Although this month’s meditation challenge started out strong, about two weeks in, I started struggling more to focus during my daily practice. I knew that no meditation is ever a waste, so I didn’t let it get to me too much. Instead, I continued with the goal of moving forward. I noticed, though, that my meditation took a backseat to everything else I needed or wanted to get done. During my 10-minute meditation, I found myself pausing several times to write down thoughts that I didn’t want to lose. I definitely wasn’t as focused as I wanted to be. Several times, I found myself lying in bed at night thinking I could get it done and waking up sometime after the meditation was over. It went from being a priority and a time of growth to a box that needed to be checked. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I let it slide altogether.
Despite my weak ending, I did notice one powerful change in the short amount of time that I was dedicated to my daily practice. To wrap up this month’s challenge, I want to provide a few tips I learned this month that will help me stick with a meditation practice and perhaps help you too.
Meditation is About the Journey, Not the Destination
I love the phrase, Life is a journey, not a destination. I use variations of it all of the time. Meditation truly is the embodiment of this philosophy. It is the practice of stilling your mind, focusing your thoughts, and learning to be comfortable with yourself. There truly is no destination. It is about being present in this moment right here, which is the exact opposite of striving for a goal. For achievement or goal-oriented people (like myself), it feels strange to just be. I want to know the end goal, what I’m striving for. The reality is, this is it. When you’re meditating, you are achieving the goal. Yes, you will learn to calm your mind and be more present, but all of that happens over time. It is a natural result of not striving for it. It’s like trying to think of nothing. Nothing is only nothing until it’s named. Once nothing becomes something, it is impossible to achieve. Got it?
Meditate First Thing in the Morning (or at least the same time every day)
Finding the right time to meditate was so hard for me. I’m not talking about the right time in terms of the time that makes meditation most effective. Meditation is like exercise. Any time you do it is the best time. I am referring to the time that I will actually do it. I noticed that if I didn’t do it right away, it became a chore. I would set multiple alarms but inevitably, I was always in the middle of something or only had a few minutes to do work before lunch. When I did finally quiet down to do it, someone would come looking for me or my mind was too busy. Being new to the practice, I wasn’t quite good enough to quiet those thoughts once my brain was active for the day. I still need to get the hang of controlling them before my brain is fully awake. Once I get that down, perhaps I can set a timer for 2:30 in the afternoon and actually focus. Until then, I need to catch my brain off guard.
If you can’t meditate first thing in the morning or tend to fall asleep (like I did a few times), getting in the habit of meditating at the same, specific time every day will allow you to schedule your activities so that you can be at a good stopping point in what you are doing. This will allow you to catch your brain while it is “shifting gears”. Once you have built that muscle, it will be easier to slip in meditation between projects or even during a 10-minute break during a project. Until then, we need to make it as easy as possible. Setting a routine helps you and your brain know what to expect and when.
Find a Quiet Space
I struggle with finding a quiet, dedicated space to myself. It’s a running joke that the instant I sit on the toilet, my husband comes looking for me. I shut the bathroom door and hear the bedroom door open. Every. Single. Time. I say this because I originally thought that would be a safe place to meditate. Turns out, that was a lie. (Jerry Springer or Maury?)
I mostly meditated at my desk or on the couch in the living room. Either way, I was always expecting someone to walk in on me. Not that I was embarrassed or anything, but it is hard to let yourself fully meditate when you half expect someone to start talking to you. It was also hard to shut down thoughts about work when I was sitting at the very desk where I do all of my work. I am asking for a meditation bench for Christmas and plan on tucking it inside my closet. If I can get past my claustrophobia and the shimmering of my bedazzled chandelier, I think this will take my meditation to the next level and allow me to really focus on, well, nothing.
Do What you Can – When you Can
So many times, I realized that the day had gotten away from me. I didn’t have the energy to do a complete meditation, but I didn’t want to miss it. Instead of not doing anything at all, I just sat quietly for 3-5 minutes. I focused on my breathing and let my thoughts drift away. Sometimes I tried to catch them and quiet them; other times I just let them go. Sometimes, after those 3-5 minute meditations, I felt more energized, focused, and successful than I did after a 10-minute guided meditation.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. You may feel that you don’t’ have time to “do it right,” but just sitting still or even staring out the window for a few minutes is actually meditation. You are still teaching your brain how to focus, relax, and be present. I encourage you to start there if you have to. I promise you, you will begin to notice a difference in the way you feel about yourself and the way you talk to yourself. You will notice that you are able to be more present while working, playing, and relaxing. It will be so worth it!