My personal experience with attempting meditation the way most of us probably think of it, is falling asleep HARDCORE.
I don’t know if I’m malfunctioning or just perpetually tired.
I guess you could call it a malfunction that I can barely imagine ever not being able to just fall asleep within minutes, or maybe even seconds, these days. (Or it could be related to having a 1-year-old who disdains pacifiers and still wants me in the night.) But I’ve fallen deeply asleep while “meditating” for as long as I can remember, really.
I say “meditating” because what is it really?
What is meditation, anyway?
The dictionary says:
“to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect.
to consider as something to be done or effected; intend; purpose”
The first thing that comes to mind for me when thinking about meditation, though, is of a disciplined practice – a disciplined mind.
Sign me up. Sounds so fun.
It’s not just me, falling asleep while attempting to meditate is a common problem for several reasons.
- Our minds are used to being so “on” all the time, when we give them a chance to rest it’s easy for them to default to the only rest they’re used to – sleep.
- Sometimes the fastest way for us to receive information/answers is to get our conscious mind out of the way – sleep.
- When you’re overloaded with stress, worry, and actual tiredness in general, you need rest – sleep.
In light of this list, practically speaking, it seems like somewhat of a miracle anyone ISN’T falling asleep while meditating, lol.
Ok, not really, but it does seem to point back to my initial perspective of being disciplined. *sigh*
As an Enneagram Type 3 who really likes to check things off my never-ending to-do list, my perceptions of meditation make it seem like an especially bothersome “should”.
- It’s not really something that can be done efficiently.
- It doesn’t seem like you can really multitask it with something else.
- It’s not something you can ever completely check off of your to-do list.
- It feels like it just makes me tired.
- It’s one of those things that’s supposed to be really good for you, but not something you can necessarily see tangible or quick results from, so it doesn’t feel urgent or easy to prioritize.
- It seems like something you need to do for an extended period of time.
All these reasons are why I’ve done very little of what I think people would usually consider to be meditation.
Some of the phrases/components/concepts that came up for me while researching through my usual perception of meditation were:
- relaxation technique
- breathing exercises
- deep consideration of truth
- attentive to specific information
- being fully present
- light flowing through and replenishing your body
- connecting with your inner guidance/higher self/God/etc.
- a mirror on yourself
- shining a spotlight on things
- not necessarily fun, but a good investment of time
- put emphasis on what you can control – your mind and reactions
- grounding and centering
- visualizing in your chakras?
- chanting mantras
Eat your vegetables… and meditate.
I have to admit, this is how I’ve subconsciously thought of meditation for as long as I can remember – one of those things you know you should do because it’s good for you.
There are many reported scientific benefits to meditation, but what kind of meditation?!?!
Studies range from utilizing self-control of autonomic functions of the body, to transcendental meditation, to simple relaxation techniques, to mindfulness and natural stress relief.
When you look at some of the wide range of benefits of meditation, it’s pretty obvious we as a society could really use more of “it”.
- improved cardiac health
- greater brain coherence
- improved sleep
- improved attention, focus, and mental clarity
- helping to reduce medication
- helping to eliminate depression
- greater inner peace
- improved emotional balance
- decreased anxiety
- increased energy levels
- improvements of many chronic ailments
As I contemplate the value of being adept at proper breathing, for example, I just wish we were taught these things as kids. I mean, what the heck, we even suck at breathing?! It feels like so much more of a chore to learn now!
Although there are many additional breathing techniques and their related benefits, this video breaks down the most basic proper breathing posture we should all be utilizing at the very least.
Some techniques promoting certain benefits aside, though, who’s to say what way of meditating is “correct” overall?
Considering all these different aspects and potentialities of meditation, I’m reminded of something Jen is always saying in our podcasts, that there’s no formula or one-size-fits-all when it comes to spirituality and spiritual journey.
It really comes down to what your personal goal is.
It turns out my personal struggle is very simple – I find it difficult to properly value and prioritize INPUT and INTERPUT.
Even though I know it’s an absolute necessity, I’ve simply been stuck in a cycle of DOING/OUTPUT most of my life because of outside pressures (and inner ones, too, let’s be honest) and being able to see quicker, more tangible results by focusing outward.
If you’re like me, I think something that can help us is reframing our perspective on meditation.
What if meditation could be less like eating your vegetables and more like having desert?
Rather than looking at it as a rather daunting mental discipline to develop, what if we began to see it as an exciting exploration?
One person’s description shifted my perspective in a really helpful way. To paraphrase, meditation isn’t the narrow kind of “left-brained” focused concentration you probably think of, but rather a more “right-brained” open and expansive “focus” of awe and wonder.
Freeing Principles I’m Using to Reframe Meditation and Incorporate it More in My Life
- Meditation doesn’t need to be passive – although some meditation techniques focus on clearing the mind, it can be good and valuable to choose specific things to meditate on, as long as you stay open and don’t turn it into one of those striving/accomplishment things.
- Meditation doesn’t need to only be internal – engaging your voice is a very valid part of meditating, and not just by chanting boring mantras.
- Meditation doesn’t need to be still or stoic – walking, hiking, biking, coloring, cooking, crafting, etc., basically, things you enjoy that aren’t conscious-thought-intensive can be great meditation activities.
- Meditation doesn’t need to only be private – getting alone time, especially with very young kids, can feel impossible some days, but it’s possible to reflect and process in the presence of others even if it may not feel ideal.
- Meditation doesn’t have to be a ton of time all at once – you can get in the practice of using those little moments throughout your day for meditation instead of checking social media and news or playing games on your phone. Making coffee, using the restroom, waiting in line, waiting for a friend, etc, etc, are all times that could be captured for deep, expansive input and interput (in contrast to the very surface-level input we are often tuned in to).
Through this exploration of meditation, I’ve come to understand that I’ve been meditating all along, just not always recognizing it as such or adding my intention to it.
Reflecting while driving, working around the house, mowing the lawn, etc is meditation; it’s just less beneficial than it could be when the awareness and intention piece is missing.
I’ve come to see meditation as less of a disciplined practice (though there is a place for that), and more like “holding space” for intentional reflection, prayer, contemplation, renewing my mind, rest…
Meditation is as important as breathing – exhaling toxic thoughts, hurts, and beliefs; inhaling life-giving awe and wonder, fresh revelation, and inspiration.
This puts meditation in its rightful place of exciting exploration rather than a boring, legalistic discipline to be endured. It’s certainly not something that should be avoided or shoved off until someday when you finally get your life together… Christina!
I realized integrating more of your senses during meditation is a great way to increase the enjoyment of the time also – essential oils, nature sounds, a cup of tea… (or whatever things you prefer!)
For myself, I’m also now looking at meditation as an excuse to make time for something I enjoy – like exploring more hands-on activities that don’t involve conscious thought. (Multitasking might just be ok after all!)
It sounds a bit ridiculous, but as someone who has felt a combination of guilt, sadness, and frustration with my level of meditation for a long time, giving myself this permission to prioritize it because of a good shift in perspective of what it even is… is huge for me.
I hope you weren’t as stuck as I realized I’ve been, but if you were, I hope sharing my process has helped you reframe meditation for yourself as well.
As we enjoy practicing the basic meditation that’s important for our mental and spiritual health and wellbeing (which always also plays into our physical), perhaps at some point we’ll also find our way to exploring some of the more specific techniques with added benefits. But either way, we’ll still definitely be ahead of where we were when we thought meditation had to be legalistic and boring!