I didn’t like the idea of meditation at all when I first heard about it, and I liked it even less when I first tried it. I have trouble slowing down in general; just the idea of sitting still intimidated me. I had some preconceived notions about what meditation was and what prerequisites and personality I needed in order to meditate. These were not helpful to my meditation practice; in fact, they prevented me from starting.
When I finally got over the intimidation factor and tried meditation—an activity that was supposed to be easy (I mean, you’re just sitting there, right?)—I “got nowhere” and immediately thought I wasn’t good at it. As an overachiever, I liked being good at things—and hate failing—so the fact that meditation was difficult and unnatural to me did not motivate me to meditate.
I felt like a failure, so I gave up. I’d restart my practice and quit many times over my first couple of years. During those early days of meditation, my mind would barge in, interrupt, and topple everything in sight; it would ruin the experience for me and highlight the anxiety I was struggling with.
At the beginning, my meditations seemed like a grueling trip to the DMV, where you stand in one slow line, just to be given a number to then wait in another line, and then another . . . You know that severe agitation you feel when you have important things to be doing, but instead, you are waiting in a mandatory, yet inefficient line that seemingly has no end? This was how my meditations felt at the beginning.
From where I was in my practice—and all the chatter, worry, and chaos that took place in my mind during my meditations—I figured I was doing something massively wrong and I must need to work harder at it, like years or decades.
Resetting My Expectations
What I didn’t realize was that having thoughts was the most common experience during meditation, especially to those who aren’t used to slowing down. I thought that having thoughts during meditation was proof that I wasn’t born to be a meditator; I didn’t realize that was just me being—a human being.
At that point, no one had explained to me the process of meditation and what to expect. I used to think that meditating should always be a totally blissful experience if you’re doing it right, and that if negativity and thoughts entered your meditation, you must be doing something wrong.
One of the important guidelines in meditation is to be non-judgmental of your thoughts and experiences. There is no meditation that can be labeled good and none that can be labeled bad. As a beginner, you may need to call your mind back to the present moment more often, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But thoughts? I learned that it would be abnormal if I didn’t have a lot of thoughts during meditation.
Transitioning into Meditation
When I first started out meditating, I thought I had to start out with a 20 or 30-minute window. I couldn’t make it through the first meditation—even the first few minutes felt like eternity. It was like my monkey mind invited 32 of its friends to the conversation, escalating my worries and thoughts. I didn’t make it through the second meditation either . . . or the third.
I eventually tried setting a timer for just five minutes. I struggled through even the five minutes. I felt like I was cheating because my mind was spinning with thoughts and I would check the clock too early and often, but at least I made it to the end. From there, once I got comfortable with the five minutes of meditation, I slowly began increasing the time. This attempt was a much more organic evolution into meditation for me than starting out with a practice I was totally intimidated by.
The truth is, starting a meditation practice was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But it’s also been one of the most valuable. I wish someone had told me at the beginning to expect a challenge—I may have been more patient and understanding with myself.
It’s important to set the expectation that being in the now—at times—can be the hardest place to be. If you know in the beginning that a meditation practice is meant to be rewarding and valuable in your life—but not always easy—you’ll also learn to be patient with yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, meditation can certainly be easy and effortless, and some people find that meditating comes natural to them. But for others, like me, the ease of meditation takes time. It’s important to know that difficulty is normal at the beginning and it does get easier.
So if you’re just starting out and you have a busy mind, ditch the “I want results and I want them now!” mentality, and just remember that there is no destination or goal, except to sit down each day and practice.