What's the point of meditation?
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
And what if you just can't meditate?
In Melbourne lockdown 4.0, I read Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’.
In lockdown 5.0, I followed up with the 2014 movie adaptation staring Reece Witherspoon.
It’s a true story about a young woman who loses herself, after losing her Mum. To shake herself free from the self-destructive, drug-fuelled path she's headed down, she packs up her life and attempts a 3-month solo hike.
Lost or found?
My 9-year-old came into the room during a scene in which she is hiking through the Mojave dessert. “Is she lost?” he asked. “Is this movie about her getting lost?”
"Not really”, I replied, “It’s kind of the opposite. She's trying to find herself”.
I was already preparing my next comment in my mind; aware this explanation would have made little sense to a 9-year-old. But this kid never fails to blow me away. “So, she’s finding her inner self”, he said nonchalantly.
I know the term ‘finding yourself’ can feel cliché, but not in my personal experience, when it’s related to meditation.
My meditation journey
I’ve been meditating for 15+ years and my mind still wanders. Sometimes I fall asleep, some days I have an average meditation session and other times, I feel like I have made real progress. I've learnt that you don’t have to be good at meditation. You just need to persist. Regardless of how each session goes, I still feel the difference it makes to my life.
Have you ever meditated on something that was bothering you and somehow, by the end of the meditation, you had a solution? The first time this happened to me, it took me by surprise but over the years it's become the 'Allen key' of my mental health toolkit.
The biggest breakthrough I’ve had in terms of both my meditation practice, and my writing, was after reading the following passage from Steven Pressfield’s book, ’The War of Art’;
What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt. Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can't be touched by anything. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we've got, the better and richer that part becomes.
Soon after reading Pressfield’s book, I was able to get away for a solo weekend in Daylesford. The weather was cold and the rain incessant, so I spent most of it huddled in an Airbnb, reading, writing and meditating.
During my fourth attempt at an hour-long meditation, I caught a glimpse of something within myself. Something I can’t articulate or explain, but it was deep and strong and calm and expansive. And it changed me.
Realising that you are enough
I’ve learnt to tap into this place through meditation when I need to feel grounded. Over time, it’s helped me realise that you don’t have to be perfect to receive love and you don’t need to be healed in order to create.
When I write from ‘this place’, I don’t think about what people will think of my writing or whether it will be good enough. I write from the heart and sometimes it feels like the words are merely flowing through me, coming from somewhere else.
What if you just can't meditate?
Meditation doesn't have to mean sitting in a darkened room on an expensive, specially designed cushion, with your legs crossed and your thumbs and forefingers touching. Spending time 'out of your head' and connected to your body is what's most important.
Meditation can be time spent in nature; walking while tuning into your senses; taking ten deep belly breaths; or being fully present while engaged in a relaxing activity. Just a few moments each day when you are not rushing, planning or striving. Gentle awareness of your breath can lead to a deeper awareness of yourself.
Meditation teaches us to observe our emotions without passing judgment. To sit with our discomfort instead of resorting to go-to coping mechanisms like overindulging in food or numbing our emotions with alcohol.
Cheryl Strayed experienced a tough life and insurmountable grief. But by being alone with herself and her thoughts for 3 months, she came face to face with her strength. She realised that the blows life had dealt her, didn’t need to define her. That she may never heal completely or feel a sense of redemption, but perhaps she didn’t need to.
Global pandemics aside, we’ve all had our share of difficult times. Life can be hard as hell, and no one expects you to emerge from a tough situation unchanged. But it’s those of us who play hurt, who move forward by moving slowly, that come out the other side.
So, turn inwards. Do it often.
Find a way that works for you, and keep some skin in the game.
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