Recently, my partner and I went on a two night camping trip with our dogs. The second morning, I was lying on a picnic table, looking up at the trees, and pondering the irony that this place was a beautiful spot to meditate, but I hadn’t stopped to meditate once. Letting out a wistful sigh, I commented as such to my partner.
“You’ve been on vacation relaxing, I think you’ll be fine,” he responded.
Looking back on it now, his response doesn’t seem that absurd. He’s seen me meditating, and since we hadn’t talked about it, how would he know that within my quiet outward appearance, my mind is always a swirling war of distraction. But in the moment, I was very confused because his response didn’t make any sense. To me, relaxation and meditation are barely related. They’re more like distant cousins who occasionally see each other at Thanksgiving dinner. After a few moments of staring at him in confusion, my mind landed on the stunning conclusion: He has no idea why I meditate.
I have spent years lying to myself about my mental health. As a society, we spend so much time glorifying stress and worshiping our busy schedules that it was easy for me to tell myself that there was nothing wrong, because I was just like everyone else. It wasn’t until I got involved in mental health awareness initiatives that I started to accept that moving away from the stress-wrung, always-on, never-enough lifestyle was not the same as being a failure.
So I started meditating last November, and in the months since I began, I have not had a single session in which I didn’t get distracted. Sometimes I only get distracted a few times, and sometimes the whole exercise feels completely futile because my scattered mind won’t sit still. Although I try to meditate each morning, it isn’t uncommon for me to miss a day or two, especially when my schedule is abnormal, such as during weekends and vacations.
Like so many people raised in a high-achieving environment, I am my own biggest critic, and perhaps the most important thing meditation has taught me is how to forgive myself. Forgot to meditate yesterday? I forgive myself. Regroup. Focus again. Am I thinking about my to do list instead of focusing on the breath? I forgive myself. Regroup. Focus again. Scenes from that TV show slip into my mind instead? I forgive myself. Regroup. Focus again.
And it wasn’t long before this bled over into the rest of my life (that is the point, after all). Didn’t get the scholarship I wanted? I forgive myself. Regroup. Focus again. Didn’t accomplish a single goal for this month? I forgive myself. Regroup. Focus again.
Since I started meditating, it has been easier for me to remain calm and focused. This is not to say that I magically became a zen master who is never angry or that my laser focus has enabled me to change the world, but I can point to little things that have been different since I started. My partner and I have fewer arguments. I’m better at designating specific amounts of time to follow through with my goals. I can sometimes identify that I am not my emotions (this one is still hard).
Meditation can seem messy, difficult, and like a lot of work. But it has also enabled me to let go of some of the frantic, hectic banter in my mind and redirect my focus to my priorities. So while it may not be exactly what it looks like, the benefits I gain are much more valuable to me than a pause for relaxation.
Kristina is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.