I’ve been meditating on and off, though mostly on, since the summer of 2010 when I purchased a copy of 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich. It was an appealing, secular approach to meditation that helped me get started.
Several years ago I installed both the Headspace and Insight Timer apps on my phone. They’ve been my go-to tools for meditation ever since; Headspace for Andy Puddicomb’s gently guided meditations, and Insight Timer for those times when I’m just looking for a “do it myself” approach. Both are great, though it’s Headspace I’ve purchased for others as gifts.
What I realized, through, is that when it comes to guided meditation — the phase I happen to be in currently — I kinda suck.
The issue is my inability to follow the “rules” of my guided meditations. For example:
Guidance: start with eyes open, soft focus. Me: eyes firmly shut.
Guidance: a few deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Me: mouth closed, nose both ways.
Guidance: a leisurely body scan, top to bottom, simply noticing any sensations along the way. Me: nothing to notice here, I feel fine (an opportunity for gratitude, at least).
Guidance: to help focus, count breaths: 1 on the in, 2 on the out, 3 in, 4 out and so on. Me: Counting, sure, but in/out is 1, in/out 2, in/out 3, etc..
Guidance: count to 10 and then start over at 1. Me: keep counting, the sky’s the limit.
You get the idea. I have my own way of doing things.
There is one place where the guidance, and I, align: Guidance: there will be thoughts – when you notice gently let them go and return focus to the breath. Me: So. Many. Thoughts.
This is where many people get wrapped around the axle when it comes to meditation: they think having all those thoughts means they’re doing something wrong. In fact, it means they’re doing the most important thing right: noticing, and then returning focus to the breath.
I’ve never heard it expressed explicitly but my belief is simply this: meditation is all about practicing that return; practicing having thoughts and letting them go. That, to me, is it’s essence. It’s a skill one practices in meditation that applies to every other waking moment: having a distracting thought, and building that muscle that allows you to notice, and let it go.
The stronger that muscle, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Distractions, disturbing thoughts, anxious thoughts — building the skill to let them all gently go when they arrive at an inopportune time.
Yeah, I suck at some of the details, it’s true. So can you. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is practicing. What matters is strengthening that “notice & let go” muscle.
I have no shortage of incoming thoughts to practice on.