The Real Reason You Don’t Meditate

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Art by Sebastian Eriksson

The only way you’ll be able to see for yourself if meditation helps you as a writer is by, you know, meditating. Problem is, it can be really hard to get your ass on the cushion when approximately ten thousand other things are demanding your attention. You’re busier than ever before, right? Time flies, you think. If only I had more hours in the day. Seriously, why aren’t there more hours in the day? And you’re like, barely able to scarf down lunch while checking email and by the end of the day you’re basically an extra for The Walking Dead. So how in all that is good and holy are you supposed to add one more thing to your plate? Especially something that by definition does not allow you to multitask. So inefficient. Right?

Wrong.

Look, I’m no neuroscientist, but the fact is that meditation makes you better at life. It actually changes your brain. In scans that compare meditators’ brains to non-meditators’ brains, there are significant shifts in all kinds of areas, such as the part of your brain that retains memory better, or allows you to have increased focus and creative flow. Nice, right? And get this: those benefits begin after only a few weeks of consistent meditation. And not like, mountaintop I’m A Buddha Now meditation, but the kind you can put in your calendar in between a stressful meeting and picking your kid up from school. It’s super portable and doesn’t require you to look good in sexy, overpriced yoga leggings. It’s free, if you want it to be. You can’t get hurt doing it unless you’re a total dumbass, and you’re not a total dumbass, are you? Wait, don’t answer that.

And here’s something else: you can absolutely meditate. Even if you’ve tried several times and failed. Even if the only people you know who do it are totally chill (dude, did you ever think about why they’re totally chill?!). Trust me, you’re reading the words of the most neurotic, driven Type A person I know and I live in New York City. If I can sit down and meditate every day, I know you can, too. But if you want to continue being stressed to the max and creatively depleted and irritable, depressed, and exhausted then by all means avoid meditation at all costs. You do you.

Fact: for most beginning meditators, meditation is dead boring—especially if you don’t begin in a meditation studio or on a retreat in, say, Bali, with fancy cushions and teachers who speak in low, taming tones. I get it how suuuuuuuuuper boring it can be at first, I get it so hard. I have one of those minds that goes a million miles per hour, hopping from my To Do list to the books I’m writing to rehashing past events or imagining future ones. My mind also catalogues my faults, judges everything I and others say or do, berates me for not concentrating while I’m supposed to be meditating, and randomly begins wondering if it’s actually true that Wills and Kate are having twins (!!!!!)…But, as meditation goddess Pema Chödrön says, we don’t meditate to get good at meditation—we meditate so that we can be more awake in our lives. Think of meditation as spinach for your soul when you really want a burger. Eat enough spinach and those burgers just aren’t as appetizing. Or they are, but you feel like crap after eating one in a not worth it kind of way.

Sadly, these are the reasons why you’re not going to meditate, even if you have an epiphany about meditation and decide this is your moment:

  • You’re lazy af. Netflix is calling you, oh that siren song of zone-outs.
  • You can’t get comfortable, your back hurts and your neck and your shoulders and this is dumb, sitting on a cushion. Maybe you’ll just lie down…whoops, didn’t intend to nap there.
  • When you look at your schedule, you want to cry because in order to meditate you have to get up earlier than the ass-crack of dawn and, like, WHO WANTS TO EXPERIENCE THE ASS-CRACK OF DAWN?
  • The thought of being away from your phone—from actually putting it on airplane mode without the FAA telling you to—is just too much. You have co-dependency issues.
  • Okay, for real, though, this is so BORING. And you’re a grown-ass woman. Or man. A grown-ass self-identified genderless badass and just like no one puts Baby in the corner, no one tells you to sit on a cushion and breathe goddamit. No one.

 

 

But I’m going to tell you the real reason you won’t meditate. Ready?

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No, but are you sure you’re ready?

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I’m telling you, this is going to get deep. There’s no going away from this…You better be sure…

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Okay, fine, I warned you.

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You’re not going to meditate because the meditation cushion is the only place in your entire life where you don’t get to hustle for your worth.

BOOM. Mic drop. Heather out.

No, but seriously, do you know what I mean? Brené Brown, Queen of all things Vulnerability in the psych world, uses this phrase a lot: hustling for our worth. What she means is that, day in and day out, so much of what we do is driven by our desire to be seen, validated, loved, appreciated, and praised. Fellow neurotics of the world, you know what I’m talking about: we want the mother-effing Gold Star and we will do just about anything to get it.

But, here’s the thing:

There is no gold star in meditation. If there were, we’d all have it, anyway. 

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Art Credit

Everything you need is already in you, and that includes your inherent worth as a human being.

