There’s a cliche image in my head whenever I hear the word “meditation” : it’s a perfect looking, perfectly zen looking woman sitting with perfect posture and meditating…perfectly. You know the one I’m talking about. She has a perfect body, a really nice yoga outfit, and lush hair that’s blowing ever so slightly in the theoretical breeze. This is the vision of what I feel like it should be. It has made me feel defeated before even attempting it. There’s no way I can reach my own expectation of what meditation should be.
I have a bad habit of being too all or nothing with most things, and meditation was no exception for me for a long time. What I didn’t realize was that half-assing some things is worth it. Mindful meditation is on of the things that is worth it for me to pursue, even if it’s imperfect. With all the things I try to preach about how consistently trying is more important than being perfect at things, you would think I would be better at taking my own advice when it comes to learning new things. But I’m a work in progress just like everyone else. And now, I’m here to tell you, you can be bad at meditation and still get the benefits from it. You can be bad at many things and still benefit from them, but we’ll just discuss meditation today.
I’m bad at meditation, I get distracted easily and frustrated when my dog decides he wants snuggles right at that moment. I always find myself thinking in tangents of things I could be doing instead or things I need to do later. I know I’m not alone in those things, but pursuing mindfulness meditation even though I’m not that great at it has become part of the journey for me. There are different types of meditation and techniques that go along with each type. Some methods might work better for different people or the situations they’re dealing with in life. I was always under the impression that there was only one correct way to meditate and that it required people to empty their minds completely and keep that completely empty mind to get any benefit from the practice. That doesn’t work for my ADD brain very well. The type of meditation I gravitate towards is not the absolute empty mind that I always thought that was required. Trying to empty my mind completely is very frustrating and I found that it didn’t really help me feel better or more centered. I can empty my mind for a few moments at a time, but I prefer using intent and visualization in meditation. I feel more centered with visualizing energy flow, focusing on each chakra, and setting my intent for each one as I go. I understand that there more advanced techniques involving mantras for each chakra, but that will have to come in a later post, because I’m just not on that level yet.
I recently read through the book, Advice Not Given, by Mark Epstein. He is a therapist who practices and promotes the practice of mindful meditation to his patients. He addresses the fundamentals of Buddhism, applies it to mental health, and explains how certain elements improved the internal and external lives some of his patients. It was a great resource for me to learn about the fundamentals of Buddhism and how they can apply to everyday life. It also shed light on how the practices of Buddhism could help me progress through healing certain aspects of my life from mental or emotional damage of the past. Similar to working out, sometimes acceptance of discomfort is the only way forward. Fighting the discomfort or trying to eliminate the discomfort won’t get you anywhere. In my meditation journey, fighting my rambling mind only served to frustrate me and make me feel like I was wasting my time. So I found a way to pursue meditation that I could actually manage.
There is a technique for meditation that can very helpful if I’m feeling tense or anxious. Progressive relaxation is a technique of meditation that can help ease bodily tension and reduce pain. All meditation starts with focusing on breath. With progressive relaxation, you start at one end of your body (typically with your toes) and contract the muscles in the area and then focus on relaxing them. You continue this process travelling up your body, ending with your face, and then lastly, your mind. Focusing on relaxing the thoughts in your mind, visualizing them melting away. The handful of times I’ve done yoga, the instructor has always ended the class with this practice and let me tell you, it’s divine. I’ll admit that I’ve totally fallen asleep at the end of a yoga session during this meditation style. It can be very relaxing.
I live with chronic depression and practicing this 20 minutes a day can be very helpful in managing my life. I have good days where I don’t feel like I need to meditate to manage, but I try to do it anyway, even if it’s just a few minutes. Like I said before, consistent half-assed attempts will be more valuable than no attempt at all. And so far, that has proven to be true. I find that with my consistent, half-assed attempts at mindful meditation, I can be more present and relaxed at work and at home. My job as a personal trainer involves a lot of interpersonal interaction, and sometimes it can be very intense and very draining. Almost every day, I try to steal a few minutes to go hide somewhere and meditate to help prevent me from being completely drained. Sometimes finding that time can be tough on full days. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can wake up 20 min early every day to meditate, but in the back of my mind, I know that it would help if I did that. So if you’re a morning person, beginning your day with pursuing your mental health with mindfulness meditation will absolutely improve the direction and feel of the rest of your day. If you’re more of a night owl like me, perhaps taking time before you go to bed to release any tension or stress from the day so that your sleep will be peaceful and restorative can be helpful. I’ll keep you posted on my attempts at waking up earlier than absolutely necessary….if they go at all.
Sometimes we can find things that can help us out on our pursuit of mental health. Music and soundproof headphones can be very helpful if small noises derail your brain. For me, meditation with crystals helps me focus, visualize, and flow with energy during my mediation. Having something actually tangible helps my mind channel the intangible. When I’m visualizing energy sometimes I’ll get flashes of inspiration for writing, projects, or people that I’m not even thinking about. But the tangible crystals help center my focus and give my energy a channel to flow through. It’s possible that I gravitate towards this because I’m a novice. I may find that with enough practice, I will be able to achieve the same level of focus without the tangible aids. But it’s also possible that I will continue using the crystals because their healing properties work well for me. Only time and continued attempts will tell.
If you can take one thing away from this post, it would be this: attempting meditating, even if they are imperfect attempts, will help you in your pursuit of balancing the chaos in life and finding a center of peace in your life. Consistently trying is better than putting it off until you can do it perfectly. But most of all, explore the different possibilities! It’s a big world and I promise that there is a technique and tool that can help you in your pursuit of your mindful balance.