Throughout my growing up, whenever I got too anxious for my mother to handle she would storm out of the room and shout “just go meditate!” in a feeble attempt to calm me down. As one might expect, this didn’t make me very eager to look into the transformative effects the practice could have on my life.
I was certainly not unique in being opposed to – and intimidated by – the concept of setting time aside to sit and do nothing but pay attention to my breath every day. With anxiety being the primary driving force behind productivity in high school, it’s easy for the brain to rationalize that meditation is a “waste of time” and that we have “better stuff to do.” But – if you are someone who spends a good chunk of time every day playing video games or scrolling through Instagram, what makes meditation any more unproductive? Odds are, your resistance to meditation is discomfort disguised as practicality.
A meditation session can be however long you want it to be. It can be as short as one minute (during the minute of silence) or as long as ten months (check this out). The most common practice, and easiest to start off with, is just sitting silently and paying full attention to your breath. I find that it helps to mentally say “bu” on the inhale, and “dah” on the exhale to draw my attention in more fully. This is so that my inner voice has less room to jump in and assault me with seemingly urgent thoughts. The primary purpose of meditation is to give us a pause from our neurotic thinking patterns and relax into the simple joy of being present and alive. Once we focus our consciousness on our breath rather than our thoughts, we make room for peace and warmth to come in.
As soon as you get comfortable and silent before meditating, your neurotic inner voice will start generating all kinds of thoughts to fight against your practice. “I’m so uncomfortable… this isn’t doing anything… I don’t see any thoughts in here… my time would be much better spent doing my math recycle… I’ll just meditate later.” It can be extremely challenging not to act on these thoughts at first – just know that they are not you. You are the one who observes these thoughts passing before you. You are the silent and knowing awareness of the thoughts who has the ability to choose whether or not to associate with them.
You may be thinking, “What do you mean? How can there be a distinction between me and my thoughts? There’s no one but me in here…” That is your internal voice – and if you pay too much attention to it you lose your awareness of who you are. Your being aware is not contingent on the existence of these thoughts. The thought of awareness without these thoughts may be scary, but it is indescribably liberating. Just think: when you are skiing or participating in some sort of fast-paced activity where there is no time for abstract thinking, it is pure bliss and flow. These activities draw you out of your patterns of thoughts and mental abstraction and force you into the reality of the present moment with only awareness. Just imagine if you could live your life with that much presence!
If you really watch what your internal voice has to say about the world, you’ll notice that it constantly feels vulnerable and threatened, and therefore lives in a state of fear and want – unless it feels good about itself based on external circumstances. Just think about it – that needy voice has led you around your whole life! What would it be like to be conscious apart from that voice’s demands? Have the courage to just be in your body and bypass your brain. Try to feel what it feels like to be alive and relax into that feeling. The feeling of being you and not your thoughts. Relax into the calming rhythm of your breath.
That is the purpose of meditation – to separate us from our panicked brains that seem to have problems with everything, and instead relax into our true being. Our true being accepts all – and therefore has no problems. It helps us see that life is not as complex and cruel as our brains make it out to be. If you are willing to explore this by starting a daily practice, I recommend meditating for five minutes in the morning or evening, and slowly expanding that time as you become more comfortable with longer sits.
There is so much more to being alive than pursuing the needs of our neurotic thought patterns. Mentally understanding this does not reveal the truth of it, you have to feel the beauty and warmth in consciousness. Have the courage to experience the joy of being for yourself.
P.S. If you’d like more resources to delve deeper into becoming more conscious and present, I’ve found that the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is an amazing resource. Additionally, the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland holds a free teen meditation event every Wednesday at 7pm titled Teen Sangha. Feel free to email me if you have any questions, want book recommendations, want to carpool to EBMC on Wednesdays, or just want to talk!