November 24, 2014

Meditation Motivation

photo: original source unknown.
Now it's all over the freakin' web.
By Crabby McSlacker

I know that meditation and other forms of mindfulness are good for me. But I have a horrible time sticking with any sort of regular practice. Anyone else?

When I do manage to make the time to meditate, I'm often obstinate, ornery, and resistant, probably because I have a very thinky mind. It loves to plot and scheme, to analyze and narrate, to fantasize about the future and reminisce about the past. The last thing my busy brain wants to do is shut the f-ck up and just be in the present moment.

So last time I checked in on this topic, I had bailed on meditating again.  Why? because I was under too much stress. Yep, what an awesome reason to ditch one of the most well-proven stress reduction methods on the planet!

But the good news is, I went back to it right after I wrote that post. (Blogging=free therapy.) And guess what? I think I'm finally getting a little more traction.

And, as you may recall from the post about why Cranky Fitness Sometimes Sucks, I can't resist sharing advice about things I am spectacularly untalented at.  So, here are a few things that helped me get my meditation mojo back again.

1. I Had to Realize that Sometimes You Gotta WORK HARDER to get Better at Things You are Bad At. 
Hard Work?  Ick!
image: wikipedia

If you approach an endeavor you are unskilled and inept at, and half-assed efforts don't seem to be yielding sufficient results, you have several choices:

1. You can get all pissy and give up;

2. You can stay half-assed and sporadic and wonder why you're not making much progress, or,

3. You can suck it up and apply yourself with a little more self-discipline and actually move forward a little.

Duh, right?  I know this about exercise.  I have many times needed go all drill sergeant on myself to consciously up my Badass Quotient if I get too lazy and complacent.

But I realized I'd been letting the whole "doing something is better than doing nothing" philosophy distract me from the fact that sometimes there is a threshold amount of effort necessary to get to the point where habits are built and results are obtained and the whole thing becomes more self-sustaining.

For me, the sweet spot seems to be doing some sort of contemplative activity in a relatively "formal" and uninterrupted way for 20-45 minutes a day, most days of the week, plus adding mindfulness to daily activities whenever I can wrench my brain out of thinky mode.  Which, strangely enough, seems to be happening way more often now that I have committed to daily practice.

Funny how that works, huh?

And the more I do it, the less unpleasant it is! I'm having lovely trippy experiences focussing on things I might otherwise not even notice.  Except of course on the days where I'm really unmotivated and it seems so tedious and miserable that I'd rather jump naked into a vat of boiling sewage.  Hey, just like it is with exercise!

2. I Have to Make it Fun and Sometimes Just Do My Own Thang

The essence of meditation is so simple (focus your attention on something and keep returning to it) that it seems ideal for a totally DIY approach, right?

And I am a great believer in doing my own weird thing. Traditional breath or mantra focused meditation seems mind-numbingly tedious to me unless I've already built some momentum playing with something more interesting.

This is why I "invented" the Mmmmmm© yoga alternative, and my Way More Trippy Walking Meditation method.  I was totally high on recent walks in a way I wouldn't have been had I not been "meditating" at the time.

So yeah, when I realized I was a total stress-basket and knew I needed to figure out how to slow my head down and regain the ability to focus, I had two custom-made mindfulness practices perfect for my own bizarro brain. And I don't know if I'd have stumbled on them if I'd signed up for an intensive course or gone on a retreat or joined some sort of brainwashing cult to get started.

3. However, Getting Instruction And Support Can Be Enormously Helpful and Motivating!

I think part of the reason I've bailed on meditation so often is that I've been lacking crucial information about how the process works, and what sort of problems one naturally encounters, and how to get through them. Gosh, an activity that humans have been studying and honing and practicing for many millennia... what are the chances there is some useful wisdom available about how best to approach it?

I needed to get schooled!

Plus, attending a weekly sitting group if you can find one is a great way to learn more and provide some structure and motivation. I started dropping in on one in Provincetown, and I'll search out one in San Diego when we get there.

But meantime, guess what?  Regulars here already know I am a huge fan of Rick Hanson, and those of us who are doing The Foundations of Well-Being Program know that the current pillar we're working on is mindfulness. Rick has always been awesomely motivating on that front, cluing me into all kinds of sciencey reasons for rewiring my brain through meditation and other techniques.

So anyway, I've been visiting family more often this fall, which has allowed me to attend a couple of Rick's San Rafael meditation group meetings IN REAL LIFE!

(Note:  I can't remember where I swiped this photo from, but despite being sorely tempted I restrained myself from asking him pose with me for a selfie. But he probably would have been game).

Anyway, not surprisingly, it turns out Rick is just as articulate and warm and sincere talking off the cuff as he is in his prepared courses.  But, bonus: he's looser and more improvisational and even more funny and adorable in person! So if you ever find yourself in his vicinity for a live event, you might want to check him out.

But... wait, what was my point again?

Oh yeah, a group setting is a really helpful adjunct to solo practice. Because if you got bored and took your phone out and started playing Candy Crush or watching Youtube videos of the world's ugliest dogs, you'd look like a total asshole.

So you don't do that, right?  Nor do you wander off to the kitchen to see if there's anymore kettlecorn left, or otherwise give up too soon, which is good for concentration and self-discipline.

But also, you know, the whole sharing knowledge and motivation and bonding and community thing. That's all good too.

And I will no doubt bore you at length in the future about Shinzen Young, who I'm also finding extremely helpful. His approach to meditation is mostly Vipassana, but it's pretty eclectic and permissive. Plus it's very analytical and nerdy and results-oriented. I believe he calls it an "interactive algorithmic" approach, and hooray for geekitude!

