I’m running into an interesting paradox/ conundrum/ thing with my secular meditation practice.
I’ve been meditating regularly, almost every day, since April of this year. Unsurprisingly, as I continue to do it and to be a little more experienced with it, it’s been getting easier. Specifically, it’s become much easier to just sit still for twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour. When I first started this practice, some of what I wanted to get out of it was, quote, “the ability to sit still” and “the ability to not constantly be either in motion or feeding my brain with stimulation.” And I’ve been getting that. When I started out with this, simply the act of sitting or lying still for twenty minutes or more was sometimes — okay, often — irritating and frustrating, a weird blend of boredom and restlessness with anxiety and wanting to ignore or escape whatever was coming up. I am now much more comfortable simply sitting quietly for longish stretches of time: not looking at my phone, not reading a book or a magazine, not surfing the Internet. I am much more comfortable now with just… being. And that’s true whether I’m meditating or not.
But there’s an interesting paradox/ conundrum/ thing. As the “just sitting or lying quietly for twenty minutes or more” part of meditation is getting easier… the actual “focusing my awareness on one thing, on my breathing or a scan of my body or whatever” part is getting more difficult.
See, back when the mere act of sitting quietly was enough to make me bored or restless or anxious, that boredom or restlessness or anxiety would snap me awake, make me realize that my attention and focus had drifted, make me realize that I needed to return my focus to my breath or whatever. Now that I don’t have that little alarm going off every minute or so, I’m finding that long stretches of my meditation sessions are taken up with… well, just spacing out. Thinking, or letting my thoughts drift, or rehearsing conversations, or writing essays in my head. All of which are perfectly wonderful things to do (well, except for the “rehearsing conversations” bit, more on that in a later post) — but none of which are actually meditating. None of which are focusing my awareness for a sustained period on one particular thing. I’m certainly glad to be more comfortable sitting still and spacing out… but that’s not what I want to be getting from meditation. Or rather, it’s not the only thing.
And without that little bit of anxiety or restlessness regularly creeping in and making me notice that my awareness has drifted, it’s more difficult to notice… well, that my awareness has drifted.
As the practice has become easier, it’s become more difficult.
I’m not sure what to do with this. I suspect the main thing I need to do with it is just notice it when it happens. Certainly with other aspects of meditation, I’ve gotten better at it with practice, and I suspect that with practice, my brain will find some other way to notice that it’s drifting.
But maybe I need to look at other meditation forms. Lately I’ve mostly been doing the breath meditation, which has a lot of advantages, but which does have the disadvantage of being more physically static than other forms. I might need to move to forms of meditation that are more in-motion: a walking meditation, or the body scan and moving my attention from one body part to another.
Not sure. Thinking out loud here. If you have experience with meditation… thoughts?
(This has nothing to do with the topic of the post, but I’m going to keep mentioning it in every post I write for a little while: The news from the Philippines in the wake of Haiyan is getting worse and worse. The death toll is rising, and thousands are without shelter, food and medicine. The Foundation Beyond Belief’s Crisis Response is supporting the relief and recovery efforts of Citizens’ Disaster Response Center. Please help if you can. Even small amounts add up.)