Why you should stop setting aside time to meditate

You’ve never thought of yourself as the meditating type, but lately everyone around you keeps talking about the benefits of meditation (and its close cousin, mindfulness).

Your friends, co-workers, even family members, keep telling you that meditation is helping them to live stress-free and more in the moment.  

Skeptical but also curious about all the hype, you download a guided meditation app, like Calm, Headspace, or Stop, Breath & Think.

It takes you a couple of days to find “just the right time” to try it out, but when you finally do, you quickly realize that you’re just too distracted to meditate. At least, that’s what you tell yourself, because when you focus on your breath like the soothing voice on the app tells you to, nothing seems to happen.

You try to focus on your thoughts and bring your awareness to your body, but your mind keeps drifting to that thing you have to do tomorrow or that text message you forgot to send earlier.       

You stick it out for two or three 10-minute sessions (all of which feel like an eternity), but in the end, you tell yourself that meditation just isn’t for you.

If this describes your experience with meditation, you’re not alone.

Many of my clients share with me that they’ve tried meditation in the past only to find that it doesn’t work for them.  

But if past frustrations with meditation are what’s keeping you from giving it another try, I want to encourage you, as I do many of my clients, to give it one more go.

Truth is, I struggle with meditation too.

Years ago, when I first learned that meditation has been shown to provide benefits like a clearer, quieter mind; freedom from self-judgment; and increased self-control, I decided I needed to give it a try. So, I downloaded an app called Insight Timer and began waking up a little earlier each morning to do 15 minutes or so of guided meditation.

For the few weeks I stuck with it, I would go into the quietest room in my house and attempt (with limited success) to sit in half lotus position, telling myself, This is what meditation is supposed to look like.

Each day, I would get more and more frustrated by the fact that the only thing I seemed to be taking away from the experience was a sore back.        

It wasn’t until I explained my frustration to a friend who had already been meditating for years that I discovered an approach to meditation—or as I now prefer to call it, mindfulness—that truly worked for me.

My friend explained to me that the goal of mindfulness is not the absence of thought or blocking out all distractions; rather, it’s about coming back to awareness.

This was a real game changer for me, as it helped me to see for the first time that practicing mindfulness is not about making something happen as much as bringing awareness into our everyday lives and “just noticing” what is—thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.

This is why I stopped setting aside time to meditate. Rather than scheduling a specific time to be mindful, I began looking for opportunities to practice mindfulness in the context of my everyday life—in the car, at the store, working in the yard, hanging out with friends.

By not scheduling mindfulness into my day, I was able to let go of the expectations I had brought to my morning meditations, like being able to make it 30 minutes or the hope of attaining enlightenment.  

Starting a meditation practice can be difficult, especially when our expectations are shaped by the reports of others and our preconceived notions of what meditation is “supposed” to look like.

If you’re currently experiencing frustration with starting a meditation practice, or have already given up on meditation due to past frustrations, consider ditching your meditation schedule and, instead, giving everyday mindfulness a try.

A great place to start is in the car. Let driving be your reminder to come back to awareness. Use your time in the car to “just notice” and be present. Remember, the goal is not to make something happen, but simply to observe without judgment. And as your mind drifts away from the present moment (as it inevitably will) to gently bring yourself back to awareness—in this case, to driving.

Fully inhabiting the present can be difficult, but it can also be life-changing. If you’d like to explore possible ways of integrating mindfulness into your life, consider reaching out today to schedule an appointment with a counselor at Charlotte Counseling & Wellness.

Matt Smith