A few years ago I avoided going to any exercise class that involved a ‘relaxation’ period – or silent time – as part of the cool down. The thought of being ‘alone with my thoughts’ absolutely terrified me and I had serious FOM (Fear Of Meditation)! I couldn’t ‘clear the mind’, it just wasn’t possible. I couldn’t even sit still for more than thirty seconds. I had to keep moving and focusing on something external to distract myself from thinking – because when I thought too much about things I could very quickly spiral into complete and utter panic mode.
If ever I found myself in ‘the wrong’ class I would either twitch my way through the few minutes of stillness, convinced that something awful would happen to my body if my feet stayed in one position for more than two breaths OR if I would spend the time counting down the seconds until I could roll up my mat and leg it out of the door – never to return ever again.
I was terrified of silence, scared of ‘doing nothing’, and when people told me to empty my mind of thoughts I wanted to slap them in the face (so un-yogi of me!!!).
Fast forward a few years and I have just spent over a month meditating daily – even choosing to find stillness on my days off – and really finding sanctuary in these moments of space and quiet.
So what changed? How did I get over my fear of meditation?
I made meditation MY OWN! And what I mean by this is, I took the word meditation away from my vocabulary. I never once told myself I would meditate. I put my own spin on things and found ways that worked for me and all I thought about was creating space. Gradually, baby step at a time, instead of filling the spaces I created with more words and thoughts, I simply allowed the space to be there.
For me, and for the majority of the human race I think, it isn’t possible to ‘clear your mind of thoughts’, all it seems to do is to serve as a pressure which forces even more thoughts into our head.
During meditation on the beach in Costa Rica during my Yoga Teacher Training, if I tried to ‘clear my thoughts’ this is the dialogue that would occur in my mind…
“Here comes a thought… what is the thought? Oh sh*t I am not supposed to be thinking… I now can’t get rid of this thought… you idiot – you let a thought in… I am so rubbish at this… I can’t meditate… I hate meditation… why can’t I meditate? Because you are rubbish at relaxing and you will never be able to do this… you might as well give up… oh now I can feel a tickle on my arm… don’t itch it because if you do then you aren’t ‘meditating‘ anymore and you might as well give up… ok just breathe through the tickle… it is really itching now… stop focusing on the itch you silly woman, just ignore it… but what if it is a bug that is going to bite me? If I get bitten then I might get a contagious disease… well Lauren, if that happens that is what the universe has planned for you today and it will teach you something… OK just keep breathing, focus on the breath.… I think the bug is crawling down my face now… I have to brush it off… (flicks imaginer ‘fly’ away)… there wasn’t even anything there you idiot… I ruined meditation because I created a made up bug on my arm… wow my mind is clever… anyway, I moved so it is all a waste of time now… I am so crap at this… I will never be able to do this… F*CK this SH*T I am going for a walk.”
So much for clearing the mind!
After a few days of this internal conversation I decided to try a different tactic. I swapped the word meditation for ‘being mindful’ and tried a variety of different methods of creating space in my mind. I walked some days, I journaled in front of the ocean on others, I listened to a guided meditation on an app, I sat for a few minutes on a rock or piece of wood and with a soft gaze looked out at the ocean, I even tried moving meditations with just a simple repeated movement such as moving my head side to side in sync with my breath.
I met my mind and my body where it was on each day. Some days sitting still was not an option, others I felt it needed the stillness. But I didn’t punish myself for not ‘meditating’, I focused on just being in that very moment.
At first I worried that I wasn’t ‘doing it right’, and then I realised that meditation is not the same for everyone and you can take what you need from the space you create – and this may vary from day to day.
Talking to a friend, she put it into the most perfect words when I asked ‘how do I know if I am doing it right?’… she said… if you have managed to create just a little bit more space than when you started, then you have succeeded. And she is so right.
The purpose of meditation is not to enter into some trance like state where you suddenly know the answers to all of life’s unsolved mysteries. It is simply to make room for a little more internal reflection and over time, yes that might help you figure out the solution to a problem, or help you shift a pattern in your mindset. Or it might simply give your mind a little rest from some of the chatter that goes on relentlessly throughout the day.
So, it seems, that perhaps I was overcomplicating things (me?? never!!) and actually what my fear of meditation was about getting something wrong and not being ‘good enough’ to pursue it. Now I realise that it is not possible to ‘be bad at meditation’, you just have to find the way that works for you.
I am definitely not professing to being an expert in meditation, I simply feel that a lot of people suffer from fear of meditation, and actually there is very little to be frightened of.
So can you find just one minute today to clear a little space? Start small and see where it takes you.