For the past few years, I’ve been trying really hard to sustain a meditation practice, but nothing I’ve tried has stuck. I don’t do well with stillness, which is what meditation is all about – accessing the stillness within. At my best, I’m able to sit quietly and listen to a guided meditation, but even with the help of a reassuring voice, I struggle. My mind wanders and I have to reel it back in, focus on my breathing – the inhale, the exhale, the pause in between.
It works for a few seconds and then, I don’t know how it happens, but I find myself entertaining such weighty thoughts as “I wonder why kale chips are so damn expensive,” and “How come my phone battery keeps draining so quickly?” and “Gah! How will I face the news without Jon Stewart?”
“Shit!” I think, reeling my brain back in again. Inhale, exhale, pause. Inhale, exhale, pause.
In no time at all, my brain wanders off again and I reel it back. It wanders; I reel. It wanders; I reel. By the end of my meditation I’m often exhausted and frustrated, and I have to wonder about the wisdom of trying to
beat gently coax my busy, skittering mind into submission.
I know everyone who meditates deals with this very same problem, but I have to say, it’s just plain discouraging to try for all this time and never feel like I get any better at it. Not to mention that when I feel worse about myself after meditating than I did before, I’m petty sure something’s gone terribly wrong with the process.
Then, a few months ago, on the phone with my friend, I said, “Maybe I wouldn’t find it so stressful if I just doodled through my meditation.”
She said she thought that was a great idea. “There isn’t only one right way to meditate,” she said. Which, of course, I knew. And yet, I felt such a relief to hear her say it, such a sense of validation.
Maybe even permission.
I started immediately. First thing the next morning, I sat down at my art table, put my ear buds in, set the Pandora timer for thirty minutes, and started doodling.
It was amazing. Focusing visually was much easier than tuning into my breath, and much less stressful. I felt like every stroke of my pen was creating the shape of my my meditation, which is weird, I know, but also cool and fun. I achieved such flow in that first 30-minute session; I was hooked.
When I was finished, I had something to show for the time, which for an A-type like me is a good thing.
Each day I posted my meditation doodle-in-progess on Instagram, and people encouraged me. They were curious about the process, and that was helpful too. I felt very supported. No one said, “Hey, that’s not how you meditate!” I got comments from doodlers and yogis alike.
Very different from all my other attempts at meditation, I found the hardest part of each session was stopping when the timer went off.
I wanted to share that story for two reasons. First, even though we all know how good it is for us, maintaining a meditation practice is hard. Just showing up is a challenge in much the same way that sticking to a healthy diet or exercising every day is. And even when you do manage to carve out twenty minutes a day for meditation, it’s just plain tricky trying to slow down an active, thought-filled, creative mind.
If you’ve struggled too, try doodling. If you don’t feel quite up to doodling, try coloring someone else’s doodle. There are lots of adult coloring sheets available for download. I found a Pinterest board full of them, and I’m sure you can find other sources. (I’m setting up a freebies page for my own site, and I’ll have some downloadable color pages for you right here sometime in March).
Update: Free, downloadable coloring sheets are right here!
And the second reason I wanted to share my doodle meditation story with you is this. For some reason, I kept thinking there was only one way to meditate: sit still, breathe, let your thoughts go. I suck at that, but I kept trying even though it made me feel more defeated than Zen. When I brought up the idea of doodling to my friend, her positive response made me realize how much I was hoping she’d agree with me.
I love my friend big time, and she’s very wise, but I shouldn’t have needed permission to try meditation my way. We are all such very different people, how can one-size-fits-all meditation be appropriate? Or one-size-fits-all yoga, or love, or art, or faith. In our efforts to live happier, healthier lives, the best thing we can do, I think, is be true to ourselves.
Do you meditate? I’d love to hear about your practice. And if you don’t, then I’d love, love, love to hear about your weird. ; )