I used to believe that meditation was about finding that miracle space where I wouldn’t hear thoughts or voices, either internal or external. I used to believe each time my focus strayed from my breath that I was “failing” in meditation. I’ve been learning that the goal of meditation isn’t what I originally thought.
This morning I sat for my daily meditation (day 227 on my current daily streak using the amazing Calm iOS app) in the backyard of my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Westhampton Beach, where I’ve been staying all week.
They were getting the boys ready to go to camp so there was a bit of chaos around the house. As I was sitting in meditation, my oldest nephew (age 8) approached me. He knew I was meditating. I heard him shout to someone “Renée is meditating.” Then he started calling my name to get me to answer him. When I didn’t answer him, he started asking repeatedly if I was “frozen.” He was taunting me, trying to provoke a reaction or response.
There was a time when I would have opened my eyes, paused my meditation and explained what I was doing. I would have used it as a teaching moment for him, to explain the benefits of sitting still and connecting with yourself.
I did not do that today.
I heard what he was saying. And then I turned my attention back to my breath.
I noticed that I wanted to open my eyes. And then I turned my attention back to my breath.
I noticed that I felt pulled to pause for a moment so I could engage with him. And then I turned my attention back to my breath.
I’ve come to learn that this is the essence of meditation practice.
Meditation is not about finding a space where the voices and the noise stops. It’s not about magically stopping the thoughts that flow through our minds.
Meditation practice is about hearing what’s there and then releasing it to come back to the breath. Sometimes those voices are external, like the people around you who want your attention in the moment. Sometimes the voices are internal, like the inner critic or the internal narrator of our daily experience. Sometimes you get both, like I did today.
Meditation is the practice of noticing what’s there, acknowledging it, releasing it and then turning back to your breath.
That’s it. Over and over and over.
The goal is not to stop all thoughts from coming. The goal is to cultivate the skills that help us navigate the noises in our world.
Awareness. Presence. Mindfulness. Focus.
These are not habits; they are not instinctive to us.
They are skills that we must develop. They are muscles that we must condition.
To develop these skills requires daily practice.
There is no perfection here, and there is no failure.
The only failure in meditation practice is in not showing up. Everything else is part of the process.
Do you have a daily meditation practice? I’d love to hear what you learn from your practice. Please share!