You’ve read enough about mindfulness to give meditation a shot alone at home, but there’s something missing. Sometimes it’s as simple as not knowing if you’re doing it right, sometimes it’s the sense that it should be harder than it seems to be.
Your mind won’t stop wandering.
An in-person meditation might be in order. You’ve found a Sangha and you’ve showed up. You are so eager to enrich your experience or overcome the shyness of meditating alone – that you walk into the studio unprepared.
You have a cushion, sure. You’re wearing loose clothing and trying to “pre-meditate” by putting the day behind you so you’re not distracted once you begin –
But you’re unprepared for the hardest part: walking into a studio filled with people who all look at peace, who all look happy, who all exude the calm that you’ve been hoping to achieve but are secretly afraid you can’t.
And you know they’re all looking at you.
You’re suddenly naked in the high school cafeteria.
And deep down, you wonder if you are the first person in the history of meditation to resent other people for being good at it.
Here’s a secret: almost all of us think that – at first. Until we realize the one simple truth of group meditation:
Everyone thinks the person next to them is better at meditating.
It’s actually kind of a thing among Buddhists. After all, the history of Buddhism is full of examples of monks chasing out the newbie who gets enlightened before they do.
But it shouldn’t be important who is further along! Why is it a competition?
Those are questions perfect people with gentle smiles ask. Those of us beginning meditation can’t ask them because we’re not perfect. If we were perfect we probably wouldn’t be at the community center’s multipurpose room at 8pm on a Monday.
There’s an easy way to take the pressure off yourself.
First, remember that most people meditating in a studio are a lot more concerned about their own struggles than with yours. But once you get over the cafeteria feeling, you know that.
Then, smile a lot, of course, take your seat as you are able, and get to the point where everyone’s closed their eyes.
Then, sometime about ten minutes into the meditation,
GO AHEAD AND PEEK
Do it. Open your eyes slowly and look a bit. No need to move your head. Just have a good long peek.
What are you going to see?
The answer isn’t “the guy next to you picking his nose.” Probably. What you’ll likely see is everyone with their eyes closed. When you peek you see people not peeking. That’s how it tends to work.
If you’re wondering if this is only going to prove that you are the one who doesn’t belong there, think again.
By seeing people NOT peek, you give your brain permission to close your eyes without pressure.
Your meditating brain knows that a lot more people than you consciously realize are going to peek during their meditation too. And the chances are, they will see you, sitting still, eyes closed, and they’ll imagine, if only for a second, that you’re doing it better than they are. It takes a long time before we’re immune to those insecurities in meditation.
If the worst thing in the world happens and someone else is looking at you when you peek, you smile and give a little nod. You caught each other. You belong. Close your eyes and feel how welcome you are. Don’t worry about the instructor seeing you. She sees everything anyway, and it’s her job not to judge.
When you force yourself to meditate out of ego – constantly telling yourself “I must keep still, I must stop my mind from wandering, I mustn’t look around” – then you’re going to have a rougher go of it. You might wrestle the Buddha only once or twice before giving up.
It doesn’t have to be that hard. If you can turn your beginner’s impulses into a way of knowing you belong – as a sign that you’re in the right place, learning the right skills, among people who are just as eager to find peace as you are – then you increase your chances of coming back.
Give it a try. Sit with a group, enjoy where the meditation is taking you, and give yourself permission to take a good peek when the impulse arrives. You’ll find that you’re suddenly as far away from the high school cafeteria as you’ve ever been.
Then return to the breath. Because you’ll want to.
Michael Wurth has practiced Buddhism for over 20 years. He is also a Nationally Certified Counselor with Master’s Degrees in Comparative Literature and Counseling Psychology, and an award-winning filmmaker. He teaches overwhelmed people how rewrite the stories in their heads that are holding them back. Check out his free instruction sheet Why Science Doesn’t Understand Meditation – But You Do! to discover how much you can influence your world at www.wrestlingthebuddha.com