I was listening to Pema Chodron on YouTube a couple of years ago and she was discussing meditation. It was early on in my own meditation practice and I struggled a bit with ‘doing it right’. I can neither find that talk on YouTube again, nor can I promise you that what I’m about to share is exactly the message she delivered, but it is my interpretation and it has been incredibly useful in my own meditation practice, so there’s that.
Pema joked about her own meditation practice and that if any of her fellow monks were to be inside her brain while she meditated, they’d surely consider her a terrible meditator with a busy mind. It was a relief to me that an actual monk would make light of something considered so sacred and it encouraged me to lighten up on myself a bit.
Meditation, hands-down, drastically changed my life for the better. After I checked out of rehab, no less than five medications crowded my bathroom sink. Possibly more. Those pharmaceuticals SAVED MY LIFE. I promise you. A life just a few months prior I hadn’t felt was worth saving. I’d crowd my sink with them once again without a bit of hesitation if I had any concern of spiraling into the abyss that landed me in a mental hospital doing arts and crafts in the first place. Prozac, Abilify, Trazedone, Hydroxyzene, and Prazosin are to thank for my ability to sit myself in place long enough to even begin a meditation practice.
And that was a very slow and deliberate process for me. I gave myself a lot of grace with it and a lot of applause for what others would likely consider shitty, mind-racing meditations in the beginning. A close confidant whom I considered a spiritual teacher was the catalyst for me to finally begin after he assured (er…chastised) me that I absolutely could meditate, even if only for a minute, I just didn’t want to. He was right.
I wanted to ‘do it right’ and doing it right looked to me like fifteen minutes of criss-cross applesauce, candle burning, with a tranquil countenance. Fresh out of addiction, with a very active ego/mind, this was unattainable enough that I eschewed the practice altogether.
Until I realized all it really took was a minute. One minute and I didn’t even have to have a clear mind. One minute of the day devoted to sitting and being with myself. That wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. At all. But I started looking at that sitting time as self-care. Something I had to do. To be a human. A living, breathing human. Even a Thinky McThinkerson human who’d done unspeakable things like, well, like being a fallible human. A lovable, fallible human.
One of the most important promises I made when I finally dove in was that I would not judge myself for that time. I would never consider a session terrible or wasted or not done right.
I began very methodically. One minute meditations for the first month. Two minutes the next month. Three minutes, and so on. I kept a calendar. Once I achieved ten minutes I remained there for quite a while. That is when my meditations became more explorative and fun. I learned a lot about myself. My mind began to run out of things to think.
I have three years now under my belt, and supervised by a doctor weened myself off of my medications two years ago, and this daily ritual is paramount to my day. I’ll get up at 4:30AM if I think I’ll be short on time. I aim for twenty minutes, sometimes a luxurious half hour, but if I do not get at least ten minutes they day doesn’t feel quite right.
I have always lacked self-discipline and now I realize that is because I never practiced disciplining myself. Until I did. And I’ve never looked back.