“Don’t wait for your feelings to change to take the action. Take the action and your feelings will change.” ~Barbara Baron
I own a series of CDs called “Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music.” We know we should like and listen to classical music—they’re the classics, after all! But when I actually find time to listen to music, I reach for Mumford & Sons, not Mozart.
Some of us have a similar relationship with meditation.
We know we should meditate—it has so many mental, emotional, and physical benefits, and who couldn’t use a bit of slowing down in their busy life? But when we actually find that bit of time to ourselves that could be used for meditation, we instead turn on the TV, reach for the iPad, or mindlessly page through a magazine.
When I first became interested in establishing a meditation and mindfulness practice, I approached it intellectually: I read a lot of books, downloaded apps for meditation, and even considered taking a class at a local Zen meditation center.
The more I learned about it, the more I knew I had to incorporate these practices into my life. So I read even more, and I did so much reading that I didn’t…actually…meditate!
Why not? Well, honestly, meditation seemed a bit…boring. And I didn’t think I was very good at it. I’d close my eyes, count my breath, and then start making grocery lists in my head and worrying about the un-crossed-off items on my to-do list.
I found I loved the idea of meditation, but I didn’t want to practice meditation. I consider myself a left-brain, idea-loving gal, and if I have some free time, I want engage my mind, not quiet it!
Has this happened to you? Is meditation your equivalent of a great classic of literature, which Mark Twain once described as something that everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to actually read?
Ultimately, I came to develop a meditation practice in conjunction with my therapy for depression and anxiety, and it has changed my life for the better. I’ve learned that with meditation, the process of doing it is the whole point, not checking the “done” box.
I would like to share some tips to help those of you who, like I did, want to meditate, but don’t actually want to start meditating! Each tip combats one of the reasons we may give for not starting a meditation practice.
1. I don’t have time!
Yes, we are busy with careers, children, homes, and social obligations, but we all have five minutes to stop during our day and breathe.
If you wanted to train to run a 5K, you probably wouldn’t start your first workout with a 30-minute hard run. To begin a meditation practice, start slowly. Start with five minutes a day, then work up to eight, then to ten, and so on.
You can also practice mindfulness meditation while eating (paying attention to the tastes and sensations as you eat), walking, cleaning, or any other task you do in your busy day. Can you find times in your day to bring meditative and mindful attention to what you are already doing?
Additionally, you may find that regular meditation actually saves you time. By becoming more mindful, you’ll be less likely to make forgetful mistakes that take even more of your precious time to fix!
2. It’s so boring! If I’m going to take time for myself, I am going to read and think!
Yes, we love to think, but there is also beauty in quieting the mind. If you really want to get your thinking fix through meditation, however, there are meditative practices that engage your mind.
For example, you could meditate on a short reading or scripture, or focus on a mantra for your meditation. Meditation and mindfulness are not just “sitting there thinking of nothing”; there are a variety of ways to practice.
You can also find plenty of guided meditations online that give you something to focus on and help you develop your practice.
3. I’m not good at it!
Well, that’s kind of the point! Meditation is not about “emptying the mind,” but about observing the mind.
If you find in your meditation session that your mind has wandered to the events of the day, or planning for the future, you simply bring your attention back to the breath. And the fact that you have noticed that your mind is wandering is great!
It means you are good at it. You observed the actions of your mind. You are become more mindful. (And there’s a reason it’s called a practice—it’s something you’ll continually work on improving.)
4. But when my mind wanders, it’s to planning, and worrying, and that seems far more important than meditation.
Yes, we have to live in the world. We have to plan and organize—but not all the time. A strategy that has been effective for me (especially in yoga class) is to allow myself about 5-10 minutes for the planning, thinking about what I need to do when I get home, or whatever else is occupying my mind.
By getting it out of the way, I can then focus mindfully on my practice. When you sit down to meditate, write down those concerns or the to-do list items before you begin. Then set them aside—they’ll still be there when you’re done, and you can approach them with a fresh perspective!
5. I don’t know where to begin!
Take your cue from Nike and Just Do It! You won’t improve your cardiovascular health by reading about Zumba classes, you won’t start liking classical music if that CD collects dust on your shelf, and you won’t experience the amazing benefits of meditation until you begin your practice.
Start small, and go easy on yourself. In fact, it might be easier if you change Nike’s advice: don’t just do something; sit there!
And just like with exercising, you may find that after a few weeks of continuous practice, meditation doesn’t feel like effort, but it becomes something you want to do, and something you truly like doing. Maybe even while listening to classical music.
Photo Andres Nieto Porras