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The Soul of Therapy

“Quite Honestly, I Find Meditation Boring”

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The Soul of Therapy

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Bored by meditation? Change the way you meditate, at least for now. You're not likely to stick with a practice that is drudgery.

Q: I’ve tried to meditate on and off for years. I always do it for a couple of days and quit. Quite honestly, I find meditation boring. Everyone seems to think it's so important for mental and spiritual health. Can you help me get past my boredom with it so I can experience what all the fuss is about?

For starters I want you to know that my approach to meditation has grown from an initial sense that it was boring and that I was terrible at it. As a psychologist I realize that a very simple principle holds for meditation as much as for anything else: When a behavior is rewarding, we are more likely to repeat it. Boredom is not a very enticing reward for showing up to meditation!  

Getting over your start-stop cycle with meditation is not about fixing you so that you’re no longer bored with meditation. I’d rather have you imagine an approach to meditating that could be interesting, playful, even fun. Then there will be a better chance you’ll keep showing up to it.

I bring to meditation what I call “child mind.” This means I approach it with the spirit of the late poet Mary Oliver’s words: “When it’s over I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.” Even in standard breathing meditation, I begin by imagining myself being breathed by something bigger than myself. Or I pretend I’m a fish in an ocean of the divine. Every time I breathe I imagine taking in the highest energies possible for a human being. Sometimes I begin breathing meditation by reloading a sense of awe that my lungs are taking in an invisible substance, extracting something from it that I need to live, and distributing it to every one of trillions of cells without my having any real clue how it all works! If I’m breathing outdoors on a cold day, I re-experience the magic of childhood as I watch my breath drift away. I imagine the visible trail of vapor as my spiritual umbilical cord connecting me to the whole universe.

There are many ways to meditate beyond focusing on the breath. Sometimes I put my hands palm-up on my knees, voice each concern on my mind, and then say: “I accept.” This puts me in touch with the only version of me that can say “I accept” to every small and large concern: my large Self, which some might think of as the divine Self in the self. This “I accept” practice may not sound fun, but it’s not boring either. Likewise, bringing to mind people I find difficult and saying out loud, “May you be happy, may you be peaceful” is not boring!

Here are a some simple or playful ways I practice mindfulness meditation:

  • When there is a gentle, warm rain I go sit in it without any umbrella or raincoat. This is a beautiful experience of just letting things be as they are.
  • When cold weather arrives, I stand outside briefly without a coat or sweater. This allows me to be aware of “cold” and to watch how my mind defines it as bad and braces against it. When I just take a deep breath and say, “Wow, it’s really cold!” something shifts in me.
  • When I get in a steaming hot car in summer I sometimes leave the windows up for a minute or two so I can experience “hot” and my mind’s desire to fix it immediately. When I relax and think, “Wow, a free sauna!” I’m practicing putting a mindful gap between stimulus and response.
  • When I get a cold, I notice how often my mind says, "When is this going to be over so I can quit sniffling and sneezing?" Then I just breathe and accept that the cold is here.
  • When I come to an unexpected traffic jam or “Road Closed” sign and hear my small self curse out loud at the inconvenience, I follow with the gentle voice of the large Self: “A bit reactive there, huh?”
  • Before meeting with my patients I often put my hands in the prayer position over my heart. This is a brief meditation to center my mind and body to be present to whatever will unfold moment by moment in the next hour.

Sitting in meditation for 10 or 20 minutes is formal practice. The suggestions above are informal practice. It sounds like you’ve been struggling with formal practice. I suggest you develop lots of your own non-boring versions of brief, informal practice. When you see the value of pausing many times per day for informal practice, you may choose to revisit formal practice. The main value of formal practice is that it makes us more likely to show up mindfully for the many informal practice moments that present themselves during each day.

Keep Reading: “I'm Committed But I Didn't Sign Up for Celibacy



Sometimes I find life boring, boring, boring!

 

Sometimes I find life boring, boring, boring
deep below the ordinary.

 

Sometimes I find life boring, boring, boring
deep below the ordinary
to tap back into a childlike awe.

 

Sometimes I find life boring, boring, boring
deep below the ordinary
to tap back into a childlike, awe-
struck perception of the world.

 

© 2018 by Kevin Anderson


Send your questions to [email protected] Questions may be edited for clarity or length. Dr. Anderson cannot respond to all letters. Sending a letter, whether answered in this column or not, does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Information in this column is for general psychoeducational purposes and is not a substitute for assessment and care provided in person by a medical or mental health professional.


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