You can’t win at meditation. You can only just be. When you’re sitting in meditation, the goal is not to shut down your thoughts—it’s to get familiar with them. And getting familiar means getting uncomfortable. We see how our minds work. How much our focus is on the things we want to achieve, the ways we don’t measure up, the people we want to please or screw or be. Our brains are chock-full of movie reels that play our regrets and shames, our fantasies, our hopes and dreams. It’s terrifying to see how much we live in the future, to realize just how much the past runs us, and to bear witness to how freaking fragile we are at the end of the day.

And here’s the kicker: on the cushion, we don’t get to pretend all that stuff isn’t there. We don’t get to distract with a witty, self-deprecating comment or by posting a perfectly set-up photo with an ironic caption we’ve spent days reworking. We don’t get to do more, be better, go harder. We. Don’t. Get. To. Hustle.

I live in the Mecca of Hustle. Walking down the street in New York City means being an extra in the lives of everyone around you who is living the dream or will die trying, each of them working an angle. Hell, I’m working an angle right now. Let’s be real. The more you dig this post, the more likely you are to share it, the more attention it gets…you know the drill. But you’re working an angle, too, right? Like Bing says in White Christmas, “everybody got an angle” (and then Rosemary Clooney gets to be all “That’s a pretty cynical outlook” and Bing’s all Miss Hayes I want you but I can’t say that). What’s your angle? What’s your hustle look like? Are you a people pleaser, an iconoclastic renegade who’s all Fuck the Man (love me, love me)? Are you the person who stays until the job is done, even if it means breaking a promise to your kid? Or, you’re the one who thinks if you just get one more degree, get your work on one more Best Of list, just figure out the right hair cut…

You know how it is. I’m not telling you something you don’t know. That is the super fucked-up part. WE KNOW. All the self help books are NY Times bestsellers because you read them and I read them and we try to “lean in” and “hold space” and all that jazz but meanwhile we pop the pills and pour the drinks (but first, coffee) and get another fucking Help Me I’m Drowning and Adulting Is Hard app that’s supposed to make us calm but we’re not calm we’re not fucking calm because THIS SHIT IS HARD.

And then someone tells you that all you’re allowed to do is sit and be and breathe. That’s it. And you lose it. You lose your ever-loving mind. One minute if sitting on a cushion with nothing to do is many people’s version of hell–perhaps it’s yours too. But you keep sitting because there was half a second—just half a second—where that tightness in your chest loosened. And you were still bored af and spent thirty bucks on a meditation class to do your taxes in your head or take a nap, but that half second…damn. That was nice, wasn’t it?

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Art Credit

 

I’ll tell you why you will meditate:

You will meditate because after those first panicked moments on the cushion where you realize there is no escaping your mind, you suddenly realize it’s a travesty that you go through your days hardly breathing, going so fast so fast so fast.

 

You will meditate because each time you get up off the cushion, you feel a little lighter. Less angry. More equipped to handle what comes your way.

 

You will meditate because you’re finally connecting with people again–really listening, really present.

 

You will meditate because every now and then you suddenly begin remembering you’re alive, and isn’t it lovely, the way that shaft of light darts across the floor?

 

And you will meditate because, for the first time in a long time (maybe forever) you’re nice to yourself. Gentle, even.

Meditation is not a cure all. And it’s the hardest easy thing to do. But it’s changed my life and I suspect if you give it a go, it’ll change yours. It’s made me a better writer and a better human (hopelessly flawed in both areas, of course, but kind of okay with that). It’s made me more alive, more awake to the world and the possibilities nestled in each moment. Don’t get me wrong, I epically fail every day. I lose my cool and stress over inconsequential things and beat myself up and still describe myself as a misanthrope. But here’s the difference: I’m AWARE of all this. When I’m in an upset, I notice it. All that time on the cushion allows me to see what’s actually happening–that I’m eating that chocolate because I’m avoiding my writing, not because I just had a random craving. That my anger towards So-and-So is really me being frustrated with myself and lashing out. And when we notice these things, we have an opportunity. Maybe the moment has passed and we can’t undo that cutting comment or glass of wine, but the awareness allows us to perhaps shift things the next time. Or the time after that.

And all of this work on ourselves has the potential to show up in our writing. If sitting on the cushion increases your compassion, it stands to reason that you might be able to write better villains and characters with more shades of complexity. If sitting on the cushion increases our awareness of the world around us, I suspect your descriptions will be sharper, more nuanced. The possibilities, just like the blank pages we dream on, are endless.

 

Breathe. Write. Repeat. 

 

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As usual, you can sign up for my newsletter for exclusive posts on the writing life, meditation and mindfulness for creatives, and more. If you’re a lady writer, please join us on the Pneuma Facebook Group for daily inspiration, motivation, and community. If you’re interested in working with me as a writing coach, don’t be shy: email me and I’ll get back to you ASAP. You can also check out the Pneuma Creative site for coaching, editorial, and class info. Happy writing! 

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