Meditation has been a part of my life for several years now. I have attended courses, used apps and YouTube videos, listened to Podcasts and other talks, read books, and experimented on my own.
In truth, it’s amazing how much is out there for anyone interested in mediation. It’s made it so much more accessible. But while all this information and experience is helpful, it pales in comparison to what practicing regularly can actually do.
Everyone who meditates or who teaches it will tell you over and over again how important consistency is for meditation. But for the majority of us, practicing every day seems more like a dream than a realistic goal.
During this pandemic, meditation has found its way back to me. The unique stresses of this moment in time have forced me to take a deeper look at myself, and it very quickly became clear to me that mediation needed to be apart of this process. But unlike my experiences in the past, in which I would meditate for a few days in a row and then leave it for weeks if not longer, this time I have responded with consistency. And now that meditation has become a regular feature of my daily life, I see why regular sitting has been such a challenge up until now.
In short, up until very recently, I had been missing “point” of it.
What’s the “Point” of Meditation?
We live in a transaction-based society, which means that when we give something there is an expectation we will receive something else in return. Maybe that’s our human nature, or maybe it’s capitalist brainwashing, I don’t know. But the reality is that we need incentives to do things; if there is no perceived “benefit,” we struggle to act.
The challenge with meditation is that the “why” is often hard to define, and also that the reasons we’re told to do it don’t really align with what it can give us.
In my experience, meditation is portrayed either as a spiritual tool designed for those interested in “enlightenment,” or it’s presented as a stress reliever/productivity booster, something to be done casually so as to help us “get through the day.” This latter reason is why meditation has become so popular in modern workplaces.
Of course, meditation can have these effects. But I don’t think approaching meditation from this perspective is particularly helpful because it places too many demands on the practice. And when we do this, we make it far too easy for it to disappoint and frustrate us.
More often than not you will walk away from a session still feeling stressed or anxious (though these feelings are usually dampened after sitting), and it’s quite unlikely you’ll get off the mat feeling truly “enlightened.” Therefore, expecting these things to happen is just dooming our practice before it begins. We’re far more likely to walk away wondering what was the point instead of seeing the true benefits of our practice.
I know this happens because it defined my meditation practice for years. I would labeling my experiences as either “good” or “bad” based on the results I experienced. A few good sessions in a row would have me more motivated than ever, but one “bad” session and I might not make it back to the mat for days or weeks.
It wasn’t until I finally started meditating regularly that I understood why it was so hard for me to be consistent in the past, and what I have uncovered has made it clear to me why this consistency is so important.
Come into Contact with Your “Self”
When we meditate, we quiet the thinking mind so that we can become more attuned to the present moment. It doesn’t matter which method of meditation you practice, they all have presence and mindfulness as their goal. And while existing in this state of mind can have soothing effects, what it’s really doing is putting us in contact with our “true” selves.
This is the “self” that knows how to exist without consciously thinking. Some people call this the spirit or the soul, but I think even those who don’t believe in these concepts have experienced this free-flowing self and can admit its existence. It’s that underlying life force that modern science still can’t explain.
We’ve all had moments in which we feel truly “ourselves.” I would argue this particularly identity cannot be defined or explained, only felt. It’s that inner feeling of “knowing.” And I would also argue that in our daily lives we are almost entirely out of touch with this self. It’s hidden behind our thoughts, worries, fears, desires, etc.
However, life is (much) better when we live more in accordance with this version of ourselves. We fret less over uncertainty, fear the future less, reflect less on the past, and make better decisions, ones that are truly in our best interest.
How many times have you sought advice about a major decision in your life and received “trust your gut” as a response? And when facing these tough choices, what ultimately convinces you? Logic and reasoning? Or your inner feelings? It’s important to rationalize. But in the end, we make decisions based on how we feel.
Acting off your feelings is not going to always lead you down the right path. But this is because some of our feelings manifest from our thoughts whereas other manifest from this inner, all-knowing self.
Therefore, the better we are at recognizing this “self,” the more in touch we will be with what is truly right for us, allowing us to look past these “false” feelings that are really nothing more than reactions to negative thoughts.
