While the exact reason meditation is so beneficial on so many levels may seem a bit mysterious, it’s likely that meditation is so helpful because it helps to support the nervous system. Spending a little bit of time every day in a calm and restful state can go a long way towards supporting our immune system, digestive health, hormonal balance, and many other things. However, it is notoriously difficult to start and stick with a meditation program.
One potential problem is that there are nearly countless ways to meditate. Some people sit with a mantra, some follow their thoughts like clouds, some concentrate on a Zen koan, some focus on their breath. These can all be beneficial, but it’s likely that the style that will work for you is the one you enjoy: the style that gives you pleasure. And that could change day by day depending on what’s happening at the time.
The idea that meditation could be pleasurable may seem strange. Many traditional forms of meditation are associated with discipline, with transcending the body, even with the idea that pleasure is a bad thing, something that we are trying to meditate ourselves away from. Some traditional forms of meditation include a teacher walking around the room with a bamboo stick, ready to hit anyone who starts nodding off. Other forms involve sitting through pain in excruciating stillness. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Meditation should feel like a little bit of time that’s carved out just for you. It could be for five minutes. It could be sitting on a soft couch with your cat on your lap. It could be laying down. It could be guided by someone else’s recorded voice. It could be a practice of imagining, daydreaming, prayer, or connection with a deity or spirit guide.
Meditation can also be done while walking mindfully, even eating or drinking mindfully. Meditation can be an experience of calling up pleasure and fully experiencing it in the present moment. Meditation means a lot of things to a lot of people, but perhaps the most important thing about meditation is that it works for you.
The idea that meditation has to be a practice of clearing your mind is a major barrier for most of us. So many of us sit down expecting to find that quiet and discover that our minds are very, very busy. Then we decide we are bad at meditating and never try it again! The truth is, even the most experienced meditators usually only get a few glimpses of that genuine quiet in the mind. And the reality is that a quiet mind doesn’t necessarily have to be the goal of meditation. Rather, being in a consistent practice of sitting with ourselves and doing our best to be kind and compassionate to our insides has powerful benefits for our busy, stressful day-to-day lives.
If meditation is going to work for you—that is, if you’re going to stick with it—you’re going to have to enjoy it. Yes, there is an element of discipline involved, and you may have to argue with yourself about the other things you may need to get done in order to give yourself permission to sit for a few minutes a day, but the more we do it, the easier it gets to fold meditation into our everyday routines. With time and practice, meditation can become a source of calm and comfort, rather than another thing on the list that we find ourselves failing at.
If your goal for meditation was the pure pleasure of being in solitude, what would it look like for you?
Struggling to focus? Explore these strategies for overcoming resistance and distractions during meditation.