When I became ill, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was, “Have you tried to meditate?”
The answer was yes — but if I was being honest, meditation really sucked sometimes.
I felt frustrated I didn’t love it like everyone else and I wondered what was wrong with me. Over time, I became aware of what was making meditation so frustrating for me, and I started to make changes. Here the reasons that meditation sucked, and the changes I made to make it work better for me:
1. In the wellness world — and sometimes even the medical world — there is a lot of pressure put on meditation to cure you.
Whenever I was meditating, I would feel like the expectations were so high and that I needed to do it right so that I, too, could be healed. As a result, meditation became anxiety provoking. After months of practice, and no sign of being cured, I felt like I had failed.
Eventually, I changed my mindset. I recognized that not all medical problems can be healed through a daily meditation practice. Being mentally, emotionally and spiritually well doesn’t necessarily mean that my physical body will heal. What it does mean is that I will live a better quality of life while being sick. With this new intention, my meditation practice started to finally feel helpful instead of stressful.
2. Mindful awareness of your body can activate your flight/flight response.
The Polyvagal theory describes how our nervous systems have a “window of tolerance” where they are able to take in information and still feel safe. When we step out of our window of tolerance, we can enter fight/flight or go into shut down mode. When you have experienced trauma, or are in the middle of experiencing something distressing, your window of tolerance might be small. This means that small things, like body sensations, might send your body into fight/flight or shut down mode. After meditating, I would often feel extremely activated, and didn’t have the tools to calm my nervous system down.
In time, I realized I needed professional support. I worked with a counselor who would let me know when I was starting to get activated and help me to calm my nervous system down. She helped me widen my window of tolerance, by slowly allowing me to process what was making me feel unsafe.
Over time, even when meditation felt uncomfortable, my flight/flight system was no longer triggered — and if it was triggered I was more capable of regulating myself.
3. Meditation is one more task on your health to-do list.
When I first started treatment, the list of tasks I had to complete was enormous, and took up hours of my day. With naps in between, there was barely enough time to develop a life outside of being sick. I felt resentful of meditation because it was taking away the little time I had for fun, play, exploration, and purpose outside of my illness.
Because of my irritation, I dropped meditation, along with a few other medical to-dos that didn’t seem critical, and I started practicing mindfulness in my daily life. When I walked, I noticed the trees, sun, and wind. When I washed the dishes, I took a big whiff of the lavender soap. When I listened to music, I took note of the rhythm of my
body. I know longer woke up each day feeling resentful, and meditative awareness no longer took away my joy. Eventually, as my health to-do list got smaller, I had time to sit down and meditate — because the timing was finally right, I was able to enjoy all of meditation’s benefits.