The other day, I was planning to meditate.
When my alarm went off at 6.40am, I was way too tired – actually, make that nearly dead – to concentrate on my breath, or anything at all. So I scrambled to get some clothes on and rushed off to work, lacking interior calm in my soul.
That same evening, a mountain of other work piled up in front of me – magazine upkeep, blogging and yoga, plus the all-important task of washing the dishes – and meditation was far from my thoughts. Life got in the way, as it often does.
Night fell, and I had just finished watching a movie. I got into bed, ready to meditate. Except within two minutes, exhausted by the day, I got a bit too carried away with the calm of it all and snored away, waking up circa fifteen minutes after my meditation podcast had come to an end.
I felt deflated. How could I not have made time to meditate? How can I not had found five minutes in 24 hours?I’m not a beginner at this, I have regularly meditated for years. It’s just the “make it a daily practice” bit that makes it tricky for me. I was disappointed in myself and set my alarm five minutes early the next day. Needless to say, I feel asleep again, nearly missing my actual get-up time and feeling even more stressed out about not having taken time time to meditate. And it wasn’t a one-off: since discovering meditation, I have experienced many of its benefits – more interior calm, more focus and concentration, and less risks of encountering the panic attacks that I’ve suffered from for a long time – but even so, I have always struggled to incorporate it into my daily life. There is simply not enough minutes in the day when I know I won’t be bothered, or am not simply too tired. And let’s be honest: whoever thought of meditating during your daily commute is probably unfamiliar with London’s public transport system.
We are constantly bombarded with messages about how our lifestyle is harming us: we spend our days sitting down, we eat too much sugar, we watch too much TV, drink too much alcohol, and all of this is killing us. But none of these things are as bad as the presumed number-one worldwide killer. No, not ISIS: stress. Every day there is talk of how dangerous stress is, and how much trouble we’re in unless we learn to relax. We’re basically rushing towards an early death just by living our daily lives – but if we slow down, we are critiqued for not “leaning in”, for not living up to our full potential, for not carpe-ing the diem. Some might argue that mediation, mindfulness, and general relaxation techniques are the wealthy (wo)man’s pastime: show me a busy working mum, maybe one who’s also single, who can find time to sit, unbothered, and contemplate her inner being. This way, not finding time to unwind becomes – you guessed it – just another thing to stress out about.
My list of things to worry about is probably the same length as yours, and the bullet points on it might even match yours: finances, work, whether I call my parents enough, whether I could do more to combat climate change – and adding “finding time to meditate” onto it is playing against the whole point of meditation. In any book or article on mindfulness, the practice is described with an encouragement to “take the time to yourself”, as if it were a treat, which does have a rather nice ring to it. The issue, though, with taking time one doesn’t have (or time that would otherwise be reserved for the sweet luxury of sleep) is that mindfulness risks becoming just another “must” do be added onto the never-ending to-do list.
My advice would thus be to accept the fact that you are stressed, and that it is normal. I don’t mean to embrace it: those media reports on the dangers of stress are not all wrong. But instead of trying to “figure this mindfulness thing out”, just try to stay in tune with how you’re feeling. If you feel like trying something new, read our guide to meditation for beginners and see how you find your experience. But if you feel like I feel at the end of a long day, then by all means, just go to sleep.
As with anything else, I think the key lies in recognising that you’re doing your best, whether it’s meditating once a week, or twice a day. Find a way to be present in what you are doing – that’s what mindfulness is, after all – instead of just rushing through the motions.
Header photo by Dingzeyu Li via Unsplash