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Perseverance in Meditation

My mother told me this weekend, "I can't meditate. I can't get my mind to stop." I told her that it takes a bit of practice. It also takes some unwiring of what you're doing.

That's the hard part--changing what you're doing. Most of us are resistant to change, even if we are completely miserable in our own state. I know that for myself. It's much easier to be comfortable in your misery than reach out to the unknown.

Meditation reaches for that unknown. At the beginning of a meditation practice, you have no idea where you will wind up. Will it be a practice of stillness, or will it be a practice of your mind darting around like a pinball machine? You never know, but you still try.

When I was applying for graduate programs, my admission essay was about marathon training. I considered how hard it was to train for a marathon--to run several days a week, pressing the body further and harder each week. I wrote that I could adopt this mindset in my approach to graduate study--that there would be days, weeks, where I'd be buried in mental work, but I could plow through. Both taught me perseverance.

However, both take work. You can't wake up one day and run a marathon, and you can't complete a dissertation without the proper training. It's all a process.

So is meditation. Many people reject the thought of sitting for 30 minutes a day in silence. They even hear about monks who meditate for several hours a day. These practices didn't occur overnight. Some, I would say, began with being mindful for just 30 seconds.

I've been using Insight Timer for several years now. I tried so many other meditation apps, but so many of them are too busy or the meditations are too short. I hate guided meditations because so many times I'll say, "Will you just shut up!?!?!" But I know guided meditations are great for those who are just getting started. But Insight Timer has really beautiful musicians like Chris Collins and Patrick Lynen, whose compositions are really soothing.

But I digress.

I had learned the practice of Centering Prayer in 2006, and to be honest, I don't know how I stumbled upon it. It was so difficult for me to sit for 20 minutes at first. My mind was rampant with thoughts and emotions about my boyfriend issues. My body would moan after two minutes of sitting, and I would fidget in my seat. But my spirit was willing, and my spirit persevered.

Sometimes it's a matter of preparation. If you run for a solid minute all out, it's difficult for you to stop where you are and stand still. Your mind works that way as well. When your mind is running constantly, looking for a distraction at every waking moment, it shouldn't be a surprise when you try to get it to stop. You have to gradually slow it down.

Some of my friends who "try" yoga say they can't do it because it's "too slow." Yes, some of it really is--there are bad yoga classes, too! But sometimes the yoga class is too fast, and it's similar to an aerobics class. People will say, "Wow, that was a great workout." But that's not really the point.

If you look at the history of yoga, the purpose of the yoga postures was to prepare your body to sit in meditation. It was to help the body and mind work out its restlessness. So if you feel you got a "great workout" in a yoga class, stay after for the next 15 minutes and meditate. But instead, we practice yoga and never practice the quiet it had cultivated.

It would make no sense for us to do a warm-up to a run then go back to work. We didn't explore the benefits of a run! It's the same with a yoga class. We dart out just after savasana and go back to re-toxing our bodies and minds with what causes our restlessness.

So perhaps rather than saying we "can't meditate," why not just take some moments to prepare? I often meditate in the morning before I read all the social media bullshit and get pissed off. Sometimes it takes me longer than other days because my body might be sore or my mind might be pressing me to get started with work.

The preparation might be some calisthenics or a few yoga postures. It might be lighting a candle or reading a passage from scripture. Eventually your mind and body get the signal that you're going to meditate, and the preparation takes a shorter amount of time. Your time of "ah" comes much more quickly, and that helps you persevere.

In the running community, it is said that the last 20 minutes of running is what makes the first 20 minutes worth enduring. Meditation is like that.

Your mind and body battle with your spirit. Your mind wants to get out. Your body wants to get out. But eventually both give up and your spirit sustains you. You find that the last half of your meditation is much easier than the first half, and it makes it worthwhile.

It just takes perseverance.

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