In yesterday’s post, I talked about ways to stay with a meditation practice and to find the time and motivation and discipline to do it every day. Inspired by this comment from Lea, I want to add another “sticking with it” tip: Pick forms of meditation that you enjoy, that resonate with you, and that fit into your life — and notice when that changes, and go with it.
When I first started meditating, I was doing lots of body scans. I found it easier to keep my focus when it was on something as specific as a particular part of my body — and when I was done, I felt very centered and connected with my body. As time went on, though, I found myself moving more towards breath meditations. Partly this is just because of the time issue: for me anyway, body scans take a while (45 minutes at least, unless I do a quickie), and I found them to be unpredictable in how long they’d take. If I was particularly unfocused that day, and my attention was drifting more than usual, it could take me an hour, an hour and a half, to get all the way from my feet to my head. (My record was two hours, although that was on a really bad day.) A breath meditation can fill any amount of time, which fits better with my irregular and action-packed life.
And partly, I’ve been preferring the breath meditation because I like how non-directional it is. The body scan sometimes feels just a bit… not goal-oriented exactly, but it definitely has a “start here, go from here to there to there, finish when you’re done” quality, which slightly defeats the purpose of being in the present moment.
So lately, my standard go-to form is the breath meditation. I do mix it up, though, depending on my mood and what’s going on in my life. I sometimes focus my awareness on my emotions (if I’m feeling particularly disconnected from them), or on listening to silence (if I’m feeling particularly jangled). I find movement meditations somewhat difficult, but I do walking meditations now and then. I still do body scans occasionally, if I have time: they really are a deep sensual pleasure. And I sometimes let my awareness drift to whatever it wants to drift to, working to stay present and conscious with whatever happens to be arising in my consciousness.
This seems to vary significantly from person to person. At the end of my original eight-week meditation class, when we were going around talking about what practice we were going to do and how we were going to stay with it, I was very struck by how widely varied people were in what form they were going to focus on.
Now, I have found value in at least sometimes doing forms of meditation that I don’t immediately resonate with. I noticed this a lot when I was taking the original eight-week course and trying lots of different forms: if I had resistance to a particular form, sometimes it was because there was something difficult going on in my life that I was shoving to the back burner but really needed to deal with. (The “sitting with my emotions” technique is a perfect example: it’s often very valuable indeed, but it’s often very hard to persuade myself to do it.)
But sometimes, a technique didn’t work for me because it didn’t work for me. Yoga was a perfect example. I found yoga difficult because, due to assorted physical limitations (a bad knee, repetitive stress in my wrists), a number of the poses were just physically painful, and I had to sit them out. It wasn’t about having some deep pocket of resistance — it just didn’t work for me. If I want to do a movement-and-change meditation rather than a mediation that’s about stillness, I do a walking meditation, or an eating meditation. (Those are interesting — richly satisfying, but also weirdly challenging.)
This isn’t universally true for all forms of self-care. Some valuable forms of self-care are painful, difficult, or just boring. And if your meditation teacher or health care provider is advising you to stick with a particular form of meditation even though it’s difficult — and if you trust them — then go with that. But in general, we tend to stick with things for the long haul if we enjoy them. This should be obvious; but in our weird, Puritanically-rooted, “pleasure is bad and if it sucks it must be good for you” U.S. culture, I think we sometimes forget it. So I’m writing this as a reminder, mostly to myself. If I want to keep meditating for the long haul, it’ll help to pay attention to which forms I’m most enjoying, and to stick with them.
(Yoga pose: A style of Chakrasana image by Thamizhpparithi Maari, via Wikimedia Commons.)