I’ve been working on starting a meditation practice for the last four years. It’s one of those healthy habits that I know is good for me, but I just can’t quite get into the daily routine – kind of like flossing.
During my yoga teacher training I would struggle through the 20 minutes of meditation trying to ignore the pain in my legs and back, or fidgeting interminably to find a comfortable seat. If I was able to get comfy, I would get bored sneaking peeks at my watch, willing the time to pass more quickly. Day after day I would come to that meditation with an attitude of today’s the day! Today I will finally get; I will finally enjoy it. My intentions were good, but my patience level was not and my meditation would devolve into an annoying, uncomfortable silence.
But the practice kept softly nudging it’s way onto my path. At workshops, trainings, in books I read, even if they had nothing to do with yoga or spirituality, meditation would show up. And each time I would think, Okay universe, I get it. I need to start doing this.
The first step I took was trying to sit – without pain. Some people meditate lying down, but I like to kick it old school and sit. Also, the odds of me falling asleep while lying down to meditate are better than the Vegas odds on my Detroit Lions not making it to the Superbowl this year, and sleeping is not meditating.
Turns out that my the tip my teacher (who appears to have infinite amounts of patience, which may explain why he can happily meditate for hours) gave us no less then ten million times was right – sitting with your hips higher than your knees is much more comfortable. A friend bought me a gorgeous sparkly, turquoise meditation pillow that works beautifully and allows me to sit at the perfect height. Interestingly, if you asked said friend if she meditates she would just laugh and laugh and laugh. If I have to sit for a particularly long time, I like to sit on my heels with a bolster underneath my seat between my feet.
I was able to get off the meditation pain train, but it was still bo-o-o-o-ring and not at all enjoyable. I thought maybe instead of enduring audible silence with the racket of mental noise, I would try guided meditation. I had a friend who had begun successfully meditating using an online app so I decided to give it a try.
I downloaded Headspace hoping this type of contemplation might be the thing for me. But the British fellow sounded so jolly I couldn’t relax. I kept expecting him to break into a reading of The Merry Wives of Windsor. I was back to the drawing board.
A little while after the Headspace experiment, the first meditation studio in Canada opened in Edmonton and I knew I had to give it a try. I looked at the schedule and decided to attend a Full Moon Ritual, a “full moon meditation and intention setting ceremony”. Intention setting with the moon was already in my wheelhouse so I thought this might be a nice introduction. There was some meditation, but there was also sharing intentions with strangers…and dancing. To know me is to know that I don’t dance, however I do realize the value of stepping out of one’s comfort zone so I dutifully shared a deep, dark insecurity with a stranger, and then danced. Okay, truth be told, I ‘swayed’.
Months later, I decided to give it another try choosing a straight-up meditation class. I thought maybe an in-person, stand-alone mediation that wasn’t part of a yoga class or ceremony or festival or party might be what I needed. It was…fine. I follow direction too closely and got wrapped up in details like how long the grass in meadow was, and how did we suddenly get from the meadow to the mouth of the cave? Was there a path? Though it wasn’t my jam, I did learn something valuable for my practice, and that is that a guided meditation with a constant voice is not for me. I was getting closer.
Last month I travelled to Nepal with one of my best friends for over 30 years. As part of tour trip we spent a few days at a yoga retreat doing two 90-minute yoga sessions and 45 minutes of pranayama (breath practice) every day. Our instructors were excellent and it was a lovely time. Included in our retreat were some meditation sessions, and not surprisingly, after that much yoga and pranayama, I was actually able to enjoy Dr. Chintamani’s guided meditations. It was lovely while at the retreat, but I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for me once we left. We did record Dr. Chintamani singing a mantra so that we could take him with us though!
After the yoga retreat, we made our way to Kopan, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery just outside Kathmandu. We stayed there for three nights at the end of our trip. The monastery overlooks the town of Boudanath with stunning views of the Kathmandu Valley. There are gardens and stupas (dome-shaped monuments) and breathtaking temples.
The monk who checked us in let us know that if we liked, we could attend the daily morning prayers (called “puja”) at 5:45am. There’s no sleeping in around Kathmandu (barking dogs and prayer bells begin with the morning sun) so we trudged bleary-eyed to the temple the following morning. There were about 100 monks seated on mats in two rows facing each other in the middle of the wooden temple floor.
We grabbed mats just inside the entrance and sat at wall near the back of the temple with a couple of other early-rising visitors. The monks were chanting, but to my ear there seemed to be two, maybe three different chants happening at the same time. Some monks were gently rocking, some were chanting from small books with long pages, some weren’t chanting at all.
What struck me immediately was the joyful sound of their chanting. It wasn’t the low, slow, monotonous hum that I had expected. It was like the gospel singing of chanting and occasionally one of the monks would let out an enthusiastic almost whoop-like sound. Sometimes the group would all lower their voices and there would briefly be a single voice before the volume rose again. Sometimes there were horns and cymbals and gongs.
When we first sat down, my eyes were drawn to the monks in their gold and crimson robes, and then to the colourful painting on the walls and ceiling and the enormous golden Buddha gazing through his half-closed eyes at the front of the temple. And then I closed my eyes and just listened to the prayers. The chants are Tibetan so I didn’t understand a single word, but I understood how their singing made me feel. Peaceful. Happy. Loved. When I opened my eyes, I glanced at my watch and saw that 45 minutes had passed. I slowly realized that I had just meditated for 45 minutes. I hadn’t fallen asleep, I hadn’t been “thinking”, I had been meditating – and I hadn’t even tried.
And so it began. I looked forward to mornings at the monastery meditating with the monks. And less than a week after returning home, I began to miss it so I started again. Every morning, for ten minutes, I close my eyes and listen to a recording of monks chanting. I’ve come to look forward to it almost as much as my morning coffee.
Mediation has become like mental floss for me. Last year I discovered those tooth-flossing sticks. They’ve made the task much easier, and more enjoyable, so I do it every night now. The monks made meditation enjoyable for me, so I do it every morning now.
If you want to give meditation a try, don’t give up. But also don’t try fitting a square peg into a round hole. There are dozens of different types of meditation: mantra, mindfulness, vipassana, guided visualization, transcendental, and so many more. Keep trying them on until you find one that fits.
If you’ve found the right meditation for you, I’d love to hear about it! Tell us in the comments.