Do You Think You Should Meditate but Don’t?
Have you read about mediation, acknowledged that it is no longer for dirty hippies, monks, gurus, and abstract academic intellects?
The neuroscience and research on meditation has been catchy over the last 15+ years, and it has continued to be widely studied across the world at almost every major university; Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, Harvard…you name it. Master’s degrees are even being offered now in Mindfulness and Contemplative Science. It is now incorporated in many Fortune 500 companies like Google, Bank of America, and meditation and mindfulness techniques are now even incorporated in the U.S. Military.
It has been scientifically validated to make you healthier, nicer, more patient, a better parent, a kinder and gentler spouse, more creative; it will lower your blood pressure and improve your sleep; it will reduce anxiety, stress and depression and a host of other debilitating mental health disorders; it will help you lose weight, reduce cravings, “cure” addictions; help you live longer, lose wrinkles, have better sex, get through grief, deal with trauma, love more, and fight less. Meditation is a path to your over-all well-being and helps you flourish, find purpose and meaning in your life, and spread compassion.
In order for meditation to be effective, it has been studied for as few as 5 to 20 minutes a day can change your life. That’s less time than a massage, a pedicure, a costly vacation, or even watching one Netflix show. You don’t need any equipment except your breath…which fortunately you always have with you, you cannot leave it behind, lose it, forget it or drop it. And your breath is free as long as we don’t have to pay for oxygen…which we tried once in the early 2000’s…remember those crazy oxygen bars with orange sherbet flavored oxygen?
So basically, I have primed you here to be stoked about mediation. But there is one small caveat. You actually have to do it. You have to sit down. Be still. And be with yourself. We cannot plan to do it, hope to do it, talk about doing it, fantasize about how awesome it is, read about it ad nauseam, or look at pictures in beautiful mindfulness magazines of breathtaking ashrams and zendos on mountain tops that you one day hope to visit. Like Robert Pirsig says, “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” You have to try it….or in the Jedi way….do it…because there is no try. That’s the hard part that stops the masses from meditating…the actual doing of it. Sitting down and meditating.
There is a lot of science out there on how to start new habits. 28-days, 12-weeks, 60 days….but none of that habit sticks until you start with 1 day(s). Remember, a little…done frequently…..equals a lot. So what is so hard about this? Why is it so hard to just sit down and show up for ourselves?
Resistance to new things is real, and painful, and we do a lot of “should’ing” on ourselves. It is unique and personal, and in order to get to the bottom of your resistance you have to find your STOP button and sit. My advice, never sit longer than your motivation or you develop a bad taste in your mouth about meditation and then, that of course leads to more resistance, and here we go round again. So start slow and steady, and in bite-sized chunks...1 minutes...3 minutes... 5 minutes....But in order to start, you have to take matters into your own hands and head, start with your own heart and then we work outward from there. So take this moment, find your breath and wiggle your toes. We can wiggle our toes to immediately take us into sensing mode and out of thinking mode. Enter into our somatic awareness of what is happening within our selves. Under our skin, in our muscles and cells, we call this “interoceptive awareness.”
In the 1960’s jogging was considered outrageous. Why would you just go out for an after work run? I have even heard of a story where police officers almost arrested a man named Robert Novogratz, who was a graduate of West Point, an All-American football player at West Point, an army officer at age 26, stationed outside of Detroit with his family in 1963 who went for a pre-dinner jog. The officers escorted him home and questioned his wife accusatorily. This type of exercise set people on high-alarm. People ran for two reasons, 1. They were running from something bad they had just done, or 2. They were running from someone who was chasing them. This seems laughable now.
Much like jogging in the 60’s, we are past the denial of meditation’s benefits for us today. It might still seem to be an odd thing to do, to sit there and look as if we are doing nothing, but I can assure you that people today, most likely will not call the coppers. In fact, it might even provoke curiosity and get them to sit with you. And I can also assure you that you will discover, that when you sit, you are not doing nothing. There is a 3 pound universe that exists between our ears.
We are constantly trying to improve our health, forcing our kids to eat quinoa, drink kale, and make foods where we disguise the green stuff. We pay exorbitant amounts of money for gyms, personal trainers, exercise regimens, and diet supplements. We get implants, and up-plants, lift-plants, and ex-plants. We even squeeze botulism in our faces to block nerve activity for the sake of smoothness. Interestingly, botox reduces our capacity to feel empathy because it blocks mirror neurons so we cannot adequately recognize emotions in others. So…an over all win!....”Wrong!” (FYI, I did not use Donald’s voice right then.)
Meditation is inching its way into this daily health regime, because anyone can do it. Yes! Anyone. (There is some skepticism here amongst my psychologist colleagues that some people are not fit for mediation. I counter this argument, if you have the correct training and a responsible therapist and meditation coach, you can guide anyone through meditation.)
