When you think you’re meditating, you probably aren’t.
When I first started a consistent yoga practice and meditation, the part I found most challenging (other than figuring out how someone was supposed to breathe into their hips—ha!) was the act of sitting still.
At eighteen years old I had just started university and worked a part-time job. At the time, I spent most of my days in class, at work or spending time with friends. I had trained my mind and body to work together to accomplish goals, complete tasks and get me from point A to B. What I hadn’t spent much time practicing asking my body to be still while allowing all the external distractions to continue to spin around me. In stillness, I found anxious thoughts, restless legs and a constant stream of self-talk that can best be described as unproductive. I would look around my yoga class and see all these relaxed faces and think to myself: When will I be able to meditate like them?
Meditation. Ah, that elusive word.
Or so I thought. I, like many others, thought that meditation was when your mind was clear and thoughts were pure. You know, when you weren’t distracted by the itch on your left knee or by your grocery list. Little did I know, over a decade later I would still find myself struggling with this concept of inner peace.
From years of practice and now teaching, I can tell you that one of the reasons meditation is such a scary and confusing idea for many of us is because it doesn’t fit into our usual process of getting things done. In fact, it asks us to do quite the opposite. Meditation is not about inner peace (although that can be a lovely result at times)–it’s about observation and choice.
Let me give you an example.
If I’m sitting on the bus, on my way home from running errands or a busy workday, I have a few options: I can plug some headphones in and listen to my favourite Spotify playlist; I can read a book; eavesdrop on the couple sitting in front of me; I could basically do anything to pass the time and take my mind off the reality of sitting on crowded bus.
These would all be perfectly socially acceptable actions (okay, maybe the eavesdropping would be frowned upon but sometimes you just can’t help yourself, am I right?). But what if, instead of focusing on all of these things outside of myself I were to simply soften or close my eyes? Now I can bring attention to my breath. Is it soft? Shallow? Is there any movement happening in my body that coincides with my breath? Oh, but what am I going to make for dinner? Never mind that, how do I feel?
One of my favourite quotes is
“Where attention goes, energy flows.”
So when we give our attention to external things we also give our energy away. Meditation is about bringing attention to all that lives inside you, thereby giving yourself the energy you would have otherwise given away.
This process of going back and forth from distracting thoughts or sensations to focused awareness is where the magic happens. I call this mindfulness. The goal in this practice isn’t necessary to remove those distractions or sensations from existence, but rather to play with strengthening your ability to consistently choose to focus on something else. Something that lives inside you. This isn’t always pretty. In my experience, it can be pretty ugly. But what I’ve learned from this practice is that my body and mind are constantly trying to communicate with each other. You just have to listen.
To this day, meditation happens for me less often on my yoga mat and more in my day-to-day experiences (such as taking the bus, waiting in line, or preparing for a big gig). So tell me, what is meditation to you? Have you had any ah-ha moments along your journey?
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