It’s true, I’m not very good at meditating. And that’s exactly how I know meditation works. Because as unruly as my mind may be at times, the habit of daily meditation makes a huge difference in my life. Yes, when I can focus on the breath, when I can feel stillness, it’s delicious and uplifting. But even on days when I realize I haven’t been focused, that I’ve been lost in thought a majority of the time, I still feel infinitely better for having taken the time to sit. I feel more attuned and thus able to be more skillful in my thoughts, words, and actions. Meditation enhances my life, my relationships, and my ability to engage with all that arises without feeling overwhelmed.
Hallelujah! No perfect meditation required!
Some might say that the purpose of meditation is not just to make life better. Yet people struggling with depression as I did when I was younger, or other challenges to feeling at home in the world would say that making life better is an excellent reason. While going through some of my writing from my twenties, I came upon a couple of poems that are chilling to read. They reveal a young woman whom a mental health professional might suspect was on the brink of self-endangerment. Fortunately, I found a meditation class and began to incorporate the practice into my life. My creativity surged, and so did my love of life.
Unfortunately, in my late thirties, when life got hectic with a career and family, I felt I was “too busy” to meditate, and I ended up with an auto-immune disease flat on my back for nine months.
Fortunately, I was able to turn that period of physical recovery into what I called a ‘horizontal retreat’ where I meditated much of the time. In the process I discovered how I’d set myself up for illness, how to be fully present for whatever arises, how to stop trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be, and so much more. I wrote down the answers that came to me during meditation, and when I recovered my health I shared it in my book Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living.
It’s hard to imagine now, but just a few decades ago, illness was the only acceptable ‘retreat’. Now more people understand the importance of self-care, meditation, and going on actual meditation retreats that in normal times are readily available. When I go on retreat, my practice deepens, as does my understanding and my intention. But my daily sitting is the core of my practice and my daily launchpad that makes such a difference in my life.
So yes, feeling better is a fine reason to meditate. That there are other benefits, even enlightenment, beyond that is wonderful. But let’s start with simply easing everyday suffering, shall we? Speaking of every day, the daily practice of meditation is an important healthy habit to develop for whatever amount of time suits you. I do thirty minutes a day, some meditators do more, but even ten minutes a day can make all the difference. Even five minutes of pure awareness can be the pivot that shifts everything. And if you can only find a minute here and there, you can make each of those minutes have meaning by centering in, breathing, calming, cultivating compassion, non-judgmental awareness, simple appreciation for being alive in this moment. That said, it may be difficult to be fully aware in one minute if you haven’t given yourself the gift of a regular longer practice, so do find the time for sitting practice.
Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors
If you find meditation challenging, don’t be discouraged. Instant bliss that comes naturally sounds nice, but consider that a person for whom it comes naturally won’t have learned the techniques to cultivate that bliss, so if conditions change in their lives and the bliss has gone bust, what then? There’s an expression ‘Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.’ Tools and techniques for bringing our attention back to the breath, how to cultivate compassion for ourselves, how to not get discouraged — these are the most valuable skills we have, and we wouldn’t learn them if bliss came easily, would we? You’ll find lots of tips on meditation throughout this website. Start here.
And now there are so many apps to help you, including Insight Timer which is free. You can choose guided meditations like the ones I offer there, or just use the timer, which can be set to remind you to meditate at a particular time each day, and can keep track of the time and your progress, with lovely bells to choose from to begin and end your meditation. So much support! Why not use it? We’ll all be better off if everyone does this kind of self-care before interacting in the world.
I may not be great at meditating, but that doesn’t matter. I know what to do when I discover my mind has wandered. And that makes all the difference.