Meditation is an amazing tool that can lead quickly to positive changes. You will notice instantaneously how much nicer you are in traffic, how much more patient you are in long lines, and how much freer you feel inside. You are connected to yourself and to the moments in your life. And, the longer you do it, the “much more muchier” you feel. The striving to sit lessens and you actually want to do it. You start looking forward to showing up. And you can tell, or perhaps more accurately, those around you can tell, when you haven’t shown up for yourself.
As a psycho-therapist who teaches meditation, people often come to me for two reasons. 1. They are educators and are genuinely curious about the process, or 2. They are in the midst of a crisis where the ground beneath them feels as if it has been blown apart. Tragically, it often takes a cosmic smack-down, or traumatic crisis to realize we need to change. Trauma with a little “t” or a capital “T,” it doesn’t matter what gets you there, but pain is often the super-highway to the catalyst of change. Personal tragedy is not required to begin a meditation practice anymore than a designer personal trainer who wears super-wicking schmedium T’s made of organic hemp and calls you “broh,” is required for you to get fit. You get to just start where you are. Literally. Start right where you are. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. Psychologically. Right here, in this chair, or car, or couch, or office, or bed.
In the late 90s I was in the right place at the right time. This has happened almost twice in my life, as usually I am in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, saying the wrong thing. I was working at the Duke Addictions Treatment Program and was being mentored by an amazing man named Michael Wieleba. He was forward thinking in his approach to treatment using yoga, breath-work and mindfulness techniques before that was even a “thing.” He was on the edge and I happened to be there peering over with him. As the adage says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I was a slightly sycophantic and obsequious pupil wanting to gain any knowledge from Michael’s wisdom to an excessive or somewhat servile degree. He gave me a long leash, and away I went, teaching others about mind-body therapy techniques, using meditation and mindfulness without a real clue. I was more or less a poser-practitioner of meditation. Sure, I had studied it in grad-school, spent a semester with a Buddhist Monk, and read whatever books that had been published on the topic…which was not much. Jon-Kabat-Zinn was largely growing the interest in meditation, but his recognition was no where near the house-hold name it has become today. I meditated, but was “bad” at it. It was less than frequent, and largely inconsistent, and I felt like I was doing it all wrong. In short, I talked a big game. I truly didn’t have a really good idea of what meditation really meant. My left-brain could not understand it and it was a constant struggle. My mindset was largely contained in a Western, linear world where we account for every minute and gaged moments by productivity and quality, and outcomes. So meditation obviously was confusing. What could I show for it qualitatively? But my curiosity remained and I kept reading and sitting....consistent with my infrequency. I found contemplation on hikes, and in nature, in journaling, and a disciplined practice of “morning pages.”
It wasn’t really until 6 years ago, when my mother passed away, when I began to dig in to my practice. I had so many questions about my beliefs, my faith, the universe, and stillness was the only place where all of this swirling discursiveness could take a breath. Find pause. Stop zig-zagging. Space amongst the incessant chatter of life’s unfairness. Can mindfulness really help me understand death? Help me loosen my grip of anger? Help me open back up to this fretful world? Understand impermanence? To find the answers, there was just one thing left to do: sit! So I sat. I read some more and sat some more. I sat in bed, on the couch, on the floor, in meditation halls, in Buddhist centers, on cushions, on mountain tops, in the grass, on the sand. I sat and sat. It was my life-line out of the stagnant stickiness of rumination. My floatation device. I talked with others who were sitting, who were leaning into fearful questions, who were seeking, and showing up for themselves. I met many people along the way. I learned that the biggest secret to meditation is just sitting. That’s it. There is no formula. No right way. No wrong way. So, the secret is, there is no secret! If you take one breath, and realize you took it, and felt it come into your body, and then leave your body, just one time….you were meditating. So I began showing up every single day. Just me and my thoughts and my breath. Every moment becomes unique. Every breath becomes a messenger to teach about that moment. Feeling your breath equated to feeling the only barrier that came between me and death. BREATHE! Feel it! It is our life-line and we should admire it, congratulate it, at the very least, acknowledge it. It is ordinary and extraordinary. I was starting to get the awe and perplexity of meditation. I was hooked. On sitting.
Of course, there are many ways to sit, many types and theologies of meditation, and finding one that is helpful can be like throwing a pin-sized dart at a pin-sized dart-board. The journey just starts by sitting. Today is a good day to start. I have answered many of my questions with more questions and the train has left the station. But one thing I know is how much kinder the world would be if people meditated. How much more patient and compassionate, curious, and healthier the world would be if people meditated. Just think for a moment how we could change the world, create a path for meditation like we have done for yoga and jogging, if we all slowed down and sat every day. Examined what actually was going on in our heads, and how our erratic thoughts are really in charge. But instead trained our minds and put a calmer, clearer, kind mind in charge. There is no mystery in meditation, you just have to have the courage to show up, every day, sit, no matter what, as if your head is on fire. In trusting the practice to guide my life over these many decades, I am absolutely positive it will change your life if you trust in it as well.
If you would like to learn more, check out my many workshops, or individual guidance. And if you have underlying trauma, depression or severe anxiety, contact me about setting up a therapeutic meditation session.