this?

Not very often, apparently. That precise feeling hit me once with the same intensity, and I have not managed to get to that same place again. That sweet music, delivered to me by the meditation gods, was taste enough of the free hallucinogenic drug to get me hooked. I’m a hooked skeptic and maybe I’ve lost my beginner’s mind and my non-existent progress has stalled.

I watch my kids play and be happy in an effortless way and actually, they’ve got it right. We age and the years of our experience and unresolved baggage encumber our spirit, and we forget that when its time to play, play. When it’s time to work, work. When it’s time to love, love. If its time to cry, cry. When its time to meditate, just let it go. The kids dance effortlessly to the natural rhythm in the present moment. They don’t need meditation.

My head is full of voices. I know, that sounds like a have a personality disorder but the truth is emotions awaken multiple versions of me. Some are from external forces, such as what I see or hear; others come from within as past experiences manifest while I sit there trying not to brood. There are layers of inbuilt phrasing, so when the orchestra of your mind starts playing, some of the passages you wrote are out of tune. You can hear them, but can you fix them?

Meditation allows you to amplify the ones that you identify with and tune out the unwanted ones. I want to tune in my playful self and tune out a judgemental self. Meditation has helped me do that. I used to let negative thoughts define me, but, now, they appear, and I know how to make them disappear. I take my bow, shoot and pop them in the air like a bubble then I set a new frequency. That’s why I need to do some tuning every day. I don’t care if it’s only 5 minutes in bed. I need it.

I’m a neurotic person. That is a belief I hold about myself and people have confirmed that I am manic, rash, and impulsive. Someone once called me a L.A.M. — Little Angry Man — because I always let my emotions get the better of me (also because an actual lamb is non-threatening, and so was my anger).

On the neuroticism scale, I’m still way up there even after meditating. That’s just who I am, emotional, but meditation has taken that neuroticism and channeled it into something productive. I’m neurotically grateful, neurotically relaxed, neurotically joyful instead of letting neurotic fear, worry and anxiety take over.

If there is one thing I learned from meditating, it’s that happiness is not a goal but the outcome of taking action. Meditation is one of the steps I take that makes me feel happier. I don’t wake up and say to myself, hey, I’m going to be happy today. No, I meditate and feel good in that moment. I’m content and just carry that feeling into my day.

I’m still unstable as external forces weigh me down during the day and have bouts of deep self-doubt. To me, these ups and downs are part of being human, but these episodes don’t last as long, and the peaks and valleys are less pronounced. I recognize them and know to treat myself more gently and compassionately in those moments.

A lot of the posts out there will give you tips on how to start a meditation practice. I can give you the same tips on making it a habit, creating an environment conducive to the practice, starting small, and then building the meditation muscle successively but I’m not going to do that. Read this guide here; it was pretty comprehensive (and had fun little drawings).

I’m going to leave you with the simple idea that we don’t need to be spiritual to meditate. You don’t need to believe in some cosmic crap to reap the (intangible) benefits. Once you realize that your mind is like an instrument and can be played using meditation techniques, you’ll get a chance to tune and update all those classics that are playing in your head already: the good and the bad.

I come to the practice in a new state every day. It’s still five minutes of fidgeting some days, but I’ll have to accept that. Nothing ever stays the same; life happens, time moves on, and with it, so will your thoughts. No two performances will ever be quite the same, but occasionally the sweetest music plays in your mind’s eye, and it’s all yours to savor.

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Originally published at http://www.jarkoch.com.

I muse on being a journalist, author and on life. Husband. Father of two beautiful girls. Tennis & CrossFit.