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You Aren’t Doing It Wrong if You are Doing It!

I’m Doing It Wrong!

I thought it might be interesting to explore the less obvious sides of being mindful. For: if you already may be meditating through everyday activities like taking a walk. Or: if meditation is a Q&A with God, what happens when that conversation doesn’t go the way you expected? And finally: unmasking the personal meditation fear many faces. Here are words from meditation advocate Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the now widely used mindfulness-based stress reduction program, from one of his best-known books:

“Meditation Is Not What You Think.”

Kabat-Zin writes: “When I am guiding a meditation with a group of people, I often find myself encouraging them to throw out the thought ‘I am meditating.’ Just be awake. No trying, no schedule. No idea even about what it should look or feel like. It indeed is a radical act of love to sit down and be quiet for a time. Sitting down in this way is a way to take a stand in your life as it is right now. However, it is.”

Does this sound familiar to you?

Do you find yourself worrying about what’s uncontrollable in life? You’ve heard that meditation might help and that it’s good for relieving stress. You feel in your soul that it will be good for YOU! So you decide to commit. You schedule a time to meditate regularly. You pick out a meditation app or a recording, or a book. The scheduled moment comes, and you go to a particular place – a class, maybe out in your garden, or into a specific corner you have set up in your home. You position yourself just right on the floor, or a chair, or the grass. You begin the breathing. You understand that this breathing is so important, that being in this moment so important, and guess what?

It’s not working.

Why is it not working? Oh dang, why can’t I concentrate? Why am I thinking about what to buy my brother for his birthday, or why does my back feel weird? Where is the insight? Am I sitting the wrong way, wearing the wrong pants? I KNEW I should have bought better meditation clothes; do I need a chime or incense. Why am I so BAD at this?

Does this sound familiar to you?

When you start a regular meditative practice of any sort, do you get stuck at I am doing this all wrong? Stuck at: I am a failed meditator and not worthy of self-care or personal growth, and I don’t have the spiritual right stuff.

You are not alone.

People often give up on meditation because they believe they are doing it wrong. I found a surprising number of psychologists, meditation experts, and scientists talking about this. Michael Taft, a meditation teacher, book author, and creator of the “Deconstruct Yourself” podcast, says he believes one of the biggest challenges beginning meditators face is the “I’m bad at this” hurdle. “I’m not sure of the reason for this,” Taft says. He suspects it might be a quirk of our culture. But regardless, he hears it a lot in his classes.

Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of the meditation book “Be The Change,” listed “I’m bad at this” among the top seven excuses people use to give up on meditation. “What IS it about something as simple as sitting still and watching our breath that evokes panic, fear, and even hostility?” the couple writes.

Taft and the Shapiros agree that it is impossible to fail at meditation. There is no right or wrong technique, they say.

“Even if you just sit for 20 minutes thinking non-stop meaningless thoughts, that’s fine,” the Shapiros say. Which is something, by the way, you wouldn’t know about playing Fort Night or writing out a grocery list, neither of which terrifies us. Taft has found the most common meditating mistake as a teacher: practitioners spend so much energy criticizing themselves, and they make a mess out of it.

Or they set impossible expectations, try too hard and undo meditation’s benefits creating a self-defeating stress tornado.

Does this sound familiar to you?

It sure does to me. Most of my clients are meditation dropouts, and I secretly have been somewhat ashamed, especially when I know so many people who DO meditate and love it.

But I never could figure out exactly why I was struggling – until writing this piece revealed the reason.

I am convinced that I was doing it wrong.

And I realized that is a larger stumbling block for me and maybe for some of you as well. We start many new practices well-intentioned, but we don’t move forward. We expect quick results, a rush of reward, and when it doesn’t happen, we think it’s because we are bad at whatever we are attempting when we are just new to it.

Maybe we should try being good to ourselves. Be realistic about our expectations. Honor our willingness to try. Even if something doesn’t feel good, sometimes the very fact that you are doing it means you are doing it right, Michael Taft, the mediation teacher, tells his students. Sometimes, things are uncomfortable. Sometimes, they require new thinking.

That’s fine. The important thing is to keep going.

This article was written by Diane Lade and is an excerpt from Sheryl's upcoming book, "Turning Adversity into Purpose."


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