Yep, Shinzen's got the sciencey thing wired.
Photo stolen from Shinzen's blog.

Anyway, Shinzen's approach seems particularly well-suited to my hopelessly overthinky brain and my cranky contrarian nature. I started with a humongous CD set I borrowed from the library called The Science of Enlightenment--it's informative and motivating and kinda trippy. And then I read one of his many online mindfulness articles which is more nuts and bolts, and I'm starting to check out his monthly online retreats and may even get brave enough to try one in real life. Maybe?

So if you want to get the massive CD set for yourself for the holidays you can do it off of Shinzen Young's site or through Amazon. (And note: I'm an Amazon Associate so in theory I make a commission if you go through me).

But there are bazillions of other sources for meditation support and instruction, and I'm kicking myself for not seeking help earlier.

Anyone else struggling with the whole notion of incorporating mindfulness into your life? Or got any helpful tips?


  1. Crabby, it comes and goes. If it's away for a bit consider it your mind's mindfulness on a break. I think this is necessary. It will come back. But if it's been out and about too long, then taken a moment and force it back. And sometimes, you have to sit down and be the cupcake you are eating.
    I have no idea if that helped or not, but I really want a cupcake now.

    1. Love that Leah, although dang it, now I have cupcakes on the brain too...

  2. Hi,

    Many people when they approach meditation is to relieve stress, feel good.
    But sometimes the lack of knowledge explain some difficulties at first.

    You mention that it was a bit difficult at first.
    And it is not really easy sometimes at first.
    However just simple technics can reveal a super meditative state!..

    Most of the time we have many thoughts just before we start a meditation session.
    To avoid this thougts, we can focus on our breathing, and also we can listen to very soft music (using headphones it's better)
    It helps creating a quiete environment and a very positive time.

    Consistency is key here.
    On a daily basis, even 15mn can reduce stress.
    On a daily basis it works, the feeling is great and the sensation of having a break with our routine, our lifestyle is priceless.

    Have a peaceful day all! and thank you for this nice post. :)

    1. Thanks Ethan! I'm a fan of music too, it does something very helpful to my concentration.

  3. I like the walking approach. Maybe I'll even find time for it some day. Every time I read one of your meditation posts I think about it, but the next thing I know, time has evaporated again and it still hasn't happened. Right now, the closest I get is doing easy sudoku when I want to fall asleep. Just hard enough to take my mind off other stuff, not hard enough to require any serious attention.

    1. Sleepy sudoku, hmm, maybe that IS a form of meditation! I say you get credit. :)

  4. I have been thinking about establishing a meditation practice for YEARS now. Ugh. I still want to, though – this may be the motivation I need. I am starting to set up a space for myself in the basement that might do the trick. However, I really think walking as meditation is awesome and have experienced it myself. :)

    1. Amy, you know what? I've never set up an inviting space for it and I think that's an excellent idea!

  5. I support attending a group or getting actual instruction when it comes to learning a skill like meditation. As a prior commenter said, consistency is the key to any habit.

  6. i don't have time to do mediation, good alternative between meditation and running, i found to be yoga.

  7. Meditation doesn't work for me. My secret formula is "P&P": prayer and pie slices.

  8. I've been interested in meditation, and I do feel like having some sort of group or instructor would be helpful to the process. I haven't quite taken the step to actually start LOOKING for that group at this point. But it's on the radar.

    1. Aren't you in the San Diego area OTF or do I have that wrong? If so, and I find a good one I'll let you know!

  9. Crabby,
    I'm with you - it's hard for me to stick to something like that. It's a great idea to be in a class.

    And as you say, when you're massively stressed, it's even tougher to stay on task for something so calm. When under that much stress, if I can manage it, a bunch of really deep breaths can get me a chunk of the benefits of meditation, the lower blood pressure, a little easing of the desire to do explode and such.

    Sincerely, Tabby

    1. Tabby, so I'm not the only one who finds it hard to meditate when stressed? Alas, my problem with breath is that when I focus on it, I find it hard to breath naturally, and start stressing about getting enough air... how weird is THAT??

  10. I like to meditate on the beach - I keep telling Chris that I would be much calmer if I lived on a beach!!! I do like the idea of active meditating.
    I'm afraid that I would end up totally embarrassing myself at a group meditation class - I would probably end up with a case of the giggles and piss everyone off.

    1. C'mon out to San Diego Kim! We got beaches! And there's even a laughter yoga group at a nearby park so you can giggle all you want. :)

  11. Prayerful meditation works for me, but i'm weird that way.

  12. I would find twenty to forty-five minutes impossible on a daily basis. I do five to ten minutes at most. Occasionally longer, but I do try to live a mindful life.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  13. I am not going to mention any names or point any fingers, but a formerly dedicated meditator you know has fallen so far away from meditation that there seems no hope of ever returning. Funny how that goes!

    but only 5.

  15. I use an app called CALM on my phone and I like it because they have a nice soothing rain sound and different time options for the guided meditation. But ... it's the same spiel every time, and thus boring. I will attempt something different today maybe.

  16. I hadn't really thought about meditation as a singular pursuit...I am more a meditate while you yoga gal, but this is sparking some thinking. I do love your observation about what we are not good at may take a little hard work! So true and often stated but you have a way of reminding me that makes me really think - yes - I must do the work. TY Crabby!

  17. Oops, I meant Cranky...but isn't it the same? maybe not...

  18. Hey buddy, I just meditate 15 minutes a day and I really think it is enough for me... well in the beginning I struggled hard for not thinking about anything but nowadays its getting better and better for me :) Keep up your good work! Shane

  19. Hello there, You’ve done an incredible job. I will certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m sure they will be benefited from this web site.


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