People say it’s impossible to fail at meditation. You just sit down and breathe. Whenever your mind drifts away, you gently pull it back to the present moment. That’s it.
But it’s certainly possible to feel like your meditation sucks. How do I know? Because I’ve been feeling it for a few months now.
Having practised mindfulness for more than four years, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that. Like most people, I’m used to thinking about any pursuit — meditation included — as something linear. Something that I should always get better at.
If you used to be able to maintain focus for half an hour straight — what does it say about you that you now get distracted every thirty seconds?
Well, here’s the thing: it doesn’t say anything about you. It’s just a part of your experience.
Instead, here’s what you can do when you feel like your meditation sucks.
Your Meditation Isn’t Terrible — It Only Feels Terrible
When you experience something you don’t like, you instinctively judge it. That’s natural. The human brain evolved to divide the world into “good” and “bad” in a split second. Back in the day, this ability was useful to keep us out of harm’s way.
Today, such categorization doesn’t do the job anymore. In the times when the main concern is to thrive, not survive, you sometimes need to do what feels uncomfortable. This is how you stretch yourself and grow.
As Stephen Pressfield wrote:
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
When something feels hard — like your meditation at the moment — it may be a good indicator that you should pursue it. You struggle because you care. If it didn’t matter to you, you wouldn’t feel resistance.
To make your struggle motivate instead of discouraging you, it helps to stop judging your meditation. I know it’s hard — I judge my meditation as “terrible” all the time. But whenever I catch myself doing that, I remember to just slightly tweak my perception.
My meditation feels terrible — but that doesn’t mean it is terrible.
With this little change of words, you can grasp that your meditation progress isn’t linear. That’s okay. Your mind is a complex mechanism. The fact that you’re actively trying to take charge of it through meditation is already something to congratulate yourself on.
Now you’re simply going through a tough phase. This only says something about your experience — but nothing about you as a person.
Noticing The Distraction Is a Mindfulness Practice
Taking it easy on yourself is important to get through the rough patch in your practice. What you don’t want, however, is to adopt an attitude of indifference.
In other words, you want to hold on to the idea that no matter how distracted you feel, you’re still practising.
The trick is to see an opportunity even in your most distracted state. This is how you can find a way to practise in the most difficult moments.
People commonly think of mindfulness as some blissful state of flawless presence. This is how I often imagine my meditation “should” look like. Because we entertain certain mindfulness fantasies, we often forget that it’s much more about the process than about any specific goal.
Jason Linder wrote that “distractions are not only inevitable but also central to the process.” It is through observing distractions that you learn how your mind works. As soon as you notice where your train of thought took you, or how you got caught up on a small detail of what happened yesterday — you’re not distracted anymore.
Becoming aware of a distraction is how you level up your practice.
I understand you may be missing those blissful meditations when your focus rested firmly in the present moment. Trust me — I miss them, too. But whenever I notice myself wanting my meditation to be different than it is, I remember that this is exactly the lesson I need to learn.
I got attached to a certain idea of how meditation looks like — and right now, I’m being confronted with this attachment. These days, my meditations are distracted — that’s just a fact.
Instead of cursing it, I’m better off using those distractions to practise as diligently as I can.
If Nothing Works, Just Focus on Keeping The Habit
There will be times when you’ll find the above advice useful. You’ll notice you’re getting distracted or catch yourself judging your meditation — and that’ll enhance your practice.
But there are also real black holes in meditation. Like periods of complete darkness when you have no clue what your mind is doing. Your alarm may ring to signal the end of your practice — and you’ll be left wondering where you’ve been all this time.
The only way to get past that is to see it as part of the process, too. There will be moments when you feel like you have no agency over what’s happening whatsoever. In those moments, your awareness just seems to regress into its old monkey-mind mode.
When this happens, there’s this one idea I cling to as if it was a life raft:
If I can do nothing else, at least I’m sustaining the meditation habit.
It can be powerful to remind yourself that maintaining a meditation habit isn’t a commitment to be taken for granted. This is the first basic step that many people struggle with. Whatever change we want to bring into our lives, it always starts with building the right habit.
Whenever you feel like your meditation sucks, you can remind yourself of this: whatever happens, at least you already have this habit. It hasn’t always been this way. Remember the times when you only began to meditate, unsure whether you’ll be able to keep going?
Now, you’re doing it. So whenever the distractions get out of hand, simply focus on sustaining the habit. As long as you have it, you’ll be able to make it through the darkness and into better times.
Everything’s temporary. Your meditation-related challenges also won’t last forever. One day, your practice will feel natural and effortless again.
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