You read about meditation all over the internet and in the overwhelming number of books out there on enlightenment and mindfulness. The scientific research is now clear, regular meditation can change our brains in a positive way. Those flight or fight brain cells that aren’t always helpful to us shrink a bit and we grow more of those “good” brain cells.
But then we run into the “how to” resources, those that tell you all the “right” ways to do it: sit on a cushion, sit on a chair, lay on your side (but be sure you don’t fall asleep!), walk slowly and mindfully, schedule it for the same time each day, meditate anywhere and anytime, focus on your feet, focus on your breath, breath deeply while you mindfully fold laundry or wash the dishes, have an empty mind, let go of intrusive thoughts – just let them float away, listen to soft music, be in silence, be alone in nature, be part of a group… They make promises that if you faithfully use THEIR method you will surely experience profound peace, eliminate stress, and finally be free from anxiety, depression, shame, jealousy, anger or any other uncomfortable human emotion. They might include testimonies from individuals who say they have become permanently calm, loving, caring and “enlightened,” all due to the miracle of a regular meditation practice.
Maybe you have been thinking about starting to meditate? As you read this are you feeling excited? slightly discouraged? You might already be a meditator who has been thinking “What the heck? When am I going to reach that profound peace part?” But the real truth of a meditation practice is that, for most of us, it is inconsistent, confusing, challenging and frustrating, with occasional rare seconds or minutes or days of that promised feeling of complete peace and relaxation. And we still do not feel particularly enlightened. And our lives do not become perfect. And then many of us give up.
It is just so hard in our culture to accept the truth of the wonderful worthiness of our imperfect, messy lives and selves, isn’t it? Dr. Brene Brown, a social worker, writer and researcher, has built a career on helping people understand the importance of belief in their own worthiness. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, she talks about the practice of cultivating worthiness by practicing courage, compassion and connection as a path to embracing our imperfections, “practice” being the key word.
The good news is that meditation and mindfulness can be a profoundly helpful practice towards understanding and accepting the worthiness of our imperfect selves and lives. The other good news is that the way we choose to practice meditation is far more individual, way easier and possibly more helpful than much of the available “how to” literature would have us believe, once we are able to let go of the need to be “perfect” at it. Through the practice of my imperfect meditation I have felt more at peace with some important things in my life, at peace with the fact that I will never become the perfect meditator, the perfect mother, the perfect friend, the perfect human being. But I am enough for today. And by meditating again tomorrow, or next week, or in a few weeks, with a local meditation group, or alone in the woods, or cleaning out the chicken coop, I am holding space for those “good” brain cells to grow and support my continued growth in understanding, compassion and acceptance of all that is ok, or not ok, with my life. Maybe that is what they mean by “enlightenment.”
The lesson: do what works for you and be open to the experience of whatever might happen!
Peace and Healing,