I have a confession. I don’t meditate every day! While I’m passionate about teaching mindfulness and meditation, my own practice is less than perfect (is there such a thing?).
There’s a lot written about the benefits of mediation, but not much about what happens when you stop, or temporarily fall off the wagon.
This blog, is for the many people who try to meditate regularly, who stop, try again, stop – ad infinitum (you know who you are). I want you to know you’re normal. Meditation is hard. It might just be the hardest thing in the world.
To meditate, you must go against everything you’ve been socialised to do – which is something else. Anything else. Just don’t sit there doing nothing! This is not easy.
I’m hoping that confessing to my meditation ‘hiccoughs’ (as a teacher of meditation) will console people who feel like failures when their practice slumps. You’re not a failure. And being a lapsed meditator is more common than you think.
The good thing is, if you’ve been meditating (and been doing it for long enough) you’ll have experienced the many benefits, so you’re far more likely to want to start again. The choice, to recommit to your practice is available to you every single day.
So, what happens when I stop meditating? What do I notice and why do I always start again.
Well, initially – nothing much. Life seems to chug along as usual. But it doesn’t take long before things begin to unravel. It’s subtle. Nothing major (it’s not like my entire life turns to custard), just small seemingly innocuous things start to shift and falter.
It doesn’t all happen at once, but it doesn’t take that long either. Usually after a couple of days of non-meditating, I turn into a lesser version of me.
The first thing I notice, is I get a bit scratchy. Normally an even-keeled person, little things start to irritate me. Someone walks in front of me and cuts me off and a wave of indignation and self-righteous thoughts like ‘am I invisible mister, don’t I matter, arrogant…!’ ensues. I’m simply not as nice.
My sense of humour declines (they did that on purpose!) and negative self-talk escalates. Old internal dialogues offer up an endless supply of ‘you’re not good enough’ recriminations. Consequently, my mood plummets.
I don’t sleep as well. I toss and turn, regularly waking at 3am to worry about things that will never happen. When the alarm goes off, I silence it (more than twice). Fatigued – I’m not the person I aspire to be – I’m more judgemental and far less intolerant.
Self-care takes a dive (hard to look after yourself when you’re underserving) and I begin to skip my early morning yoga sessions. Power Vinyasa can be excruciating when you’re not in the mood.
I don’t listen nearly as well, and my own opinion feels very important. I see red flags and risk everywhere, and far fewer opportunities.
Creativity stops flowing. I lack inspiration. The smallest technology glitch can flummox me. Unhelpful helpdesk staff get an earful, and those that push back can bring me to tears. Facebook becomes a big-time waster. I find myself commenting on other people’s politics (never do this) and wanting to see which character I would be on ‘Game of Thrones’! In my work, I notice my ego is stronger than my desire to serve.
This is not the person I aspire to be (she’s not much fun to be around). I’m at my best when I meditate, so I fire up my practice again. Slowly but surely the better me appears.
When I mediate I’m more chillaxed. Nothing much worries me. If someone cuts me off, I can smile and step aside graciously, acknowledging they might not have seen me, or maybe they’re having a bad day. I’m considerably nicer.
My sense of humour returns, and I’m able to interrupt unhelpful self-talk before it takes me over. I sleep better and wake up more refreshed. I’m more likely to get to Yoga. No need to fight the alarm.
My opinion becomes one of many possible opinions, not necessarily right, or better than anyone else’s. I’m kinder (particularly to helpdesk personnel), can keep my political opinions to myself, and don’t waste nearly as much time on Facebook.
Life becomes less about me, me, me – and more about how I can help others. This is a better way to live.
Meditation transforms my Mr Hyde back to Dr Jekyll (he was the nice one – I just Googled to be sure). When my practice lapses, I’m reminded of why I meditate, (to be a better version on myself) and this is enough to motivate me to recommit again.
At speaking events, I always ask my audience how many people meditate. There’s usually a small show of hands. When I ask who has tried and given up, many more people raise their hands.
A few years back people wouldn’t admit to meditating. Meditators preferred to stay in the closet, to avoid being labelled as weird (up there with hippies, and tree-huggers). Today, that’s changed. Many more people are either meditating regularly, or at least admitting to giving it a go.
Meditation is becoming more mainstream and acceptable, mostly due to the plethora of neuroscientific research promoting the benefits. But despite good intentions to start and maintain a practice, many people struggle to make it a consistent part of their routine. You are not alone!
Even people who’ve completed entire meditation programmes, who really want to meditate, admit to hitting the wall. They tell me they feel guilty when they stop. I find their guilt comforting, because even aspiring to meditate is a good thing. We try, we fail, simply signifying that we’re all human and flawed.
So, if you’re fallen off the meditation wagon please get back on. You are not alone, none of us have a perfect practice (well, I haven’t met them yet). You are not a failure, you’re a human work in progress. Meditation is hard, but it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you (at home and in the office).
One thing I’m sure of – the world is a better place when I meditate. When you recommit to your practice your world will be too.
Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers programmes across New Zealand and Australia to produce unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being.
Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) used to align values with behaviours and transform workplace culture. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.
It’s all about changing the way you work to positively influence workplace culture.