Here we go again. I’m out to dinner and someone I’ve never met before has just found out I teach meditation.
“That’s nice,” she says, “I tried that once but couldn’t do it. I was no good at it.”
I’ve heard this before. A lot.
Part of me is frustrated with this person in front of me, but I know it’s not her fault.
She doesn’t know I’ve heard this about a hundred times.
She doesn’t know that what I’m about to say to her I’ve said about a hundred times before.
“I expect you did it perfectly.” I say.
Disbelief and hope seem to cross her face momentarily, before she realizes I have no idea just how ‘bad’ she was at meditating.
“No, my mind was all over the place.” She explains.
“And you think that everyone else’s mind was calm and relaxed?” I ask.
“Yes. They were all sat there peacefully, completely relaxed.” She asserts.
I pause. I don’t know if I’m ready to probably fail at trying to convince her to give it another go.
“You know, no matter how crazy you think your mind is, I promise you it’s probably exactly the same as everyone else’s.”
I don’t know where this came from and feels a bit risky. Maybe she really is nuts, or maybe she’s going to take exception to the idea that I’ve suggested she’s crazy. But she doesn’t. She looks hopeful.
“Yes. Everyone’s mind is the same. We’re all getting distracted relentlessly. If you could see inside, or hear everyone’s thoughts it would be complete chaos. They just look relaxed. Your experience was what it was supposed to be. I just wish someone had explained to you what was going to happen before you started so that you’d not have been so judgmental of yourself.”
We talked a bit more about it and she said she would give it another go sometime.
This is one of the most common types of conversations I have when someone asks me about meditation. They think they’re bad at it because they get distracted when they ‘think’ they’re supposed to be perfectly still, focused, or at peace. The truth is they’re not bad at it. They’re doing it right.
The only thing they’re doing wrong is judging themselves for getting distracted. That’s bad.
However, I do that a lot as well. It’s bad, and it means I’m no good at practicing what I preach.
One type of awareness meditation, or what is sometimes referred to as mindfulness meditation, involves trying to hold your attention on the breath. But this is difficult to do because the mind wanders. Relatively quickly you start wondering about all sorts of things until at some point you notice that you’re no longer focused on your breathing. The classic instruction is to then gently return your focus back to the breathing, without judgment. I’m good at all of that, except the last part. I’m good at starting to focus on the breathing. I’m really good at the part where I get distracted. At some point I’m able to do the bit where I realize I’m distracted. And then I fail dismally at the last part. A wave of disappointment surges through me as I ‘think’ I’m lousy at this meditation thing. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I still hold onto this ridiculous expectation that one day I’m just going to be able to sit for forty minutes without losing my focus. I judge myself. I then notice the judgment and judge myself for still not being able to not judge myself. Then I return back to the next breath and the cycle starts again. I’m not a bad meditator for getting distracted. I’m not a bad meditator for judging myself for getting distracted. And I’m not even a bad meditator for judging my judging; but, for sure, there is a part of me does think I’m bad at it.
My goal in these blogs is going to be to try to de-mystify meditation and to show you that what you’re experiencing in meditation is normal. It actually doesn’t make you a bad meditator, even if you think you are. You’re doing it exactly right. Just do it. The only really bad meditation is the non-meditation. Sit down. Take a breath. Take another breath. Try to hold your focus. When you notice you’ve got distracted, take another breath. Return your focus. Don’t judge yourself.
If you work out this last part, let me know how.