I’ve always struggled with meditation.
I’m not sure why, but whenever I try to meditate and focus on nothing but my breath, I lose focus and my mind wanders. Before I know it, the 5 minutes are up and my alarm rings just as I was rewatching Avatar the Last Airbender episodes in my head.
I’ve told this to people and they insist that it’s normal. They say that it’s important to be persistent, develop a daily habit/routine, and not get discouraged if I don’t feel any difference after the first few tries. They also say that I should be patient and forgiving with myself — after all, meditation has no “goal,” and the purpose is less about the end result than the journey itself. They also encourage me to try the apps like Headspace and Calm.
I have nothing against the apps, though I do find it ironic that these meditation apps have made millions by commercializing an activity that is famously non-materialistic and introspective. Frankly, I’m more impressed than anything else.
Still, I’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to click with me. Over the years, I’ve had several week-long streaks of diligently sitting and carving out 10 minutes everyday to meditate. I’ve attended workshops. I’ve been to guided meditation retreats. I’ve read books on mindfulness. Nothing works for me. I’ve made (and I will continue to make) earnest attempts at meditation, and I’m doing my best to remain optimistic, but it’s tough to not be discouraged when the alarm rings and I can’t even remember when it was that I lost track of my breath.
I’m not saying it’s hopeless. Maybe I’m days away from a breakthrough. I go in and out of phases where I really stick with it, and I’ve been in one of those phases for the last 2 weeks, so maybe this will finally be the streak that brings me to the gates of nirvana.
One more thing: please don’t tell me that I am successfully meditating. I’m not. You may be thinking “If you’re setting time aside to practice meditation, that is meditation!” Please, banish the thought. We both know that’s the ooey-gooey stuff they say to beginners to encourage them, and even if it were the case that trying to meditate is the same as meditating, I can’t deny that there is something qualitatively different about my meditation sessions than the ones that the rest of the world describes.
It’s not like I have an attention disorder. I can totally concentrate on things for extended periods of time with minimal distraction. I can write Medium articles in one sitting, for instance, and I don’t have any trouble when it comes to focusing in general.
I’m also not trying to whine and bemoan my helplessness. I really dislike when people do that. There are people who derive a twisted pride in being bad at something. I don’t feel that way when it comes to meditation, and I’ve been genuinely interested in developing my meditation skills for at least a decade.
It’s extra frustrating because we’re constantly bombarded with messages about how meditation can be so good for our health. It’s the new kale. There are tons of studies that correlate meditation with increased feelings of well-being, lower levels of anxiety/depression, and heightened performance on tests of concentration and mental agility.
Seeing this literature, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in myself and annoyed that I can’t seem to get it. I want those health benefits, and I don’t appreciate how the media proffers mediation as this semi-mystical panacea. It’s reinforcing the erroneous conception that meditation can be a shortcut to happiness, and while I don’t doubt the empirical data that show how meditating can be helpful, it’s not the only way to access the benefits it promises.
If the goal of meditating is to foster a sense of inner peace and equanimity, then you don’t need meditation to achieve that.
If the goal of meditating is to foster a sense of gratitude and humility, then you don’t need meditation to achieve that.
If the goal of meditating is to foster a sense of harmony with the world, an awareness that we are nothing but specks upon a speck in the vastness of the universe, a feeling of unity with the cosmos that defies language and transcends the boundaries of time and space, a certainty that all is one and that all is love and that the differences between all life forms and all matter are nonexistent …
You still don’t need meditation to achieve that.
Maybe it’s time we accept that meditation is not a universal prescription. It won’t click for everyone the way that it does for some people. I’m not trying to disparage or denigrate the practice — I believe in it’s potential and I’m going to keep trying my best — but let’s stop advertising it as a sure path to well-being. There are so many paths to reach enlightenment and inner bliss, and not all of them will require meditation.
I think any guru would agree.