Last week I suggested brief mindfulness meditations as a tool for dealing with anxiety. I could hear some of you groaning and thinking, "Oh no, I'm a terrible meditator. I've tried it and I just can't do it." Well, join the crowd.
I happen to know from personal experience that it can be marvelously effective, even if you are terrible out it. My listing meditation as a tool may have created the impression that I spend much of my time like the woman in the image, but that would be a blatant lie. For one, I do not look like that, and for two, and perhaps more importantly, I am rather a mediocre meditator. I've even considered dedicating an entire blog (rather than a single post) and podcast called The Mediocre Meditator.
I first learned how to meditate in my early 20's. It made a lot of sense to me, but I was never able to establish a consistent practice. Years later, in 1995, I schlepped my family of two sons, ages 7 and 9 and my already kind and calm husband to attend a kind of family camp at Plum Village in southwestern France, the main meditation center of the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I'll tell you more about that adventure another time, but for now, I want to tell you how I revealed my sad meditation situation in a sharing circle and one of the teachers said to me, "Your meditation practice should bring you joy. If it doesn't, then it is perhaps not your way or you need to adjust your practice so that it is joyful for you."
Now, this was for me a totally new and radical concept. I had never once considered that. I'd heard a lot of supposed benefits from meditation and thought it was due to my own lack of discipline that I had not experienced any of them. It made me think of the very brief phase of my life where I took up jogging, hoping to experience the elusive "runner's high". It never happened. Well, I was not terribly disciplined about jogging either and it certainly gave me no joy.
Reenergized by this encouraging news, I returned home with eager resolve. I even managed to apply some new practices in the remaining summer holidays. And then the school year started. I had figured that the only reliable time I had to meditate regularly would be at about 5:45, as everyone else had to wake up at 6:30. Not being a morning person by nature, I found this daunting and the notion inspired no joy, but I did so want to try. I crawled out of bed and on to my meditation cushion and basically meditated on how comfortable my bed was. Note that my meditation space was right next to my bed. This was also giving me no joy. So I gave up and went downstairs to make myself a cup of coffee and returned with the hot fresh coffee to my cushion.
Joy. Pure joy. I really like coffee. I swear that it was the most delicious cup of coffee I'd ever drunk. My meditation was very good. This has remained my ritual to this day. Not too long after that cup of coffee, I added the reading of inspiring texts to my daily meditation, as words have always served as a portal to my deepest heart.
Is this the way I'd been taught? Decidedly not. Is this the way I do it when I attend meditation weekends or retreats? No. But it is what I do at home. Along the way, I'll share more of my mediocre meditation practices. The good news and the part that I really want you to hear is that it seems not to matter a hoot. Of course, there are people with more discipline than I who are richly rewarded for this quality. But, I have learned that even my mediocre practice is good enough. I cannot imagine my life or who I'd be without it. The essence of the practice of meditation is to get to know and even love yourself just as you are, at your very core, with all the messiness and imperfection and yes, mediocrity. Even with rather pathetic discipline, the practice of meditation still has profound effects. I urge you to simply have a seat and find a way to practice that gives you JOY!