It may seem ironic that meditation — a technique that helps manage stress — can itself inspire anxiety. However, qualms about taking up meditation are common, and they illustrate perfectly that our automatic stress response can fire in situations which are wholly inappropriate. Misgivings inspired by meditation also show how easily stress can develop, in even the least ostensibly stressful of contexts.
Far from being useless, these kinds of worries can be transformative teachers. Engaging with them can offer you insight into how anxiety forms, before it attacks. Exploring your meditation-related concerns will equip you with new abilities to deconstruct stress-inducing thoughts in other areas of your life, before they reach critical mass.
Recognizing when worries don’t warrant “fight or flight” mode
Anxiety is inescapable; hard-wired into human physiology. It is, primarily, a survival tool called our “fight or flight” response because it primes us for avoiding threats in the wild.
However, the bodily changes it engenders are often (in our relatively safe modern world) misplaced and unpleasant.
Your heart rate increases, firing extra blood to the muscles, as your system scales up for self-defense. Almost always disproportionate, and unhelpful to navigating the situation at hand, this state can be downright counterproductive. If you’re in a traffic jam, for example, stress will function to fog your inner windscreen, compromising the faculties you actually need — clear thinking and road safety sense.
The frequent superfluousness of our physical stress response is especially apparent if you look at anxieties about meditating. An enlarged sense of perspective is regularly celebrated by people who take up meditation. Noting the gulf between life-or-death and your worries — about meditation, and in other areas of life — will come naturally the more you practice.
Stick with your mantra, but everything else is better when you go off-script.
The basis of Beeja meditation (the form of meditation I teach) is your mantra, which you repeat internally to achieve a meditative state. When silently thinking it during your practice, it is natural for other thoughts — ones which make you angry or upset — to crop up.
You might find that additional insecurities pile in, especially about whether meditating is “working.” Surely the goal is banishing worries? Although your inability to banish other thoughts feels like falling at the first hurdle, it’s actually a win — for your conscious awareness.
It’s never advantageous to suppress vexation; it will incubate and intensify. Instead, you should become aware of your self-imposed limitations about what you’re allowed to think.
Attempting to stop yourself thinking particular things is one of the greatest roadblocks to meditating. Once you transcend it, you will be empowered to meet whatever arises without hostility. You can approach all thoughts, even painful ones, with new detachment. You will unearth the space to question and discard ideas that no longer serve you.
The most valuable present is the present moment.
When you meditate, it is easy to fall into the fallacy that you are laying the foundations of a better future you. This can result in conceptualizing your practice as a means of clocking up brownie points for your future self.
Each repetition of your mantra or few minutes of breath regulation can become a building block to put down hurriedly, so that you can pick up the next one. This creates the uncomfortable sensation of stockpiling your meditation practice time, with your eyes on the prize on the horizon.
The only thing you can be certain of, if you fixate on blossoming in the future, is that you’ll never experience fulfillment in the present. Draw your senses towards how your meditation practice feels right now. You will access a calmness much more in keeping with your ideal self than you could possibly have reached by rushing towards an imagined goal.
Make time for your mantra, and your mantra will make time for you.
Spending twenty minutes, twice a day meditating can feel like an impossible ask; an amount of time that it is initially difficult to imagine setting aside. However, we devote time effortlessly to activities that become second-nature — on average, people spend a sobering three hours and 15 minutes on their smartphones per day.
The sooner you establish a habit, the less you will feel like you have to dig deep to find the time for meditation. Furthermore, it will itself become a time-saver; for example, increasing your productivity and reducing stress-created activities like compulsive phone-checking. Whenever you find yourself thinking about your to-do list or feeling like getting on with it would be a better use of your time, keep meditating.