Do you struggle with meditation? I certainly did for many years. The problem began with the fact that, just like exercising, meditation always felt like hard work to me. One more thing on my plate, rather than a break from all those things on my plate. Another issue involved the amount of information about meditation out there, with each source offering a different idea of how you’re supposed to meditate and what you’re supposed to achieve when meditating (such as a blissful feeling, a state of mindfulness, some kind of enlightenment, a blank mind, etc). The fact that I’m a goal-oriented perfectionist and a bit OCD about everything I do didn’t help in the least.
I also have to admit that on occasion I suffered from meditation-oriented Enlightenment envy, which didn’t help, either. One such incident happened a few years ago, when a close friend of mine pretty much got herself an “enlightenment” experience during meditation without even trying. Her meditation practices had been even spottier than mine used to be, to say the least. To add insult to injury, at the time she was feeling annoyed at anything even remotely spiritual-sounding. During the prior months she had been spending a lot of time stewing about her issues, not taking any step forward, and actually taking a few back. Then, one fine day, she was chatting with a friend on the phone about these issues, and he said to her: "Remember who you really are." That struck her to the point of bringing her to tears. So she started repeating to herself: "Remember who I am," and then just "I am" several times during her meditation that evening (by the way, she had completely stopped meditating for a while, and I was the one who had insisted several times that she should start doing it again). Then, all of a sudden, BOOM! She's there. She had the whole experience, from complete union and connection with everything in the Universe to ecstatic bliss to total clarity about her purpose here to absolute consciousness that she had planned her experience and could change it however she chose to, etc. She even got a vision of her surrounding "reality" completely dissolving into pure light!!! After I forced myself to congratulate her on her wonderful experience and got passed my frustration with myself, I managed to have a good meditation session that evening. I even felt blissful for a few seconds, but when I tried to emulate my friend's "I am" exercise (which is very powerful, by the way) in an attempt to get passed that state and go further, a voice popped in my head, saying: "Relax. You are trying too hard!" No kidding.
Over the years I tried all kind of tricks and different styles of meditation to quiet my monkey mind, at no avail (fire breath; tensing and releasing; breathing meditation; moving meditation; smiling meditation; candle meditation; etc). I tried prayer and affirmations (not as meditation practice, but to help me get into a meditative state). I tried mantras and mudras. I tried toning and chanting. I tried rosaries and mala beads. I tried short, mid-length and long meditations. I tried guided visualization and creative imagery. I tried sitting on the floor or in a chair, lying down, dancing. I tried changing styles not to get too complacent and staying with one style for a long period of time to create continuity and consistency. With all that rigamaroo, I still managed to “meditate” better when I was in the shower or washing the dishes (in other words, not trying too hard). Of course, there are thousands of different styles of meditation out there (maybe more), and I haven’t tried the great majority of them. I haven’t tried Vipassana (the Buddhist meditation technique that means insight into the true nature of reality, which my husband has been practicing for over 23 years), Yoga Nidra (“yogic sleep” meditation that some of my friends and clients practice), crystal bowl meditation (technique also practiced by several friends and clients, which utilizes the sound of crystal bowls to serve as the focal point of your way into relaxation); or crystal meditation (supposedly a fast way of accelerating your inner and outer growth, as well as your power level), just to mention a few (FYI, I’m planning to try a Rose Quartz meditation led by my friend Amy Traver, as I like to stay open to different techniques). In addition, there are many techniques that I probably didn’t try consistently enough. But I can say I did try.
Why did I try so hard? Because meditation is great for you! According to Deepak Chopra, meditation “reduces stress and anxiety; makes you more calm and relaxed; makes you happier, energized and more motivated; reduces your heart rate and blood pressure; gives you better concentration and memory; makes you look younger; allows you to sleep better at night; makes you more productive; improves your relationships; and opens you up to creativity” (Ten Good Reasons to Meditate by Deepak Chopra). Want more reasons? Want to know some of the scientific research behind it? Check out this article: Twenty Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. On a more personal level, in my line of business I suggest to a lot of people that they should meditate. How could I make such a suggestion if I weren’t willing to do it myself? So I did try. Hard. Finally, I decided to accept the fact that there must have been a good reason why I chose to make this seemingly simple process so hard; obviously some lesson I wanted to learn. I also had to understand and, most importantly, accept this simplest of all truths: We are all unique in our sameness. Each one of us is completely different from everyone else, and we have our own individual ways, systems, processes, timing, etc, to get it done (whatever "it" is).
And just when I was finally able to relax about the whole idea, I tried a system that got me the closest to achieving satisfactory results, and which I still practice today. My system is as follows:
Since I started practicing meditation that way, several things have happened. For one, I actually enjoy meditating now; it doesn’t feel like hard work anymore. In second place, because I’m not trying so hard, every now and then something interesting does happen. Similarly to the friend I mentioned above, once I even experienced a vision of myself dissolving into particles, swirling around and blending with the particles of everything else around me. That was cool. Another time I was feeling very sad about something that had happened and shedding tears during my meditation. At that moment I was taken by surprise with memories and visions of happy moments that made me laugh at the same time that I was crying. A voice popped in my head, saying: “Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin.” I had studied that concept before, but that time I really understood it; not only intellectually, but on a much deeper emotional and spiritual level. That was beautiful. Sometimes, with my eye closed, I also see violet swirls (this color is often associated with the third-eye chakra, the energy center located between the eyebrows, and it’s supposed to assist those who seek the meaning of life and spiritual fulfillment). That’s awesome.
But I don’t meditate with the intention to have such experiences anymore. As a matter of fact they often catch me by surprise, and I believe the main reason they’ve been happening is that I stopped focusing on achieving or expecting them during meditation. Now, what seems to happen the most when I’m meditating (other than the frantic jumping around of my eternally fidgety monkey mind) is that I get in touch with my inner guidance and get answers to my questions; which, according to some, is not supposed to be the purpose of “true” meditation. But it’s quite useful! And what happens just as often during meditation is that I create; I get ideas. I’ve written in my head entire blog articles, hypnotherapy scripts, books segments, etc, during meditation. I’ve also come up with ideas to expand my practice, plan workshops and a lot of other practical, useful advice. Well, that’s not supposed to be the purpose of “true meditation,” either; or so I’ve been told. But all of this makes me very, very happy. I feel excited and energized, ready to sit down and write or get work done after I meditate. So, I keep going with the flow.
In short, my suggestion to everyone who would like to enjoy the countless benefits of meditation but still struggles with it is: keep trying until you find something that you truly resonate with; that really works for you; that helps you achieve results that are meaningful to you. And then, no matter what everyone else’s opinions and expectations are about it (including your own), just do it!
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Ten Good Reasons to Meditate by Deepak Chopra
Twenty Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today