I am now about two weeks into my meditation practice (I wrote first about it, here), and feel confident enough to say that I believe it’s changing me. I haven’t quite made it a “habit” yet (that takes 21 days of consistency) because I can’t seem to find the right time to meditate during the weekend. But last week I cemented my “weekday” schedule, and am sticking to it firmly this week: I get up at 5:30, putz around a bit, get dressed for walking Dagny, then sit down to meditate for 15 minutes.
This is working out well for me, inasmuch as meditation can “work out,” since one of the “goals” is not to have expectations, or indeed, goals, but to just let meditation happen without judgement, an end in mind, or an idea of success. The idea of no judgement, of just observing thoughts without analyzing them, is one thing that drew me into meditation in the first place. That and calming my mind, opening up, finding peace, and a bit of clarity.
The more I read (and listen, I love all of Sam Harris’s podcasts, but he has some VERY good ones on meditation specifically) about meditation, the more I understand that it’s really just about being accepting; observing and living in what IS, not judging your thoughts, trying to change them, or even analyze them.
That, believe me, has been difficult for me to grasp. But I can already feel a slight shift in my thinking.
I’ve made the joke often enough that if they were giving out prizes for being hard on yourself, I’d win by a landslide every time; I’m a pro. I am also a chronic over-analyzer – so much so that I found myself living more often in the land of analysis paralysis than in reality. I spend more time in my head than any person should, and doing destructive things more often than not; criticizing myself, judging myself and others, worrying about things that might or will happen eventually, but that I can’t do a thing about.
By the end of those days I spend in my head, I haven’t done much of anything productive, and I feel it. I have lacked focus, not being able to pay attention to the task at hand because my mind is busy with other things. But with my meditation practice, I’ve become better at swatting away thoughts and the random things that pop into my head quickly and get back to what I’m doing without judgement. Before meditation, I might have done that, but then I would have spent the same amount of time beating myself up for how much time I wasted. A vicious circle.
The idea of “no judgement” is one that I’ve struggled with all my life. I will confess that I have used judgment and criticism of others to build myself up, to make me feel superior, all while I felt INFERIOR inside; I shift the judgement I’m imposing on myself to others, which gives me some relief – while I’m busy judging others I can’t judge myself…
I have done this so often that it’s become second nature, and only now, I’m beginning to recognize what I’m doing and reign it in. I realize now, how destructive judgement is, in all aspects of life, but specifically with regard to one’s appearance. Of course, I have always “known” that, but interestingly enough, have only begun to understand it so acutely recently, especially the impact of MY OWN judgement of others on MYSELF.
I don’t know if it’s human nature to judge other’s appearances, but it has always been a part of my own life. All of my childhood I was overweight, and felt like I was the heaviest person in whatever room I was in, all the way through college. I thought that was true, and whether it was or not didn’t matter much, to me, it was. I grew up feeling like if I only lost weight, I’d be prettier (something I heard directly from a relative) and more “worthy.” Many members of my family were quite judgmental of others and weren’t shy of speaking openly about it.
I internalized those feelings and then turned around and imposed them on others. I began to feel like I knew the right and the wrong way to “look” and “be” and if you didn’t look or behave a certain way, you were deserving of judgement. And I gave it. Mostly in my own head, but still.
It makes me sad just to think about. As a child, of course, you’re very impressionable, and things take on a life of their own. Everything is magnified and reality is malleable. The person who told me I’d be “pretty if I lost weight” meant well, I’m sure, and quite possibly didn’t even say those words exactly. But that’s what I heard, and being who I am, my own judgmental self took that and ran with it. I turned those words back in on myself and then on everyone else I could. For a VERY long time.
I have never been an outwardly judgmental person, or at least I haven’t thought so. I would never presume to write about or tell anyone else how to dress themselves, or what clothes to wear. But to myself, I was brutal. Sometimes I would just look at someone for a split second and a not-very-nice thought would pop into my head about that person. That created bitterness, unhappiness, sadness and anger in ME, having no effect whatsoever on the random person who was the object of my wrath. Now, I see what I’m doing, and let it go. I read once that you can treat your thoughts in meditation like a boat going by on a river; observe it and let it float on by, paying no mind. I try to do that all the time now, send those destructive, judgmental thoughts on their way.
I know now that my own judgmental-ness is a product of the impact of the judgements and criticism I heard and felt as I was growing up. They took root in my impressionable and fragile young mind and grew there, thick and strong like a beanstalk. It is only with practice that I’ll be able to cut them down, one branch or leaf at a time.
