Ten years ago, I had never meditated. I had recently moved to Ottawa and was in search of some new, healthy habits. I dreamed of practicing yoga more, learning how to meditate, becoming a vegetarian and many other things that compared to my youth, were way outside of my way of living. I remember the first free meditation workshop I attended, the sheer thrill of even following through and showing up for it on my own. During the workshop I mingled with a lovely woman, she was so calm and spoke so thoughtfully. After trying out a few simple guided meditations in the class, I mentioned to her that I really loved being in nature and that I would have these brief moments of just feeling really good and so calm, and that being in a busy city I couldn't seem to replicate that feeling. She replied that the feeling I was describing was always available and within us, and that my journey would be to find that feeling I had in nature no matter where I physically was. Mind = Blown.
After that course, I dabbled with sitting meditation, counting my breath 1-2-3 and coming back to the count anytime I noticed my mind wandered. I read books on meditation and at a certain point was learning more about it than practicing it. It just was not sticking as a daily habit. It became one of those items on my life list that remained just out of reach for many years. In 2013 during a three week stay in a small ashram in the Indian Himalayas, we would wake and begin each morning with 20 minutes of mantra meditation, and end each day with the same. I traveled so far for that experience, and it turned out to feel like a mild form of torture. In those three weeks, I sat through exactly one meditation session without fidgeting, opening my eyes, becoming irritable, restless and insanely jealous of the other students who looked so blissful. I knew it was going to be challenging, but come on! I was not a happy woman facing myself in those moments. I did not return home with a daily meditation practice. I had traveled to India for traditional yoga philosophy, but a mantra given by a guru in the mountains just wasn't for me, it didn't bring me back to that peaceful place I always seemed to find while in nature.
About a year after my ashram stay, I was given a book called 10% Happier by a ABC news anchor Dan Harris. If you haven't heard, he's the guy who had a panic attack on national television and now practices non-secular Buddhist meditation on the regular. He is out to prove that even "fidgety skeptics" and a-holes can be better versions of themselves through developing a sitting practice. He likens meditation to exercise for your brain, just as we should work out our muscles, our brains also need to be trained. It was sometime after reading that book that I realized even if I sat for 5 or 10 minutes a day (even 1 minute!), I could do it. I always thought that to meditate, I needed to sit and clear my mind of all my thoughts. Whoa! Not even close. Turns out it can be as simple as sitting and noticing the thoughts as they come and go, floating in and out with no effect on me. With my practice, my daily reactions have become more skillful. I am developing that split second pause between how I've always reacted and how I choose to best react in that moment. I still have my moments (goodness don't we all?) but I truly love my practice and all the good it has brought me.
I suppose I share this story in the hopes that even one person may read it and decide to try meditation for the first time or return to a practice they have strayed from. It's important to remember that it doesn't have to be, look or feel perfect. If your schedule is thrown off or something comes up, you can still make time (seriously, even one timed minute of silence and listening to the breath can do wonders) Just accept and acknowledge that your practice might look a little bit different depending on the day, week and year, and that's okay. There are also so many different varieties of meditation and it may take a few tries for what works best for you. The greatest lesson out of all of this is that mediation, like yoga, is not a goal to strive and achieve for, but rather a practice to support coming back to the truth of oneself, to the goodness that always has been and always will be tucked down deep inside each and every one of us.