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Meditation myth buster #2 - "Meditation is supposed to feel relaxing"

"Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are."
– Pema Chodron
 

For many of us, seeking out meditation or other spiritual practices happens not in times of relative calm or happiness, but during periods of distress. Mired in the muck of our unpleasant thoughts and uncomfortable bodily sensations, we begin looking outward for any method that might alleviate our suffering.


When I was trapped in the depths of my anxiety disorder during my university years, I felt as though I couldn't tolerate one more day of the racing thoughts, nervous sweats, and hours spent trying to fall asleep each night. Something had to give.


I had heard about meditation in passing over the years, but dismissed it as"hippy nonsense" (I was in my staunch too-cool-for-school phase at the time). But desperation breeds innovation, and so, against my ego's wishes, I found myself at the local bookstore, riffling through the pages of a mindfulness meditation book, searching for relief.


When I got home, shiny new book in hand, I plopped onto a pillow on the floor of my bedroom, and attempted to focus my mind on my breathing. "Okay," I thought to myself as I settled in, "if I just follow the instructions in the meditation book, my thoughts will go away and I'll finally feel calm and relaxed inside."


Imagine my surprise when, contrary to expectation, my thoughts seemed to get even louder during my sitting! Dismayed, I scrambled to my feet and began pacing around the room. "I knew it! I knew this wouldn't work for me. Meditation is just nonsense."


It took me a few more years of circling around and dabbling in mindfulness and meditation practices before I finally understood the source of my error. I had sought out meditation in a very dark time in my life, looking for an instant "fix" for my anxiety issues. But contrary to popular belief, the purpose of meditation isn't to relax you. Not directly, anyway.


Have you ever tried to push away a thought, only to have it rear its ugly head back up with renewed vigour? How about the classic thought experiment of trying not to picture a pink elephant (go on, try as you read this sentence to avoid picturing a pink elephant in your mind. I'll wait.)?


A common mistake that I and many other novice meditators make when first attempting a meditation practice is thinking that meditation is about "getting rid of thoughts," or making ourselves feel a certain way. The truth is that meditation is simply about being with what is, non-judgmentally, in the present moment. It's about taking an open and curious posture toward our thoughts and emotions, even if they're uncomfortable.


This practice, while simple, is certainly not always easy. But with a little persistence, we can learn to observe the contents of our own minds and hearts, much like we observe clouds drifting across the sky, and to sit with discomfort instead of rushing to distract ourselves with external stimuli.


Making calm or relaxation the central focus of our meditation practice is like trying to grasp sand: the harder we squeeze, the more it slips away. However, by learning to be open and gentle with ourselves, to simply observe what is, we will more than likely find that our minds and hearts become calmer and more relaxed over time. There's no shortcuts up meditation mountain, but I promise that the view is worth it!




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