Every day I meditate I get closer to being
More accepting of myself
More accepting of others
More willing to let go & move on
It is a battle of wills still, but I can already tell that those voices in my head, the real ones that said I would be “so pretty if…” and the imaginary ones that fed on that insecurity, starting to have less of a hold on me. Baby steps ….
I agree, we all use judgment and criticism of others to build ourselves up .. I don’t remember doing this as a child, but I think it is learned along the way .. perhaps by our parents and by watching those wonderful teen sitcoms.
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Thank you so much for sharing your meditation journey. I started meditating a year ago, and found that it really changed my life. I felt a lot of joy and gratitude even in the normal, boring daily routine just because my mind was able to step back from that “monkey mind” that was always judging. My practice has waned in the last couple months and I feel like I need to get back to it again!
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I’m so impressed and honestly a little jealous! I have tried multiple times to start a meditation practice (including most recently, this summer) and I never stick with it for very long. Which in turn makes me feel worse!
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Grechen Reiter says
oh my gosh, if i can do it this far, i feel pretty confident you can do it 🙂
and anyway, in keeping with the “no judgement” theme, don’t feel bad for not sticking to it!! i mean, for me, especially, it seems to take 2-3 tries before things “stick” – and even then, sometimes they don’t. i’m just enjoying where i am now…which is all we really can do, right?
Thank you so much for this, Grechen. It was really well written and something I think we all, especially women, can relate to.
I catch myself making snarky comments in my head at times out of jealousy and insecurity and have to stop myself and ask why I did that. A habit I’ve formed is to say something positive, sometimes in my head and sometimes out loud, about that person such as, “That outfit really looks great on her and her confidence just makes her look that much more radiant!” I’m getting to the place I want to be slowly but surely.
I used to meditate years ago and would like to get back into it. Just last night I was looking at apps to download to help me with the process but I think that was a procrastination move. I already know how to meditate and I even know I can do it without falling asleep- a huge challenge I used to have! With the New Year (Shanah tovah!) I’m making myself a priority. Things have been tough lately and reminders, like your post, seem to be popping up all over about self care and self love. Thanks again!
I guess that’s part of it – to keep trying…right? 😉
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Grechen Reiter says
ah, i know that procrastination move well 🙂
i use the OMG i can meditate app and really like it, but it’s not free…it sucked me in though during the free trial!
i like your re-direction move. i sometimes just look away, but i’ll also switch to focusing on something positive if i can.
shana tovah to you too!!
I am so, so, happy to hear this.
Thanks for sharing this. I intellectually “know” that meditation makes me feel better, yet I still don’t do it. We had an amazing workshop at my office on meditation, that provided a really simple guided meditation practice (on CD or you can download). I felt incredible after going, but then slipped back into my usual routine. I’m going to go right now and download it to my phone so I can start doing it without excuses.
Shana tova! I love that the the Jewish New Year is in the fall, when school starts, and another reason to make new plans to treat ourselves and others better in the coming year.
You’re awesome! I hope I tell you that enough, because I truly believe it. Your honesty and willingness to consistently put yourself out there is BRAVE. Remember, “the great ones” didn’t learn meditation overnight, it took time. I find that in my prayer life, which I liken to meditation. My mind wanders and I have to bring it back. So, if I spot a beautiful cloud and focus on that for awhile, maybe that’s where my attention is supposed to be at the moment…appreciating the beauty in my world.
I totally get your “analysis paralysis,” since I, too, have that issue. It’s often made my loved ones very angry at me.
Speaking of self-criticism, if you’re the Queen, then I’m the Princess! I have chronic depression, and so I see a therapist regularly. Last Saturday, I was trying to explain how my negative thoughts are the first thing that pop into my head, rather than praise when I do something good. All of a sudden, my therapist’s phone (damned Siri!) chimes in, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you are saying.” He apologized profusely, but I laughed and asked if I owe Siri for her time and commentary. 😉
Great job on sticking with the meditation. I sorta kinda tried meditation (aside from what they make you do at the end of yoga class), but couldn’t get into it at all. Instead I find what has worked the best for me when it comes to resetting my system is to go for a walk. I walk pretty much daily. Sometimes just around the block, other times a solid coupla miles. What I don’t do is anything else. I don’t bring along my iPod, I don’t bring my smartphone (I do have an ancient phone-only Nextel that I clip on my clothes in case of emergencies), but otherwise I just disconnect from the Matrix & head outside.
I solve more issues, knock worries off my list & unload a myriad of unnecessary doubts from my noggin just by unplugging & walking.