Meditation is one of those “life-changing” things you will always find people recommending you should do, but what if you don’t get it to work for you?
I first learned about meditation about 15 years ago, when I did a Transcendental meditation class.
I’d love to say that it changed my life, but actually I found it very difficult to do.
Part of the problem was that I never had the amazing payoff from doing it that I was told to expect.
I never noticed feeling more relaxed in daily life. I never noticed a sense of calm. I noticed no change in my life from doing it or not doing it.
So I stopped doing it.
But every now and then, when I was feeling stressed, I would think “Why would everyone else say it was so good if there wasn’t something there?” and so I would revisit meditation.
What Is He Doing That I Am Not?
I remember doing a one-off refresher class and running into a doctor who worked at the same hospital as me. We were talking after the class, and he said that since starting meditation, he felt amazing.
He would go to work and no matter how stressful the day was (and believe me as a junior doctor some days are VERY stressful) he felt calm and was was able to make clear, centred decisions.
I didn’t want to tell him that in that meditation class we’d just attended I had fallen asleep.
Meditation and Hypnosis
Fast forward about 10 years and during a training course in hypnosis, I began to see the overlaps between a trance state and meditation.
Indeed, if you listen to a “guided meditation”, it incorporates many of the principles that are used in hypnosis.
I began to see that meditation was nothing more than a focus on something so that you aren’t invested in your thoughts. That something can be your breathing, a mantra, the hypnotists voice or a physical activity (like lifting weights or even doing the dishes).
I have not been able to follow the Transcendental Meditation recommendation of 20 minutes twice a day, but over the last couple of years I have introduced conscious breathing.
In the book “A New Earth”, Eckhart Tolle, talks about the value of just focusing on taking one conscious breath.
During this time you concentrate on your breathing and the movement of air in and out of your body.
While focusing on the breathing, you take the focus away from thoughts.
So now during the day, I try and do conscious breaths throughout the day. Sometimes I will try and do 10 or 20 or even 50 breaths in a row.
I have been doing this for about 2 years now.
I do feel less anxious than I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t know if this is related to the conscious breathing, but it seems to have happened at the same time.
However I have never had the feelings of clarity that other people talk about from meditation. This is what I’d like to try and achieve.
The reason I felt compelled to write about this today, was that I’ve started using the app Headspace.
I’ve had it recommended by a lot of people. And I thought that this might be a way to meditate more and achieve that feeling of clarity.
The Headspace app is free for the basic level (10 days of meditation) and I’m currently on Day 5.
It takes 10 minutes a day, and it’s basically a guided meditation. The guy who narrates it sounds like a friend of mine, which is a bit weird (Imagine listening to a recording for 10 minutes of a friend of yours saying things like “just relax”. It’s not right.)
But what Headspace provides more than anything is ‘structure’. You know exactly what to do, every day. And that makes things easier. You don’t have to think about anything. Just push the button and do what it says.
From a behavioral perspective, this is so valuable. The less you have to think about, the better. With Headspace, all you need to do is make 10 minutes free on your schedule and then the rest is taken care of.
So what lessons have I learned about meditation?
1. Meditation takes many forms
This has been very important for me.
Don’t feel constrained to fit into the popular concept of what meditation is. As mentioned it can take any form as long as you are taking away the focus from your thoughts.
2. It’s not uncommon to struggle with meditation
Ask yourself which is more likely?
– A friend says out of the blue “I started meditation and it was awful. Couldn’t do it”
– A friend says out of the blue “I started meditation and it’s amazing”.
You’re just not going to hear spontaneously from people who hate it and couldn’t do it. So it’s easy to get a warped view that everyone who tries meditation finds it mind-blowing (and easy).
The fact is lots of people struggle with meditation so dont’ feel unusual or a failure if it doesn’t come easily to you.
3. Don’t let others stories put you off
I think part of the reason I failed at meditation the first time, was that I was expecting magical experiences, and was too influenced by what other people had described.
Also, remember, some people will say things even if they aren’t true. If they feel it’s expected to say that meditation was amazing for them, they’ll say it. They don’t want to be the one person who it didn’t work for.
4. Keep trying
As with most things in life, trial and error is crucial.
You have to try and find the version that works for you. One thing that wasn’t around when I first started, was the ready availability of other types of meditation, since it’s become more mainstream.
I had always thought “I need to do 20 minutes twice a day” because that’s what Transcendental meditation said was necessary.
That is a big time commitment, especially when you’re not noticing any benefits from it.
And so it became a case of all or nothing.
But nowadays you can find all sorts of variations that require only minutes a day.
5. Make the experience as simple and as non-obtrusive as possible.
Rather than make it too difficult or too much of a time commitment. Start off with making it as easy to get started as possible.
Even if you have to start with one conscious breath like I did, try it.
Image Credit: Dingzeyu Li