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How 'bad' meditations are good for you....

posted Nov 2, 2017, 8:54 AM by Fidelma Farley   [ updated Nov 3, 2017, 12:14 AM ]

Mindfulness teacher and author Joseph Goldstein tells a story about a time he went on a long, solitary meditation retreat in India. He had searched for and found the perfect location – a remote, isolated hill overlooking a beautiful valley. Within a few days of arriving there, a Girl Guide camp set up in the valley, with hundreds of people milling about and a loudspeaker blaring music and announcements from early in the morning to late at night. Goldstein describes the angry letters he wrote in his mind, how he railed against the injustice of his situation. But in the end, his mind surrendered and he accepted that there was nothing he could do. With that acceptance, he writes, “it was okay. There was the sound, the noise. It was fine. Finally, I just let it be.”

I can't meditate because.....

Goldstein’s example is an unusually dramatic one, but anyone who meditates will probably recognise the challenge of trying to meditate, or be mindful, when the conditions are difficult. What I hear a lot in classes is that people think they can’t meditate because – 
- too noisy – there are other people in the house, builders in the house next door, a car alarm is going off, a dog is barking
- the ‘wrong’ space – it’s too small, too messy, too crowded, too cold, or not private enough
- not having the ‘right’ equipment – no CD player, the CD player is broken, the chair is uncomfortable, no yoga mat, can’t download the meditation
- not feeling ‘right’ physically – too tired, a headache, a back ache, a cold
- not feeling ‘right’ mentally/emotionally  – too stressed, too angry, mind is too busy, too pre-occupied
- no time – too busy, too much going on, on the go all day
- a break in routine – it’s the weekend, a holiday, or away from home

Very often you may feel that there’s no point in even trying to meditate unless all the conditions are just right. Sometimes, we start to meditate and something happens, like a sound, or an interruption, and we feel that there’s no point in continuing the meditation. But mindfulness isn’t about controlling our environment so that we experience no discomfort, it’s about learning to be ok with discomfort if and when it arises. This is not to say that you do nothing to facilitate your meditation/mindfulness practice. It is more supportive to your practice to set up the most favourable conditions possible, within your own circumstances. But you can do that and still a car alarm will go off, a child will burst into the room, you’ll remember a vital phone call you forget to make, you realise how tired you are, your bad knee flares up. You cannot control everything. So you set up the conditions as best you can - and then you let the rest go. 

“The deep inner stillness we seek comes not from having a quiet mind or a still body, or from the world being quiet, but from letting things be, exactly as they are, in the moment.” Mark Williams

While it seems counter-intuitive to meditate when it’s noisy, or you’re tired, or stressed, in fact it is during those very meditations that you build resilience and equanimity, the ability to be with unpleasant experience without immediately avoiding it, or fixing it, or being overwhelmed by it. These are the meditations when you are really practicing acceptance – of how you are and where you are – and kindness towards the fact that things have not gone to plan. Mindfulness and meditation teaches us to go with the flow of life, rather than battling to control it. Sometimes life (and meditation) is pleasant, joyful, calm, and sometimes life (and meditation) is unpleasant, difficult and painful. Every meditation, no matter what it feels like, is a practice in deepening the ability to open our hearts and minds to the whole of our selves, the whole of our lives.

"Ego says, 'Once everything falls into place, I'll find peace.' Spirit says, 'Find your peace and then everything will fall into place.'"  
Marianne Williamson