I recently finished a mindfulness-based stress reduction class. I’ve been a spotty meditator for years but have never been able to commit to a daily practice because, well, meditation is hard. I also knew that the originator of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn, requires his students to meditate for 45 minutes a day, six days a week during the class. Frankly, that scared me. I have so little time as it is–especially time when I am not being interrupted continually by children–that the thought of sacrificing nearly an hour a day to doing NOTHING just frightened me.
But I also knew that when I meditated, I felt better. And I want to be able to do hard things, things my brain tells me I can’t do. So I signed up for an MBSR class as my birthday present to myself.
The class, which I took through a local hospital, ran for eight weeks. We learned a variety of meditation techniques, including the body scan, mindful eating, yoga, walking meditation and traditional sitting meditation. We also learned informal practices that we could use all day in our daily lives. We started off only doing formal meditation for ten minutes a day in the first class–very doable!–and worked up to thirty minutes over several weeks. It was still a big challenge, but doing it this way made it so much more approachable, and I didn’t flame out in frustration. (I did a meditation retreat with a favorite Buddhist author two years ago and we meditated for ten hours a day. It was so miserable that I didn’t even think about meditating for a full year afterward) My MBSR class was gentle, kind and gradual…and I learned so much about myself. And yes, my stress was greatly reduced because of the techniques I learned in class, probably by 80-90%, but that almost feels like the least of the benefits I got by taking it. Crazy, right?
I finally established a daily meditation practice that nourishes me, and I realized it’s just like anything else in life: getting past the thinking and fretting and excuse-making and just doing it. I went through this for YEARS with my writing, doing lots of internal hemming and hawing, telling myself I wasn’t good enough or that I was embarrassed to call myself a writer or needing conditions to be just right to get some writing done or any of a million other things. Once I finally just quit thinking about it and did the work, everything began to fall into place. I started completing projects, I found the confidence that was eluding me, I started getting published. I’ve been working on my novel for over five years now. That’s a really, really long time. I’ve only ever gotten anything done at all when I quit thinking about writing and instead, just wrote.
Years ago I showed dogs, and my mentor was a rather crusty retired Air Force JAG. When I would complain that I wasn’t going to win because the big shot handlers and longtime breeders would be in the ring (and the judges knew all of them), she had no truck with my complaints. “You can’t win if you don’t show,” she told me, again and again.
I’m glad I took my meditation class. I’m glad I kept writing through all those years I felt like a failure.
We just have to keep showing up.