I loaded up my app and listened to the experienced words of the meditation teacher who invited me to take a comfortable position and begin. She asked me to focus on my breath. In. Out. In. Out. And instructed that when I got distracted, to gently call my attention back to my breath.
It was Day 14 of “My Year of Living Mindfully.” The idea came about when I admitted that after the birth of my second baby, I’d completely dropped my daily meditation habit. After the return of my stress-induced nail biting habit, my insomnia, and some troubling early warning signs that my autoimmune disease would flare, I knew I needed to get back on track. I've committed to meditating daily for one year and I’ve enlisted the help of an expert team of research scientists who will be tracking everything from my immune function, to my stress hormones, to my brain changes and cellular ageing.
Despite the teacher’s encouragement, I didn’t even get as far as the first Out before my mind was off and racing….What about that email? What about this week’s blog post? What about that kid who hit my kid yesterday. What a little brute. Oh shit. I’m meant to be meditating. Back to the breath. In. O… Geez, I’m terrible at this. I’m two weeks in, I should be better by now. Argh! Back to the breath….
Herein lies the first of the two things I’ve remembered about meditation.
This leads me to my second point.
So when meditation is hard and there are better things to do… why do it?
At this point, I’d usually list off a few science facts about how meditation has been shown to improve sleep and well-being, to boost focus and creative problem solving, and to even enhance your immune system, but I think by now most readers will have heard it all before. So instead of regaling you with science, I’m going to tell you about a moment. A moment that happened on Day 7.
I was on a plane returning home from giving a presentation interstate. With no access to the web or phone calls or anyone interesting to talk to, I loaded my app (I’m using 10% Happier) and followed the instructions. After about 20 minutes of the usual focus–distraction–self criticism tug-of-war, a sense of total contentment came over me. It started in my head and then flowed right through my body.
I became completely present and free of my critical internal monologue. I could hear the white noise of the plane. I could sense the presence of the people sitting either side of me. I could feel my breath on my nostrils. In. Out. In. Out. Before this, each time I had practiced, “the moment” had been elusive, always slipping away in a fog of diversion and subsequent internal chastisement. But there, suspended in transit 39,000 feet above the earth, I was free of adjudication. There was nothing to do, nowhere to be, no problem to solve, or task to tick off. It all just, was. Finally, I had arrived. And it was awesome.
The mediation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who’s course I’m currently doing within the 10% Happier app explains that the practice of being distracted, noticing the distraction and then beginning again without judgment is the practice. She says if we have to begin again a thousand times, that’s the whole point.
So, despite the obstacles, I’m keen to keep meditating daily. I want to see if, with more practice, I can become better at “beginning again” without self-criticism. And while I’m not saying that meditation is for everyone, there are good signs that it is for me. Over the weekend on Day 10 of the project, I effortlessly experienced a similar sensation to what I’d felt on the plane. I was watching my children playing with a soccer ball in our backyard. Sun shining. Birds chirping. Happy kids. Total awareness. Totally delightful.