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Mindful : February 2016
But as meditator after meditator and teacher after teacher will attest, there’s the catch: Although meditation is easy to learn, it’s hard to maintain. How do you keep it up? That’s the bigger challenge. You start out and you get in a groove and then one day you feel too lazy. Or you sit down to meditate and you become restless, or maybe bored, or you smell something cooking and crave a snack. You remember a recent slight by a friend and mull that over, for- getting to return to the breath—ever. You decide meditation isn’t doing anything for you, you are sick of the whole idea, you lose hope. The next day you forget about it and decide to forget why you even wanted to do it in the first place (unless something comes along to remind you). Yet daily practice, even for a few minutes, even when the going is tough, can strengthen resolve. “One of the keys is regularity, com- mitting to something every day, even if it’s 10 minutes,” says Florence Meleo-Meyer, a leader in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It can help, she adds, to have some guidance. That could be a recorded practice, it could be a class, just so there is some structure to support your intention. Patricia Mushim Ikeda, who teaches at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, Cal- ifornia, likes to keep it simple. She begins her classes by loading up a table in front of the class with meditation aids—including bells, books, little statues, cushions, CDs, and flashcards. “There is lots of gear,” she says. “People get curious. Then I invite a volunteer to come to Starting meditation is pretty easy, but one day you’re really irritable. You decide it’s too boring. You get up and give up and don’t go back. Until much later, when you recall why you started. the front of the room and I hand the student a bag. One by one, I take the items off the table, name them, and drop them into the bag. When the table is emptied, I say, ‘ You don’t need any of this to meditate.’” “So what do you need?” Mushim asks the class. “ You need a body. You need to be alive, and if you’re alive you’re breathing. That’s all you need. You don’t need a cellphone, you don’t need fancy pants, you don’t need anything that costs money.” But you might need a teacher to guide you and coach and coax you, she says, because everyone gets stuck at some point. Expect to Hit a Wall Ask a random group of people if they meditate and you are likely to get answers like I did: “I think it’s a great idea but I just can’t find time.” “I used to do it, but I guess I forgot.” “I think about doing it; maybe I’ll start again.” “It felt lonely.” Or, as one woman told me. “Frankly, I used to do it, but now I find a glass of wine gets me there faster.” Such responses are not at all uncommon, says Meleo-Meyer. “At the start we feel ‘I will do this great thing, I am going to change my life.’ We have big expectations, and there is something about the everydayness of meditation that is not quite so sexy.” Hitting a hard patch is inevitable, she says. “It’s important to know that a lull will happen, that it is not a sign to discontinue.” Sebene Selassie has meditated for more than 20 years and for the last five years has taught meditation in refugee camps in West Africa, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, and on the East Coast. She is currently a teacher at, and formerly the executive director of, the New York Insight Meditation Center. And yet, she herself can get stalled. “I have been practicing for a long time and there are still times when I wonder why I do this, when I think I hate med- itation. This practice goes against the stream. There are powerful forces pulling us away from the stillness and the quiet.” But meditation does take time, she says. “The more shook up our pond is, the longer it will take for the sediment to settle or for our wheels to slow down.” No wonder a lot of people get frustrated and give up. Meditation requires per- severance. “But it doesn’t have to be grit-your- teeth type of perseverance,” Selassie says. “Just continuing to show up is almost all of it.” That’s a sentiment echoed by mindfulness leaders around the country. “The one challenge 40 mindful February 2016 meditation