by Hunter Clarke-Fields
“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” ~Gena Showalter
So you want to meditate.
You can’t help but notice the benefits touted everywhere: clearer mind, more focus, better sleep , better health and happiness. What’s not to want?
But then you try it out. And dang, it’s not easy.
When you sit down on that cushion or chair, your previously normal human brain has turned into a crazy swirl of thoughts.
Did you have this many thoughts before? Isn’t this meditation thing supposed to be about clearing your mind and getting focused?
The next thought that comes to mind is usually this one: “I’m failing at meditation. I can’t do this.”
Welcome to the club! All experienced meditators know this feeling. We’ve all had this experience. We’ve all thought at some point that we’re failing at meditation.
When you sit still to stop doing and start being, your brain doesn’t cooperate easily. Its job is to think. Our brains will think about the breakfast, plan the day, even have imaginary conversations.
This is the legendary “monkey mind,” and it’s totally normal. However, bump that into our expectations of clarity and bliss, and we believe we are “failing” at meditation.
Want in on a little secret?
Ten plus years into this meditation thing, I still “fail” at it 90% of the time. My mind wanders somewhere between often and constantly during my daily morning practice. Planning, mostly!
So my practice is to notice the thinking. I label it, “thinking,” or “planning.” Then I bring my attention back to my breath.
And I’m not the only one.
Even experienced meditators’ minds wander—a lot
A monk from Blue Cliff Monastery joined my meditation group one evening for practice. We did twenty-five minutes of sitting meditation, ten minutes of walking meditation, and ten more minutes of sitting meditation.
During the discussion time, he shared about his practices. He related that he had about two minutes of clarity during our session—just two minutes!
It was incredibly freeing for me to hear. If the mind wandered for a monk who spent his whole life in an atmosphere that supported his practice, then I could accept that my mind wanders too.
Once I accepted that, my practice became even more fruitful. And I knew I wasn’t failing after all.
You’re still benefiting
After years of reading about mindfulness I finally began to practice at home.
I’d suffered from waves of deep lows for all of my life. They would hit me at a regular basis. Dad told me that this was just how life was. That I had “an artistic temperament.”
My life would be going along, with its ups and downs, when the stressors became too much. I couldn’t handle it all anymore. I’d break down with tears and an inability to do anything much for a few days. My ways of coping weren’t healthy— binge eating was my dirty little secret.
I thought that something was wrong with me. That somehow, I wasn’t strong enough to handle life the way other people seemingly did.
I’d been reading about the benefits of mindfulness to soothe myself for years. Finally, I decided to step into the area and do it. I had built up my strength and resilience with yoga. I could do this.
I began to practice meditation by sitting at home for ten minutes almost every day. In a few weeks, I bumped it up to fifteen minutes.
And I had this thought:
This is not working. I’m just sitting here basically thinking the whole time. This isn’t doing anything for me.
But, several months into it, I looked back at my life. I realized that I had not fallen into the pit of a deep low. At all.
It was an amazing revelation for me. Even though I thought I was doing a crap job at this meditation thing, I was receiving the benefits. It was working!
Amazingly, I haven’t had those regular series of lows in the ten years since.
It’s practice not perfection
Mindfulness is a lovely thing to think and read about, but it’s really all about practice.
Practice doesn’t mean perfection or performance. It’s about making friends with our wandering, imperfect minds.
Try this now:
Set a timer for sixty seconds. Sit tall and put your attention on your in-breath and your out-breath. Feel it at the nose, chest, or belly, whatever is most accessible to you. When your mind wanders, label it “thinking,” and come back to your breath until the timer rings.
You did it!
Practice diligently. Practice with persistence. Accept that your human mind that wanders. It’s an essential part of the learning.
Keep practicing and keep “failing.” You will still benefit.