I will start by warning you of the proselytizing that is about to happen. I can't help myself. It's that good.
About a year ago I started meditating once a day using the Headspace app. You should go watch this before we go any further. You will love Andy's voice. His soothing voice is probably why I stuck to meditation in the beginning.
His voice is awesome, right!? My cats agree.
So I did that for a while and then I stopped doing it for a while and then started and then stopped. You know the drill as well as I do, I bet. Habit formation is hard. You really can't will yourself into it, unless you are one of those Obligers who can.
About a month ago, I realized one of the reasons I wasn't consistent was because I didn't have a place that was the meditation zone. I was meditating in the living room or my bed, and often got interrupted by a family member with some urgent whatever. I felt like I was occupying their space and I needed a space of my own. A space just for meditation and contemplation. So I made one. I have a tiny little cabinet that houses some treasures. I threw some orange fabric on it and collected my Buddhas from around the house, made me an altar. I found a sitting cushion/ottoman we had down in the basement. Voila, meditation zone.
Having this dedicated space has helped me so much. I wake up. I walk ten steps to my cushion and sit for 10-20 minutes, depending on the day. At the end of the day, I go up to my room, brush my teeth, and sit for 5-10 minutes. Getting to the cushion hasn't been hard. The sitting has been really hard.
Sitting for 10 minutes at a time and not fidgeting is enough of a challenge for me. But to sit and note the breath for more than like 3-5 breaths is almost impossible. I got to 10 breaths this week (I rarely count but that was the task that day), well I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to start over at 1 and erase all my hard work. But the most important work of meditation is letting go.
Over and over and over again.
Letting go with compassion and forgiveness? A herculean task. I know I'm not supposed to be allowing these thoughts to take control and occupy my attention when I sit. So every time that happens, about once every 6 seconds, I have to realize it, let go of the thought with kindness and forgiveness, and go back to mindfulness. I'm getting better at realizing my attention has drifted and getting back to resting my attention somewhere in my body, but the forgiveness and compassion part can get tricky for me. This morning I was using a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg (thanks 10% Happier app - more about them another day) and she said something that was like a giant searchlight in the darkness of my self-loathing -- paraphrasing here:
You will experience more growth with compassion than condemnation.
Funny thing is, I already know that. Intellectually I understand that part of human behavior change. But applied to the dark circus that goes on inside my head 24/7? Crazy talk. Self-compassion is something my therapist has been working with me on for a year. I'm pretty self-aware most of the time (ok, some of the time). I know when I am being a jerk or jumping to conclusions, etc. I can call myself on it. But forgive myself for it? Not so fast there, Pollyanna. I need to spend at least a few minutes (hours, days) berating myself, just to make sure I understand what a terrible person I am.
Not nice. I know.
So that's why I meditate. To quiet the mean jerk who lives in my head (my roommate, as Michael Singer says in Untethered Soul) who tells me no one likes me and I'm never enough. For at least a few minutes, sometimes only seconds, my spirit gets a rest. And then when I'm out in the world walking around and talking to people, I am more able to pause and reflect before reacting to the situation. Those dark feelings don't have quite as much power over my speech, my thoughts, or my conduct. There's like a 15% greater chance I will react with lovingkindness. That 15% is worth my time sitting. I hear that percentage will grow the longer I practice.
Who knew sitting and resting was such hard work?