That was my exact response when asked as part of a one-year coaching certification in 2003, to establish a daily practice of “sitting.” Yes, just sitting — twenty long minutes every day to meditate.
I grew up in the 70’s and my parents were heavily involved in the self-help revolution. EST, PSI World, Landmark and a handful of others that came and went during that time, guided and inspired our life at work and at home.
The instructors of the seminars were their hero’s. Some might even call the larger movement their religion, and so, it became mine too. I was “gifted” personal development seminars for most birthdays and graduations from the age of 12 to 18. My brain was wired to believe and live concepts like “Win-Win”, “I am responsible vs. I am victim” and “To think is to create.”
These beliefs were so engrained in me, I’m not sure, at least back then, I saw another way to live my life. They were me and I was them. I remember distinctly, around the age of 30, when one of my best friends said to me “Renée, I have never known anyone who could process a difficult or painful situation faster than you.”. I was damn proud of that. Who wants to suffer any longer than they need to? Another one of my self-help affirmations — suffering is optional.
So when I decided to study Organizational Psychology and later become a certified coach, no one, including myself, were surprised. I had this. At least I thought I did.
So why was meditation so hard for me?
Even with doing a lot personal work in my life and later studying it, when the practice of “sitting” was requested of me, I knew immediately it wasn’t going to happen. It actually sounded like torture. In fact, even if I wanted to I wasn’t confident I could. I didn’t get the point. I was used to moving and moving quickly. I was taught to constantly reach for more, to set bigger goals, to become a better version of myself. When I stopped moving I felt physically anxious. Like life was passing by. Like I was missing out on something vital.
There was also that consistent and insistent voice that told me to keep reaching. That somewhere out there I would finally find that one thing that would satiate my demand for more. That would make me feel enough. The self-help seminars taught me this too.
And so, it felt absolutely necessary, and normal, to keep moving.
I am however, a good student (more efforting!), so I did begrudgingly try, if there is such a thing as to begrudgingly try. I sat in a chair and closed one eye, while the other watched the minutes on the clock.
Yet, while I wrestled with my own resistance, I deeply envied from afar those who meditated regularly. They seemed to possess a calm presence and discernment of how and where to spend their time and energy. They had the ability, the will, and the courage to simply be still. These were qualities I craved. Yet still I resisted. I knew I needed it in my life but convinced myself that meditation just wasn’t for me.
Now I know, I just wasn’t ready.
I wasn’t ready to be still. I couldn’t and wouldn’t give myself permission to just sit. To do nothing but focus on my breath and drop into a deeper relationship with my inner-self seemed counter-productive. As much as I said I wanted to slow down, I didn’t really want to.
I was afraid of what I would find. I was afraid of what I would feel. I was afraid of what might emerge, in those quieter moments. I was afraid, frankly, that I would suck at it. And as a result, I did. I also felt less and did more.
So my search for stillness continued.
I spent the next several years tiptoeing around the concept of stillness. I started to practice yoga; which was a start. I learned to deeply appreciate and genuinely need the heat and the sweat. The new connection I was experiencing with my body nourished and grounded me. I came to hunger for that last fifteen minutes of class when the heat fans stopped sucking the air out of the room and I melted into savasana while some song floated through the air that felt like it was selected just for me. It was a time to honor what had shifted in me on the mat that day. At that moment, I could be still. Was that a form of meditation? I wondered. I hoped.
And then another barrier emerged…
Not long after I considered myself a regular “meditator” I stumbled into another barrier — my need to be good at things. My quest for perfection.
It was 2015 and I was in a coaching session with one of my clients. He made a comment that caught my full attention. He said “I’m doing meditation almost every day but I still suck at it.”
It got me thinking — do most of us who meditate expect mastery, to actually be “good” at it? Or do we do it for the benefit — because it is good for us, not because it is something else to conquer?
More importantly, did I believe, even today after my own thirteen-year journey, that meditation is about mastery as opposed to benefit? What did I do with that little voice in my head that was saying, “If you get this right, you’ll finally be one of those people you envied for so many years?” That voice that felt at odds with meditation’s promise of a quieter mind and true self-acceptance.
Was my unconscious striving for perfection getting in the way of receiving all the goodness meditation promised? Did I still not get it?
As I explored these questions further, I came to understand that the purpose of meditation has absolutely nothing to do with getting good at it. It is all about benefit. And even when we find only slivers of time in our busy lives or weeks to incorporate it, the benefits flow generously.
Meditation reduces stress. Improves concentration. Encourages a healthy lifestyle. Regular practice increases self-awareness, happiness and self-acceptance. Meditation builds mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence. It reduces anxiety and even slows aging! One source I found cited 114 benefits of meditation* and another 76 proven by science!
Most importantly, meditation can profoundly alter your experience of life. It profoundly altered my experience of life. I was feeling more and doing less. This was my big prize.
Phew. I had become clear on yet another obstacle on my journey for more stillness. But wow, why was this journey so hard?
Why not meditate…still?
Even now, with all the data stacked in its favor, why is meditation as a regular practice so challenging for many of us to incorporate into our lives? It was challenging for me and is genuinely challenging for most of my clients.
There are likely other reasons that get in the way for other people but my answers were clear. I wasn’t ready to be still. And I wasn’t ready to allow myself not to be perfect.
When I shared this article with a group of girlfriends at a retreat in Hawaii, a group of women like me who relate to the experience of not really feeling alive unless they are doing or experiencing something, my dear friend articulated why we do it in the most simple way.
We do it to come into deeper contact — with ourselves and therefore the world around us. To be with, to let in and to let go.
Renée is an internationally known HR executive, leadership coach and leadership development expert with more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. and abroad. She has built leadership and organizational capability in more than 40 countries in the biotech, pharmaceuticals, health care, technology, internet, and service industries.
Renée coaches and advises vice presidents and director-level executives to lead in more integrated and meaningful ways. She has designed, implemented and led dozens of large-scale HR, leadership, and change transformation programs in every area of the business and across highly matrixed, global landscapes. Through experience and experimentation, she has learned what truly works. As a result, several of her change interventions and leadership programs have been benchmarked and published by organizations such as the Corporate Executive Board and Process Excellence Network.