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Secular Meditation: Sticking With It, Part 2 — Doing What You Like

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.

respiratory-systemWhen 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.)

Yoga pose A style of ChakrasanaBut 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.)

Comments

  1. mistertwo says

    Thank you!

    I wonder whether ordering the “The Great Courses” course on mindfulness would be a good place to start. I’m really, really interested in this for my wife, largely because of her terrible depression. I don’t know if she would sit still for it, but since it’s a video course she might. She’s going downhill fast and hasn’t stuck with a psychologist.

    I need it for myself, as well, because I think it would help me to not drift off into never-never land when I’m supposed to be working.

  2. Greta Christina says

    I wonder whether ordering the “The Great Courses” course on mindfulness would be a good place to start.

    mistertwo @ #1: I’m not familiar with The Great Courses, so I can’t speak to them. I learned about meditation from a course in what’s called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction — that’s the secular practice that’s been studied in medical settings — which is taught by my health care conglomerate. I found the in-person course very valuable, but I understand they’re not an option for everyone (they may not be taught in your area, or may not be covered by your insurance).

    I do feel obligated to say that, while the meditation has very valuable been for my depression, and while this isn’t just anecdotal or confirmation bias (there’s good date backing this up), it is not a substitute for either medication or therapy. I’m so sorry your wife is so ill. I hope she gets help.

  3. mistertwo says

    Are you talking about an HMO? I don’t know whether I would have access to anything like that through a PPO, but it’s possible that the mental health part of our insurance would provide something. I’ll look into that.

    She is on medication… has been for over 30 years. She’s been to a few therapists.

    The reason I thought of buying the course is that she wouldn’t have to go out of her way to practice it. We could do it together instead of watching a crime/drama in the evening. It’s getting harder and harder to get her to do things. Too many doctor’s appointments, and she’s tired of it. (Fibromyalgia, insomnia, psychiatrist visits, torn rotator cuff… you name it.) Getting her to make a therapist appointment, then not cancel it, is tough.

    I really appreciate your posting — two posts no less! — in response to my question. I need the mindfulness practice, too, to address focus issues I’ve had ever since I can remember.

  4. Lea says

    It’s true, what works best can change at times. There was a (too brief) period where I was doing really well with breath meditation. I could sometimes get into a zone where thoughts were few and far between, and when I ended those sessions I felt like I could have kept going longer–I really enjoyed that. But then somehow I seem to have lost that ability and haven’t been able to get it back. What I am doing right now is sometimes after the body scan I go ahead and do some breath meditation for a while if I have time.

    @Greta, I don’t remember if you’ve discussed use of guided meditation recordings. What are your thoughts about them? Do you feel it’s “safe” for people with depression to try out guided meditations they find online? If so, then for people who don’t have nearby groups or other resources, it might help with getting started. Do you have any recommended websites with MBSR guided meditations available?

  5. Greta Christina says

    Are you talking about an HMO?

    mistertwo @ #3: I am. Kaiser, the HMO I’m enrolled in, offers lots of classes in health and prevention stuff. I don’t know whether PPOs cover MBSR courses or not — I suspect it varies.

    Greta, I don’t remember if you’ve discussed use of guided meditation recordings. What are your thoughts about them? Do you feel it’s “safe” for people with depression to try out guided meditations they find online? If so, then for people who don’t have nearby groups or other resources, it might help with getting started. Do you have any recommended websites with MBSR guided meditations available?

    Lea @ #4 (and mistertwo @ #3, who was also asking about about guided meditation recordings and video and audio courses): I am not a doctor, a therapist, a researcher, or any other kind of expert in different methods of learning meditation and their effects on depression, other mental illness, or other conditions that people use meditation to help with. I can tell you my own entirely unprofessional personal opinion — which is that it’s probably better to take an in-person course if you can, but that if you can’t, video or audio classes and/or guided meditations are better than nothing. I don’t know if there’s any possibility that it might do some harm to pursue this without a trained teacher — it seems unlikely, but I don’t know.

    If you want more resources on secular meditation, I recommend the Present Moment website, which has basic meditating instructions, a podcast, links to articles, an online forum, an online meditation group, and more. People there may be able to answer questions that I can’t.

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