Part 3 in our Six Step program to making meditation a habit in your life is about bringing compassion to your meditation. This may be just what you need to help you meditate more often or with more ease.
Do you sometimes feel that you’re pushing yourself through your meditation practice, thinking, “If I try hard enough I’ll be able to get rid of all those thoughts”? This furrowed-brow meditation (as I call it) can be really counter-productive to bringing more meditation, mindfulness and peace into your life.
First of all, the idea that meditation is about emptying your mind of all thoughts is a myth that needs to be busted! It’s impossible to totally empty your mind of all thoughts – some will eventually pop in, as that’s the mind’s job. Yes, over time a meditation practice will help to reduce the number of thoughts as we get better at focusing on the present. But don’t expect to have no thoughts as you will be disappointed when it’s not possible! (And have you noticed that the harder you try to block the thoughts, the more they keep popping up?)
The other way that we can be too hard on ourselves is if we bring to our meditation Western culture’s ideals of achievement, getting ahead and being “in control” of our lives. This can set up a sense of needing to “succeed” at meditation, be in control, or attain some desired level of achievement.
The problem is that when we inevitably have what we feel is a “bad” meditation (eg a very busy mind or a restless body) we beat ourselves up about it!
Even worse, our lofty goals can just result in more procrastination: if meditation feels like it’s not going to be ‘good enough’ then we will just avoid it and find excuses for why we will do it later when we’re in the ‘right’ frame of mind (eg when we’re less tired, less edgy, have a full tummy/a less full tummy etc, etc). Wanting our meditation to be perfect can be a recipe for not getting around to it as outlined beautifully in this Tricycle article about the Not Now Mind.
So if you think you might be trying too hard, seeking perfection or practicing “frowning” meditation then consider bringing more compassion to your meditation.
TIPS FOR MORE COMPASSION IN YOUR MEDITATION
1. Remember that meditation is relaxation
Look at meditation as relaxation. It is. Not the veg-out sort of relaxation like napping or watching TV, but an active relaxation where you feel rested and even energized afterwards. Remember it’s the only chance your mind ever really gets to relax – to have a break from the fast pace of thinking and stimulus of our busy days. So please see it as a form of relaxation and not as more “work”.
2. Make your meditation goals manageable
Ensure that your goals for how often you meditate and for how long are not so ambitious that it puts you off or becomes too onerous. Just being there is enough – make it a manageable amount of time. Only you can know if it’s too short or too long. If it sounds manageable then set a goal of 10 minutes per day. If this even seems too much then start with a meditation of 10 breaths (often you will find you end up doing more).
3. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session
If your goal is to meditate once per day and you miss a day, that’s really okay! Just get back on board the next day without beating yourself up. It usually doesn’t help you meditate more if you beat yourself up.
4. Make it comfortable and enjoyable
This may sound obvious, but make sure you are comfortable when you meditate and your body is happy to sit down to it. Find a comfortable position. If lotus (cross legged) position is painful then don’t do it – just kneel or sit in a chair. If sitting becomes painful, try lying down. Make it feel good. Compassion for your body (as well as your mind) is important.
5. There is no such thing as a bad meditation!! And you can’t do it wrong!
The most important tip. You’ve maybe heard this before, but do you really believe this?! All meditation is good meditation and it all adds up. If you have a meditation where your mind or body is busy and restless, or you’re falling asleep, that’s okay. Congratulate yourself for meditating, regardless of what it was like!
If you feel that giving compassion to yourself is a skill you could do with building up in general (whether in relation to meditation or anything else), take a look at the excellent Self Compassion web site of Dr. Kristin Neff and the guided meditations and exercises there.
Reflect on your meditation – does it feel like hard work? Do you feel it’s never good enough or never long enough/often enough etc? If yes, then write yourself a meditation plan for the following week which incorporates the Tips above (ie plan for your meditations to be not too long or often to be stressful, to be relaxing and comfortable, and to accept them as whatever they are like – ‘good’ or ‘bad’).
Wishing you much self-compassion.