These days it’s like a spiritual badge of honor to be able to say that you meditate. It means you have the luxury time to pause the hustle and find your chi. And if you’re hobnobbing in certain circles that have lapsed into sanctimony, asking if someone meditates is a way of measuring up—like the equivalent of asking, “Do you even lift?”
I can take this somewhat jilted view because I’ve been in these circles as a yoga instructor, a perpetual spiritual seeker, and a gym rat. I get the drill. I know the routine. We humans excel in finding ways to measure up against one another, even in matters whose very practice should teach us to do and be the opposite.
The reason we judge one another originates in self-judgment. If we truly meditate and hence reap its rewards, it should land us in a place devoid of judgment of any kind. Theoretically, attending church should function this way too but that’s a subject for another post.
I am not a meditation “expert” but I have spent a relatively significant amount of time over the years exploring it. And in short, I can’t stand it. Or, at least not the version of it that is best known.
You know—sit on a satin pillow with your legs crossed, spine nice and tall, palms open-faced while rested on your knees, eyes closed (or half-closed depending on the school of thought), and effortless breathing that takes a holy hell amount of effort to become effortless.
While in this posture, you begin thinking, “damn my back hurts...Wait! Do I exhale through the nose or the mouth?...1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, breathe...Is my rib cage expanding too much or not enough...What did my boyfriend mean when he said that thing earlier today?...Gosh, I need to get home in time to let the dog out to potty…”
Meanwhile, your yoga instructor or the mean, old schoolmarm in your own mind is demanding more of your meditation performance and you increasingly feel like a failure.
So we give the situation the breaking-up-with-Sasquatch treatment à la Harry and the Hendersons.“Go on! Git! I don’t want you anymore, anyway, anyhow!” But throwing the meditative baby out with the uncomfortable bathwater needn’t be the answer.
What is Meditation?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cites that meditation has been proven to help mitigate everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to anxiety to pain and more. And while I typically wouldn't advise looking to the federal government for definitions of spiritual subjects, I must admit, they do a pretty good, straightforward job by listing four main elements:
a quiet location with as few distractions as possible
a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions)
a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath)
an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them)
After I came to peace with the fact that traditional meditation just ain’t my bag baby, I eventually found an alternative that truly works miracles for me and that fits the above formula. No satin pillows, lotus flowers, or incense needed (but hey, if that works for you, work it!). My preferred method merges real, daily living with the benefits of meditation. It is not necessary to carve out separate time for the activity and benefits.
Do Normal Life... Meditatively
What if we were to live our regular lives with intention and meaning? Thereby merging the benefits of meditation with shit we need or want to do anyway? Here are three ways to do this and how I apply them to my own life.
1. Choose an everyday task and make it meaningful.
Washing dishes can be incredibly soothing to the soul as a conscious exercise.
After a healthy homemade meal, I find myself fully present in the task of washing away the scraps and residue on pots and pans only to reveal their clean, renewed state. The wear and subtle scratches on their surfaces speak to their durability and resilience, much like the human spirit.
Through this practice, my mind has little incentive to wander elsewhere. And if it does, I simply bring my attention back to the task and intention at hand. I am fully present, my heart rate naturally lowers, my breathing naturally slows, and I’m left with a full belly and a clean kitchen.
The symbolism of this mundane task speaks to my spirit without any words needing to be uttered—much like a psychic reminder that, like the dishes, the power of renewal resides within me. This, of course, is the power of Love. Win-win-win.
2. Pick a favorite activity… and make it meaningful.
Before you think I’m ready to join a retirement community, hear me out. Puzzles are for cool people. Really.
Recently, my early morning routine involves having a cup of coffee and quietly piecing together an elaborate puzzle of a Buddhist mandala, The vibrant colors and intricate yet balanced designs are mesmerizing and do exactly what mandalas are intended to do—be a form of meditation.
The time of day is peaceful, the mood is relaxed, and my mind empties of other thoughts while I simply swim in the colors and shapes before me. Instead of focusing on every single piece before me in a vain attempt to find the “right one,” I allow my vision to see the totality of what’s in front of me and more times than not, the correct piece ends up coming into sharp focus much faster than had I inspected every single piece one at a time.
This heightened state reminds me of how a quarterback must possess an overall awareness of what is happening on the field around him after the snap, but then has the ability to use laser focus to throw the pass to the ready receiver. (Me using a football metaphor is a stretch—ask anyone who knows me—but I think you get the idea.) In athletics, this is often referred to as as “being in the zone.” You are 100% present and have razor sharp clarity, singularity of purpose, and peace in the moment.
It’s important to note that simply doing the activity itself does not make it meditative. If I was constantly thinking to myself, “Where the heck is that piece with the bright pink squiggle?” and getting frustrated with myself when not finding it, then I’m not experiencing a meditative moment. Or if I’m beating myself up for eating that piece of cake last night or worrying about my teenager, I have to lovingly let those unproductive thoughts pass and return to the present pleasure at hand.
Puzzles may not be your thing. Maybe it’s working on cars, tending a vegetable garden, or baking bread. The point is, find the simple joy in your activity and lose yourself to it and only it, if only for a small dedicated amount of time to recalibrate your spirit.
3. Connect with your spirit through physical activity.
I love lifting weights. And sometimes when I’m moving a heavy object through space for the purpose of conditioning my body, my mind slips gear into defeatist self-talk telling me that “it’d be easier to stop, this is too hard, I’m tired,” etc. I use this opportunity to remind myself that I mustn’t give up. Much like when I am feeling that I don’t measure up in some capacity as a human, I must channel that spiritual energy of perseverance and keep on, keepin’ on! What the body experiences on the outside often is a reflection of our inner spirit.
Other ideas include some of the obvious like doing yoga or tai chi. But these blatant forms of moving meditation don’t appeal to many people.
So try going on a walk and simply observing LIFE around you—find the joy in the little dandelion that is sprouting up between the crack in the pavement. Or ride a bike and let the rhythm of the spinning wheels inspire seamless, calming breathing. Swing some golf clubs but don’t berate yourself if you frequently miss the ball. (Maybe that’s just me??) It is definitely a zen moment when your body optimizes the laws of physics and cracks that golf ball in a clear, straight line across the green. Just say’n.
Identify what you enjoy. Look for the little openings of joy and lose yourself to that.
The Bottom Line
Take things that you already do or that you enjoy doing and haven’t done in a long time and make them meaningful. It takes some practice because your monkey mind may take over. So lovingly say bye-bye to the frenetic inner chatter and redirect to the moment at hand. This open state of receptivity allows the good stuff to fill you up.
Rachel Roberts is the founder of American None. Every now and then she's known to have a deep thought, usually in the most random places– like shopping for IPA and gummy bears.