Creating a Meaningful Life: Learning to Meditate

meditationI’ll be honest - meditating this week was frustrating. After sporadically meditating for the last six weeks, I buckled down and did it seven days in a row. That wasn’t hard. I would either wake up and meditate right away, or meditate after my workout. What was discouraging was how hard it was for me to keep my focus during the meditation. This week I gave all my attention solely to using a beginner’s technique of being aware of and counting your breaths. Sounds simple right? Not for me. I learned about this technique after some research on the internet. The idea is to sit or lay down, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Count each breath until you reach 10 and then start over. If a thought pops in your head, start the count over from one. Unfortunately, I would consistently only make it until two or three before some random thought floated in. I would get farther in the count if I visualized what my body and lungs were doing with each breath or if I thought in my head “breathe in, breathe out” with each breath. But concentrating for the entire six minutes (I decided to work my way up to 10 minutes) proved almost impossible. And it was a vicious cycle. I would get angry about my lack of focus, which would make it even harder to focus, which would make me more angry.

A few days ago I re-read the article to try and figure out what I was doing wrong and a sentenced jumped out at me that I hadn’t taken in before. “During your meditation, you may experience feelings of frustration, boredom, fear, anxiety, pain or anger — this is all normal. Acknowledge them, and then let them go…. ‘Your job is to not react,’ he (Todd Goldfarb) says. ‘Your job is to witness the process … and be OK with it.’” (How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide)I had been obsessed with not letting any thoughts in, but that isn’t realistic. I am human, I have thoughts and I can’t turn them off completely. During my meditation in the days following that realization, I was less hard on myself when my mind wandered. I would acknowledge the thought, sometimes even laugh at the truly weird things that popped in my head when I was not actively thinking, and then send it away and refocus on my breath. I still wasn’t able to focus for an entire six minutes, and getting all the way to 10 was still a struggle, but I was less irritated and kinder to myself which I will consider a win!

So, this week I learned that fixating solely on my breath might not be the best way for me to meditate, at least at this stage in the learning process. I also learned that I prefer laying down to sitting. It is easier for me to relax my entire body when I am laying down and that helps me zero in on my breath. I also learned that while it was hard in general for me to concentrate when I meditated, it was much harder to concentrate when I meditated as soon as I woke up. I thought being half asleep would help me focus because my thoughts hadn’t had a chance to be thought yet, but I was wrong again. My brain felt like it went into overdrive and I couldn’t quiet it down. Meditating after my workout, while I am lying down is my most successful practice of meditation so far.

For the next week I am going to continue focusing on my breath, but I am going to add in listening to a repetitive sound like waves, rain or a gong and see how that goes. I have a sleep machine app that I am going to use to produce various sounds that I think are relaxing or meditative.

Did you try meditating this week? How did it go for you? Any tips you learned during your practice?