I’m sitting cross-legged on a small Oriental rug in the sunniest part of my bedroom. Ring finger to thumb. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. I keep a soft focus on the expansion of my belly and the rising of my chest. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. My chest and belly contract. I ride these waves of inhale and exhale, over and over.
By the 10th round, the sound of a spoon scraping a bowl clinks across the house and down the hall to where I sit and breathe. Around the 15th round, muted sounds of classical music float across the hall from my older daughter’s bedroom. By the 20th round, the meowing of my cat fills the air. Thoughts begin to float by: “Ugh, that noise is annoying,” “Why is her music so loud?” and, “What does that cat want now?” I bring my focus back to breathing in and breathing out. Over and over. Thoughts come in. Noises float around. Thoughts float out. Then, ding. Ten minutes of breathing, done.
Though this may not read as the most serene and peaceful scene, it is a pretty typical moment of mediation for me. Not only that, though I do meditate every day, it is not always at the same time nor in the same place. Sometimes it is on that Oriental rug. Other times, it is on my youngest child’s bean bag or in my home office on my wing-back chair. Still other days, it is in between seeing clients in my office. Moreover, there are times—such as during a snowstorm or on the weekend—when I have no choice but to meditate while a lot of stuff is happening around me, and there is no quiet or even semi-quiet place to go. Contrary to what many articles on meditation have suggested, if I were to insist on a quiet moment, I might only mediate once a week or maybe not at all.
I’ve been meditating on and off since college, but I’ve never been able to make the same long-term, full commitment to a meditation practice as I have to exercise. Over the last 4 years, however, I became more inspired to really “buckle down” and “get serious” about meditation. During this time, I was completing advanced graduate work in mental health counseling, and in one of the first classes I took, the teacher asked all of us to commit to one self-care activity for the entire semester, but to not set a specific goal regarding frequency. Rather, she requested we keep a log of how often we did the self-care activity. Naturally, I chose meditation, with the hope that because it was an assignment and I’m forever type-A when it comes to school, I would meditate perfectly.
You can guess how that “goal” went.
Hannah Goodman’s therapy office is in Barrington, RI.
Throughout the rest of my time in the grad program, I dipped in and out of a meditation practice, using various apps for support and encouragement. When I would “fall off the wagon” so-to-speak, I (the former teacher and forever student that I am) would feel like I had failed.
When I graduated in May of last year, I temporarily forgot about my quest to be the perfect meditator and threw myself into studying for my license exam so intensely that my studies became a daily mediation in itself! When I emerged from the exam a licensed mental health counselor, I celebrated briefly, but then I felt the loss of the meditative feeling I had during those months of deep focus: stable, grounded, mindful.
I found myself craving the act of breathing and stillness, but at the same time, I dreaded the inevitable feeling of failure I knew would follow if I couldn’t commit to a regular meditation practice. I started to wonder what was wrong with me that I couldn’t do it. I could commit to exercising every day. I’m disciplined enough to finish multiple graduate programs. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t follow through on a seemingly simple task like meditating?
I did a speed-dial to my own therapist, and when I marched into his office and fell onto the couch, I declared, “I suck at meditating.”
He asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “I can’t do it right.”
“What do you mean ‘do it right?’”
“You know, for 20 minutes every day, in the same place and at the same time…”
That’s when he gave me that smile, it’s wry and I know what it means…it means, “There it is…there’s what’s wrong.”
We talked about what meditation was and what it wasn’t: It’s the practice of keeping your attention on your breath and on the present moment. It’s about awareness of when you wander away from the breath, and it’s about gently—and without judgment—bringing yourself back. It’s not about how long or where you do it; it’s the fact that you’re doing it, period.
That session kick-started a major shift in my thinking.
The only rule I set for myself after that conversation with my therapist was—to quote Nike: Just do it.
Meditation has now become a daily practice to me. Though, on less structured days, when I’m not working and in comfy sweatpants, knee-deep in a home organizing project, I may forget to meditate until late in the day. And, sometimes, on more structured days, when I may only have four minutes between clients available to practice, I sit at my desk and I just do it.
So, as I sit here on my rug finishing this blog post, I briefly close my eyes and let my focus drift away from these words and hold steady on my breath…in…and out…and though there are noises from my children and meowing from my cat and thoughts that float in, I am able to have space between myself and these could-be distractions. I don’t fight them; rather, I acknowledge them and then I bring myself back to the soft in-and-out of my breath.
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult; it just has to be.