I sat on the carpet. I sat with my back against a wall. I sat in a chair. I laid in savasana. I tried everything I could think of to meditate. But I never seemed able to achieve it – or even come close to it.
I’d done a bunch of reading. I’d heard a lot of personal stories. It seemed like meditation was a breeze and led to something profound. They solved their problems. They tapped into their subconscious. They saw colors and received messages.
In fact, the first time I did a group breath work meditation, one person found herself in some visualization of goddess like energy and beautiful forests with messages coming from the animals. I was slightly embarrassed to share my comparably boring experience.
In meditation, I expected my mind to be completely silent. I expected myself to feel zen. I expected myself to feel different immediately after. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve someone else’s experience. And in that pursuit, in a world where it felt like everyone else was doing it, I felt a lot of shame around what I couldn’t accomplish.
This meditation shit is a bunch of malarkey.
They’re probably just making all of this up. I don’t need this. So I pretty much threw in the towel.
Somewhere along the line, however, I pulled that towel back out. I can’t remember where, when or why. What matters is that now, years later, I know what it meant when a friend said, “If I don’t meditate daily, I don’t feel right.”
Over the years I’ve learned so much about meditation: what it is, what it is not, and all the ridiculous expectations we put on ourselves to achieve someone else’s experience.
What is meditation?
A client recently said she thought all those people in her yoga class are just faking it. “Everything I need to do just races through my mind!” she said. Some of them probably are, I told her. And if to-do lists are faking it, I “fake” it all the time, too. But that’s part of the process.
Meditation is the pursuit of stillness and peace in the mind or the body.
It might simply be sitting in your car, focusing on your breathing for one minute before going into work or before going home for the day.
It might be spending time in a space you’ve created with comfy cushions, candles and other meaningful objects.
It might be sitting at a quiet beach, gazing at the waves lapping against the shore.
It might be gazing at a candle or a spot on the wall.
It might be doing a body scan with your breath.
It might be listening to a guided meditation on YouTube or a phone app like Insight Timer.
It might be sitting still with your eyes closed for 10 minutes or 60 minutes.
It might be seated in a chair or in lotus.
Your intention can range to anything from creating stillness in your busy life to going deep within self-discovery.
Meditation is listening to the insight revealed by your mind and body.
Is that the racing of your thoughts? Is that worry over this or that? Is that the pressure of everything that’s yet to be crossed off your to-do list? That’s ok. It’s there. They’re things you’re responding to. These thoughts that bring themselves to the surface are there for a reason. Sometimes just noticing those is powerful. Sometimes asking questions is even more powerful. Why are all these worries here? What would happen if X didn’t happen or Y did happen? How would that affect me? Why does that matter? Asking yourself a few layers of why can lead to a great deal of awareness.
And sometimes, you can invite those thoughts to keep going on their way. Sometimes those thoughts, like “You’re no good at meditation” are ones that you can say “Screw you” to, and sometimes they’re the ones that you can say, “I’ll get back to you later.”
At times, I find myself lost in one thought after another. Sometimes one thought is the clarity I’ve been seeking for days. Sometimes they’re thoughts about things that I’m avoiding. And sometimes, it’s just a bunch of noise, and the realization jolts me into meditation. I usually put a timer on, and sometimes just when I realize my thoughts keep dominating, the timer goes off a minute later.
How to meditate
At some point, I found myself free of those distractions in the beginning and kept with sitting still. I found myself feeling at peace. There is often a click moment, where I notice everything feels settled.
I don’t totally remember how I got here, but I kept trying, and one day I realized there’s something to this meditation thing.
Helpful advice I once received from a friend was to imagine roots growing from me, whatever parts are attached to the floor, and into the earth. With each exhale, I imagine those roots getting deeper and deeper, and with each inhale, I imagine the earth’s energy moving back up those roots and into my body.
Another friend said she imagines a red, glowing ball connecting from the core of her body to the core of the earth.
For years I only did this earth connecting. And at some point, I started to connect above. A friend said she imagines a white light connecting to the hands of God. I imagine a connection into the sky, the universe beyond the clouds, again letting that connection grow with the exhale and come back to me with the inhale.
When I catch myself swimming in my thoughts, and the roots aren’t working, I might say a few words to myself based on what my intention is. A commitment statement I developed a couple years ago is helpful. You could try, “I am connected to the wisdom of the earth and guidance of the universe; I have access to everything I need right now.”
What’s also been helpful are meditation apps. Many offer guided meditations, as well. Insight Timer is an app that I really enjoy.
Those people who are all Zen-like, I guarantee they had trouble at some point finding that stillness. I’m sure they don’t always find it right away now.
The trouble with meditating is that there are all these preconceived notions about what it’s supposed to look like.
Once I realized that meditation isn’t necessarily about the destination, once I stripped away all the rules, once I made it about my experience, it became do-able. For me, I needed to slow down in my life. And until I could figure out how to do that and what that meant for me, there was meditation…a thing I could put into practice regularly that encouraged my mind and body to slow down, but not sleep, if only for five minutes.
Somewhere along that path, I truly have slowed down. And I’ll continue to do so, as slowing down will shift in its meaning every day and year as I evolve.
And for the record, I have yet to spontaneously visualize Goddesses floating through forests.
About: Kara McNabb is a naturopathic practitioner who focuses on the mind-body connection and uses a variety of modalities and remedies to assist in wellness. She works with adults and children.
Beginning January 17, 2018, Kara will host a monthly meditation practice group to cultivate self-awareness and energetic boundaries. More info is available here.