However, because we are so out of touch with this self, it’s easy to forget it exists, and when we forget about our true selves, we get consumed by our thinking selves. We let our fears, worries, anxieties, desires, etc. guide our actions too much, leading to a great feeling of dissonance and disharmony.
The Importance of Consistency
This is why daily meditation is so important. By working to quiet the mind on a daily basis, we can regularly come into contact with this inner-self. And by coming into contact with it, we remember it’s there.
In the beginning, this time on the mediation mat might be the only opportunity we have to spend with this inner self. But over time, you get better at finding it, even when you’re not on the mat.
When you’re feeling stressed, anxious, worried, concerned, afraid, lost, or anything else, all you need to do is find your way back to your true self. From this state, you know what you really need and what is really best, and the agitation produced by the mind melts away.
This is why practiced meditators often seem so calm and relaxed. It’s not that meditation made them feel this way but rather it has permitted them to live more in line with their true self, and this allows them to live peacefully and blissfully.
Outside observers often see this and confuse causation and correlation. We think this state comes directly from meditating. But meditation alone does not produce these benefits. Instead, it allows our inner selves to emerge, and when we are acting and living in accordance with who we truly are, nothing worries or concerns us.
Overcome the Challenges of Daily Practice
For meditation to truly take root in your life, you must be consistent. The mind is a powerful thing, and it’s not overwhelmingly interested in letting this inner-self out into the world. This is because the mind prefers things it can define and understand, yet this inner self is undefinable and ever-changing. It can’t be understood, only experienced.
Therefore, while you might feel good after a short stint of meditation, sporadic practice won’t have the transformative effect meditation can have if you give it the chance.
Any experience with this inner self will be quickly swept away by the thinking mind, and you will soon return to your state of worry, anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction, etc. But if we consistently come into contact with this inner self, we make it so that we simply can’t forget. We become aware of this aspect of ourselves even when we’re not on the mat, and this awareness can be a powerful remedy against the stresses of daily life that are made worse by our thinking minds.
Despite its many benefits, establishing a consistent meditation practice can be extremely difficult. We’re naturally resistant to change, and adding meditation into your life is bound to shake things up.
It’s normal that after some time you want to shy away from the practice even if you aren’t fully aware of this desire. The truths we uncover by coming into contact with our inner selves can at times be hard to swallow. We are often forced to face things we’ve denied for some time, or that we perhaps didn’t even know were having an influence on our life. This is scary for anyone.
Plus, the very act of meditating is also quite difficult, especially if you’re new to the practice. Our minds are thought factories, and it can seem like they’re often sprinting in circles. For most of us, sitting down while our minds are spinning can be a grueling task, and if your practice isn’t meeting your expectations, it’s even easier to use this frustration as an excuse to stop or to not even start in the first place.
Get to the Mat
These apprehensions towards meditation are nothing more than the same fears, worries, and insecurities we face everywhere else in our lives. They are products of the thinking mind – fruitless attempts to predict what will happen when we get to the mat; unfounded fears of the truth. Which is why you must find a way to get to the mat.
Ask anyone who meditates and they will tell you that the moment you get to the mat, they’re grateful they did it. Once you’re there, the rest is “easy.” But you need to find a way to get there.
I find by just focusing on the initial act of sitting, which is arguably one of the simplest, easiest things to do, I can look past the hurdles to my practice and put the time in with myself that I need. I don’t worry about how long I am able to sit. I just focus on the act of sitting and know that the rest will take care of itself.
This is helpful because it’s something that will happen. If you sit down for even just 10 minutes to quiet your mind, you will come into contact with your true self. It’s impossible not to, for it’s ever present. It’s just hiding behind all your thoughts.
It’s true this contact may be ephemeral, especially in the beginning. But it still happened. And this experience cannot be overlooked.
Over time, it will be easier and easier for you to “make contact” with your inner self, and this ability will bleed into your life off the mat, allowing you to act more in accordance with who you truly are. In other words, it allows you to live a better life.
It doesn’t matter when you meditate or really for how long. You may read lots of advice saying you should do it first thing in the morning or right before bed, and that 15 minutes is good for beginners and 30 is better for more experienced practitioners. But don’t put too much stock into these words. This approach might work for some, but it’s far from a requirement.
In the end, when it comes to meditation, think less and do more. Just get to the mat and the rest will fall into place.