I’ve been meditating most days for the last year or so.
Here are my stats to prove it.
I have been using an app called Waking Up by Sam Harris. I highly recommend it. In addition to daily meditations, he has lessons, interviews with interesting people in the mindfulness community, and guest sessions by other teachers. I suspect I will keep my subscription to the app just for some of those extra things.
So why am I giving up meditation?
There are a few angles to this question, so I will try to capture them all.
Over the past few weeks I have been co-facilitating some Be Well Plan pilot sessions with students. It is a 5-week program designed to teach people how to develop their own wellbeing and resilience plan.
A central idea in the program is that of experimenting with different wellbeing activities in one’s life and determining which ones have a positive impact. The ones that progress a person forward should be kept and embedded into everyday life. The ones that are neutral or have a negative impact should be shelved or discarded. Regular honest self-assessment of what is working and what isn’t is key in this process.
As a facilitator, I’ve watched as students try different strategies and adjust their plan each week. We’ve encouraged them to critically assess each activity and its value to them.
This naturally got me thinking about my own wellbeing activities and had I honestly assessed their impact on me in a while.
Roughly speaking, my wellbeing plan involves (or did involve):
- Meditation – 20 minutes most days
- Weight training – once a week
- Yoga training – 3-5 times a week
- Art – weekends
- Guitar playing – weekends
- Gardening – when needed
- Trying to eat reasonably well – most days
I asked myself which of these did I think was genuinely enhancing my life and which had become neutral or even aversive.
What I worked out was I had struck a fairly nice balance when it came to art, guitar, gardening and diet. I found weight training valuable but needed to revisit the structure of my workout. Yoga was really exciting and interesting to me and probably my #1 wellbeing activity at the moment. And meditation?………..well meditation had become frustrating and mildly aversive.
I’m not totally clear on why it has become aversive, but here are some thoughts:
- In Waking Up, Sam invites meditators to loosen their grip on a sense of ‘self’ – a permanent person inside your head who is the architect of your experience. Instead he invites one to think of self as a fluid process, patterns that are created through experience, rather than guiding experience. In theory I agree with his formulation. In practice however, I have found it a bit upsetting and destabilizing to try to do this. I struggle with a low sense of self-worth and meditation seemed to worsen that, rather than provide relief.
- Although a year is a short time frame in the context of meditation practice, I didn’t really feel like I improved in any measurable way during that time. When I compared it to Yoga where I could see improvement on a daily basis, it seemed a far less valuable use of my time. I did in the process learn that ‘improvement’ is something that gives me meaning in my life. Perhaps why I am writing about self-improvement elsewhere.
- Although mindfulness meditation is by no means intended to be relaxing (it might have that effect, but that isn’t really the goal), I noticed that I was considerably more relaxed after doing Yoga in the morning than I was after doing meditation. Yoga has just turned out to be a better start to the day than any other activity I’ve done in my life thus far.
- The relationship between me and my body probably needs more repair than the relationship between me and my mind. At least for the time being.
- I’m the kind of person that clings to the status quo, even when it is obvious that it isn’t doing me any favours anymore. Meditation had become one of those things in my life.
Now I totally understand that one might read the reasons above and be able to formulate responses along the lines of:
- you should stick with it longer
- you haven’t been doing it right – you are missing the point
- you have unrealistic expectations
- perhaps you need a different teacher
- perhaps you should be meditating at a different time of the day
- perhaps you are 12 shades of bonkers
Those first 5 are quite valid (the sixth is a little rude). And the title of this post (with ‘for now’ in parentheses) captures that I have not or am not ruling out a return to meditation at some point in the future.
Rather, I am following the advice we give students and use this period of self-evaluation as an opportunity to return to a more experimental approach to my wellbeing/resilience. I suspect that such experimentation is itself an antidote to feeling stuck in a rut, bored, like everything is the same. Yes, it might be valuable to have certain habits built into our everyday that yield wellbeing benefits, but perhaps it is always good to be experimenting with new activities or new ways of doing things. Perhaps some novelty and challenge is required to keep us on our toes.
It is also a valuable reminder that whilst certain activities might have evidence for their value (meditation is one of those), it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily going to be a good fit for you. There isn’t shame is giving something a good crack but determining not to continue with it. Sure, if your healthy habits only last a week before you bail on them, then you might not be giving them the chance to prove themselves. But if you feel you’ve given a particular activity a good shot and it just isn’t hitting the mark, feel free to chuck on the life lab coat and do some experiments.
So for the time being, meditation is out and I am expanding my yoga practice. I am also wondering what might be the next experiment I run with regards to my wellbeing. I’ve got at least 10 minutes extra a day I can use 🙂