How to be terrible at meditation

People know that I get up early, but they are always a little surprised by how early.

I start a part-time online news shift at 6am, and stagger out of bed at 4.50am.

Most people, when they hear that, wonder what I can be doing that takes so long – the general response is that quarter to six would seem more than adequate (as in clean your teeth, make coffee and sit down in your pyjamas).

Well yes – but I do need a shower to wake up properly, and to feel as though I am a professional preparing for a day of work (no lockdown PJs for me).

And then there’s the meditation.

This generates another little jolt of surprise – I know that I don’t generally appear to be the kind of person who meditates.

And people don’t really know much about it anyway. “Do you transcend?” asked someone, thinking no doubt of Transcendental Meditation.

The answer is simple: I most definitely do not transcend.

In fact I am quite probably the world’s worst meditator. And yet I keep doing it.

Let’s go back in time

In 2016 I managed to injure my back quite badly, resulting in several months of anxiety-provoking treatment, culminating in surgery, and much lying down.

The result: I had a lot of time on my hands and much to worry about. I don’t know how I decided that meditation was a thing to try but it was quite probably on the advice of a Googled article about how to deal with back pain. What harm, I probably thought.

I also don’t remember how I landed up doing mindfulness meditation through the Headspace app, but I do know why – it was out of an excess of irritation. One of the many things that irritate me in this life is the tendency for voice-overs of various sorts to be delivered in a kind of breathless whisper, or in a specially modulated guru voice (what I think of as woo-woo voices).

When I started in 2016, the only voice to be found on Headspace was that of Andy Puddicombe, who sounds like a bloke you might meet in a pub, conversational and ordinary, if a little slow. Here was something that worked for me! And the meditation did help me to cope with the saga of my back injury, so I stuck with it.

I have been doing Headspace meditations on and off ever since, with – as noted – stellar lack of progress.

I still drift off, think about my to do list, remember things that happened 10 years ago, worry about things that might happen tomorrow or in 10 years time, figure out what to make for supper, or what I am going to do over the weekend, wriggle, stroke the cat on my lap, worry about whether the water feature outside needs more water… You get the picture.

There are many days that I feel frustrated by this – but I keep coming back to my 5.30am chair, phone in hand, even on days when I am not sure it makes any difference to my life at all.

I think one part of the durability of this practice is that it quite simply a habit now, something I do in the same way as I make that first cup of coffee. There are always moments, however fleeting, when I am in fact present in the moment (the goal of mindfulness meditation).

Simply put, this 10 or 15 minute slot in my day provides a small breathing space, a break from my usually busy routine. It is a daily reminder that not everything has to be perfect, or useful. It can just be.

So: I will never transcend, I will almost never be present in the moment. But I will keep trying. And I do like the look of surprise I get when I tell people I meditate.

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Main photo: Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

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