I did the same two guided meditations for a year.
I learned to meditate through the self-help book The Mindful Way Through Depression➹. This describes the 8 week MBCT program which I recommend to everyone who asks how to get started in meditation.
A few weeks into the program, I was doing mindfulness of the breath in the morning and the body scan in the evening. It was working very well for me and I decided to stay at this level for a bit longer. I never got back to reading the rest of the book. So I continued with the same two guided meditations for over a year.
In that first year of meditation, mindfulness really took hold as a quality of mind. There was no point at which I thought I had enough and didn’t want more. The mental freedom of having the quality of mindfulness available kept growing week after week.
The scope of situations when I could be mindful expanded to cover more patterns of thinking and ever more intense emotions. It also included more types of activities including walking, doing chores and talking to people.
Even when the mind felt stable and positive, I could see that the mindfulness didn’t remain static. It was in its nature to look further and learn more. Each level of improvement was a platform for further gains.
In that first year I was excited by the new experiences. I know now that sometimes a practice can plateau and get a bit stale. We can prevent this by choosing to remain curious about our experience, while also being patient about the pace at which change sometimes comes.
This has happened countless times. Even when I’ve been really into my meditation practice. I’ve started a sitting, I recall the first minute, then the next thing I know: my timer has gone off to signal the end of the session.
Even worse, this can happen with a guided meditation. I can be so distracted that the sounds become lost in another world while my mind is drifting or is caught up in some imaginary scenario.
Even worse than that, this pattern has sometimes repeated for days.
At such times, it can seem like the meditation isn’t doing anything at all. It can become a question: is there any point in continuing to sit if all I’m going to do is drift for half an hour?
And yet, if I look at the difference between un-mindful meditation and no meditation, it’s clear that these apparently worthless sittings are doing something. The feeling of steadiness continues to be supported.
The answer, in all cases, is to check our experience. Is this leading in the direction of less suffering, in my life, in general? Does it do no harm?
And keep learning. From books, courses, teachers, even websites.
I’ve avoided the phrase ‘bad’ meditation, because there are some things you can do that are unhelpful and can make you feel worse if you don’t figure them out. An example is spending the whole time in negative judgement about failing to be mindful. I have enough experience not to do that, even in the cases I’m describing in this post.
Job Kabat-Zinn➹ gives us a definition of what mindfulness is.
Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.
Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness for Beginners. Sounds True. Hardback Edition.➹
Thich Nhat-Hanh’s➹ is more a definition of what it feels like.
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh. Happiness. Parallax Press. Kindle Edition.➹
It’s strange that I stopped my daily meditation practice. I did it diligently for years and then one day I just stopped. Why would I stop doing something that was so enjoyable and helpful?
I think there were two reasons.
Firstly, the problems I had when I started meditating seemed to have gone away. So that initial impulse wasn’t there anymore. I had followed Mark Williams’ fantastic book, The Mindful Way Through Depression➹. I felt that I had built a resilience to depression into my mind so securely that the fear of falling into depression didn’t seem like a daily concern.
Secondly, I made meditation too complicated. As I progressed from the basics into richer meditations, I started to study a lot. With all those extra ideas for practice in my mind, I would sit on the cushion and be overwhelmed with options. Like a child in a sweet shop not being able to choose. There must have been some extra tension in that situation. Instead of it feeling like an exciting buffet of choices, it felt more like I was choosing from a large number of ‘shoulds’. I was aware of the problem but I didn’t address it.
So the cost started to feel greater than the benefit. It happened quite unconsciously. I stopped wanting to sit on the cushion. And then not sitting became a habit.