Meditation for Fidgity Skeptics and Math Teachers
Me, meditate? I'm okay.
We are often asked to stretch beyond our comfort zones- one more set of push ups, another weight on the stack or more tension on the SoulCycle. As humans we are wired to check our limits and attempt to push past them. It's how we grow and learn. It's interesting then that when it comes to inner work, reflection or spiritual pursuits giving a hard pass has become an acceptable norm.
Why pushing & meditation can seem at odds
Meditation is the act of paying attention in an open-minded, non-judgmental way. It is called a practice because our brains are trainined to wander, not to stay focussed. Teachers are often taught that 15 minutes is the maximum length their students can pay attention to a lesson. It’s easy to understand that if anyone, teacher or student. pays attention well, you will learn more, become a better conversation partner, and miss less of what’s going on around you. What's the trick to staying focussed and attentive? Just like any other skill there is a balance of natural and learned ability. You have some genetic capacity and you learn to hone that skill through the 10,000 hours is reportedly takes to become an expert. Why is it then that as a society we value pushing our physical boundaries or increasing our mental toughness but we don't place value on softening, relaxation or mastery of focus?
Is meditation mastery even a thing?
I have had the pleasure of meditating with people who would be seen as "experts", "gurus" or "masters of meditation". I have spent time learning from Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama, the Hindu monks in Kauai, Tara Brach and Davidji. These experts have more than 10,000 hours of experience but what I find most fascinating is that their experience of meditation is the same as mine or yours. The practice of meditation actually levels the playing field rather than creating a heirarchy. This is good news for the "fidgity skeptics" as Dan Harris , author of 10% Happier says “I cannot say this frequently enough: the goal is not to clear your mind but to focus your mind—for a few nanoseconds at a time—and whenever you become distracted, just start again. Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeeding.”
There are many ways to begin. As many ways as there are types of beginners. Just as some of us enter the pool by diving off the high board while others start with a toe in and take their time getting aclimated, so too are there multiple entrance points for meditation. A few good options include:
- try an app like Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer
- start with yoga, the asanas (physical poses) and pranayama (breath work) are often a gateway to seated meditation practice
- join a class
- book a retreat
There Is No Wrong Way
When it comes to meditating, I subscribe to the "whatever works" philosophy. I first learned to practice through a course for parents of children with autism. Our leader knew that we would rarely have silent, uninterupted time so with that in mind we meditated while people ran around us banging on pots and pans, we meditated while sitting in cars (simulating the school pick up meditation) and we meditated while hot, cold, in the rain and surrounded by strangers in public places. Do I prefer my meditations to happen by a waterfall in the hills in Hawaii? Sure. But it is better to have a little of something good than none.
The goal of meditation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions. The goal is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.” Dr. P. Goldin
If you are intersted in getting started, just begin. Instead of thinking of yourself as someone who can't meditate or wouldn't meditate consider the possibility that now if the perfect time to begin.