When I was in India, I learned to meditate. Or at least it was on the schedule. Twice a day at sunrise and sunset, we would meet in the main hall and meditate. The hall was the roof of the women's dormitory, a covered loft but with no walls. We could look out into the woods next to the building and see the monkeys climbing the trees. Sometimes we would even do nature meditation, and I could sit even higher, below the water tower, and watch the sun rise. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
But the meditation hours were torture. I would fidget, things would itch. My mind would go racing off to the future or to some memory from the past, never wanting to stay right there in the present moment. They called that "monkey-mind". Very fitting as we could hear the monkeys in the distance. Going to India was one of my first endeavors of self-love. I did this for me. So given this space, I started noticing how horribly I was talking to myself on the inside. I would berate myself for not being able to sit still. I would beat myself up when I found my mind wandering. I would get bored and peak with one eye to see if anyone else was having as hard a time with this as I was. I finally surrendered to the fact that I had so much to learn and adjust to during this time, so I simply decided to give up on the whole meditation thing. I would just sit there and not worry about "getting it".
I have heard people talk about getting a warm buzzy feeling during mediation. "Slipping into" the stillness of their mind. Experiencing enlightenment. I felt since I couldn't "get there" I must be doing something wrong. Maybe there was something wrong with me?
I have tried different types of meditation since then. When doing breath meditation I would find myself getting agitated. I tried zen meditation, only to find myself increasingly frustrated when I found my mind wandering and I had to go "back to 1". My most agonizing experience was a 10-day non-denomination silent retreat with 12 hours of meditation a day. I sat through it for 9 days, only to quit one day before it was supposed to end. Toward the end, I couldn't sit down to meditate without crying uncontrollably.
I wonder, how many of you have had this experience? Or a similar one? Of trying so hard to meditate, but "not getting it"?
Looking back at it now, I gotta give myself credit for really wanting this so bad. I kept hearing about all the benefits of meditation, but I couldn't seem to reap the benefits myself. On the contrary, meditation seemed to simply make me agitated and miserable. So I gave it up for a while.
I recently had what I, for lack of a better word, would call an enlightenment moment. But it didn't come through meditation. It's hard to explain since I am still wrapping my head around this baffling experience. What I can explain is how it has altered my view of meditation.
Going "back to 1", pulling your mind back is meditation. It IS doing it right. What was making me miserable were a set of factors:
The bottom line for me was my inner voice was so critical of me that I couldn't sit still with it without being miserable. Now, when I do meditate, I do it differently. Here are some of my takeaways from a decade of meditation mal-practice:
Now that I don't expect anything specific from meditating and my inner talk is more loving than ever I can sit for longer and enjoy the process more. My mind always wanders, but my reaction to it is different. Sometimes it quiets enough for a truth, a feeling, or an insight to come through. Sometimes not.
I have now started applying the "back to 1" routine to multiple areas of my life. When I want to instill a new habit, like staying away from sugar, or working on my road rage, when I find myself slipping I smile, and go back to one. No criticism. No judgment.
In the end, my buzzy warm feeling and enlightenment experience didn't even come from meditation. It came from years of seeking and reading and journaling and clearing. It came from understanding how I had been talking to myself and deciding to treat myself differently. It came from years of working on loving myself more.
This episode of my podcast is about how meditation practice was a hard one for me to wrap my head around, but how the process of going "back to 1" ultimately became a wonderful tool for self-love.