I have never taken a quick liking to meditation.
For the past few years I have been meditating on and off. I’ve gone through periods of religious “good girl” meditation, where I’ve dutifully sat down each and every morning for a prescribed amount of time. And I’ve also gone through periods of hit-and-miss meditation, where some days I plunk myself down on the cold, uninviting floor obediently – and other days just wake up and think “screw it” and fall back into an unconscious stupor on my drool covered pillow.
Because of my passive dislike of meditation I have constantly wondered with mild guilt:
“Does that make me an unspiritual person?”
And so, driven by the belief that “only spiritual people meditate” I have striven to uphold the Spiritual Person Identity (SPI) and have forced myself to conform to such a regimented practice, even against my authentic desires.
While it is good to cultivate self-discipline and healthy habits, I have always sensed that traditional meditation isn’t enough to bring about the changes that I truly desire in my life.
If you are tired of trying to uphold the SPI guise, or simply want to open up to an alternative path, keep reading.
Meditation is Beneficial, But Only to a Certain Extent
There is no denying that meditation – whether it be mantra meditation, Pranayama, mindfulness meditation, Kundalini meditation, Zen meditation, etc. – are all very beneficial to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Not only has meditation been extensively researched, but it has also been proven to have a large number of health benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, lowered blood pressure, improved immunity, enhanced intuition, improved mental concentration, heightened physical and emotional energy, and countless other bonuses.
In fact, many people have attributed regular meditation practice to transforming their entire lives, and I concur. When I regularly meditated I experienced a notable increase in inner clarity which was wonderful.
However, I have never found 10-20 minutes – even an hour a day – to be truly effective. While meditation is a wonderful way to ground yourself and experience many health benefits, using meditation to help you develop non-resistance, inner clarity, self-awareness and even “enlightenment,” is unfortunately extremely ineffective.
Why I Gave Up
By nature I love to question everything (perhaps why the motto of this blog is “Thinking Differently, Living Differently”) and meditation hasn’t escaped my scrutiny.
I have recently asked the following questions:
- Why do we make meditation a compartmentalized and cut off habit?
Answer: Because that is what we have been taught to do. Our lives are generally very scheduled and “penciled in” so the only language we learn to speak is one of segmentation: this happens at this time, that happens at that time, this goes here, that goes there. It’s hard for us to speak any other language other than the one we have been conditioned to speak.
- Why do we reserve 1 hour or less of our days meditating and forget about it the other 23 hours?
Answer: Because meditation isn’t our priority, and therefore it is often a “tacked on” habit to our lives. We usually do meditation to “get” something, to reap some kind of reward, and after we have “done” it, it is discarded back into its slim daily time slot. It is unthinkable for us to dedicate 24 hours a day to meditating, largely because we have the misconception that it must be practiced a certain way (i.e. sitting down, doing nothing).
- Why do I feel pressured to keep up this practice?
Answer: Because without meditating I lose that sense of belonging that accompanies the “spiritual person” identity. Being a meditator makes me feel special, mystical and more “awakened” than other people because I feel as though I’m a part of an exclusive club of people. Yet it only really provides another way for the ego to crawl out of the back door.
- Does meditation truly help me?
Answer: In some small ways it does, but at large it feels like a very lukewarm practice. Yes, 15 minutes a day I feel calm and at peace, but the other 1,425 minutes I revert back to my same old habits and patterns eventually, sometimes (if at all) with a glimmer of mindfulness sprinkled here and there.
My conclusions? Meditation isn’t worth it – for me at least. And you might like to question whether it is worth it for you as well.
I have always been an intense person by nature. I don’t like dedicating myself to doing lukewarm, half-hearted practices just because everyone else does. I love resolve, I love wholehearted living. And that is precisely why I gave up meditating.
What I Did Instead
Vigilance. Rather than developing a once-a-day meditation practice that lasts for less than an hour, I have decided to cultivate an all-day-long vigilance practice that lasts indefinitely.
The practice of vigilance requires one single word: “Stop.” This word is acted on whenever any feelings of fear, anger, resentment, anxiety or impatience are felt at any point during the day. All that is needed is to simply stop, to be still, and to experience what is going on inside of you openly and freely.
Often I find that just stopping allows me to make the unconsciously experienced, consciously experienced. In other words; instead of allowing stress to tense me up under the surface, I stop, consciously allow myself to feel the stress (without escaping from it), and allow it to pass away.
After coming face to face with what I am feeling, I often make interesting discoveries such as, “Hey, I was assuming what that person was thinking. I was making myself anxious for no reason” or, “I was resisting that situation again” or, “I was doing that too fast, I needed to slow down.” These constant insights during the day have powerfully impacted my life in a very short expanse of time – much more than any formal meditation practice has ever done.
In fact, I will go so far as to say the practice of vigilance – of stopping, experiencing and becoming aware of what is going on inside of you – is a living meditation. It is not a compartmentalized meditation, a 10-minute-a-day meditation, a do-this-when-you-want-to-feel-spiritual meditation, but a living and breathing meditation that brings you right back to the source of “you” and everything going on inside frequently throughout the day.
This living meditation takes a split second to do, and you can do it whenever you feel the slightest bit uncentered or wound up. Using your emotions as triggers, you can immediately stop, and in the spirit of self-inquiry explore what you are feeling without escaping, without repressing, without running and hiding. Just stop, just be.
Allowing yourself to consciously feel what you are feeling – no matter how terrible, how painful, how embarrassing, or how fearful – opens up the doorway for immense inner growth. The miracle is that once you allow yourself to fully and 100% feel what you feel, you suddenly realize that there is nothing there. Like shadows, your ghastly feelings immediately fade with the light of conscious recognition. And all that remains is a place of silence and stillness.
The good news is that this can be experienced constantly throughout your day, just as long as vigilance is your priority. No matter how busy your schedule is, no matter how in-demand you are, no matter how much you think you “can’t” do this, you can experience this, and the best thing is that you don’t need to make it a dead-end ritual – it becomes a living and breathing practice instead.