meditation · mindfulness

Does Meditation Even Work?

I considered different titles for this piece: If I Didn’t Meditate, Would I Be a Monster? Why Even Meditate If I Still Stress Out? I Give Up on Meditation.

But I don’t give up, even as I wonder, why not?  

As many of you know, I’ve been on a meditation streak for some time now. And, an exciting moment happened recently. I did NOT notice the day I passed three years straight in my streak. I meditated. Like it was any other day. Then, ten days later, I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute, did I pass my three-year anniversary of this streak??”

The reason I missed it is this: The first time I saw my mother after the start of the pandemic was in late August. I hadn’t seen her for 19 months. The last day of our visit was my 1000th day of meditation. Since then, I am reminded each day of how long it has been since I last saw my mother. I send out a wish that that day count will not get anywhere near the 500+ of our last interval.

Is it okay if I take a moment here of celebration for three years straight of meditating every-every day?

And, I had one of the worst finish-starts to a year in memory. I got news on December 21st that a yearlong training program I’m in was going to continue with an in-person weekend the first week of January. The email explained all the reasons for pushing back against strict pandemic regulations in Quebec, which only got stricter as the next couple of weeks evolved. And the email said that the majority of the email recipients had been consulted. Not me. I was not in that majority. Plus, I was special needs, given that I was crossing an international border to attend, and all the added risks that entails. I was not worthy of consultation. My opinion did not matter. I slipped into the vortex, a downward spiral of increasing stress.

Stormy sea, by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

Yes, indeed, I fueled that spiral all by myself as I contemplated all the pandemic risks. I deployed all my tools to self-arrest, including meditation. While I could alleviate some of the stress, there was a core nugget that kept moving into darker and darker corners of my psyche. My always-borderline-fragile sense of belonging had been threatened and nothing grounded me or lifted me or offered me ease.

I sat on my meditation cushion and observed my erratic heartbeat fail to settle. I sat on my meditation cushion and watched my staccato breath struggle for smooth passage. I sat on my meditation cushion and felt enraged and heavy and sad.

I kept sitting. Day after day.

No remission of stress. In fact, I managed to work myself up enough that it spilled out all over my partner and set fire to the closing-opening of the years. Then came the news on Monday morning, January 3, that the in-person weekend would be delayed a month. I should-have-could-have been relieved. Instead, I was angry at myself all over again. How could I have allowed myself to stress out about something that simply resolved itself (more or less and with zero elegance)?

More sitting.

Which brings me back to the other possible titles for this piece. If I hadn’t been meditating during these past weeks, would I have been out-of-control monstrous? Would I have lit my angry fire earlier and kept it burning on a higher setting? Is the goal of meditation to never stress out? Or is it to notice that I am stressing out, instead of spending my energy in denial and/or blaming someone else for my stress? Why don’t I give up?

Because. I value the information I glean from the particular discipline of daily observation. I can’t make all my stress go away. I can’t make myself into an angel of patience, which I’m not. I can notice more. That noticing, in and of itself, offers me relief. The sliver of ease may be barely visible to the naked eye, but my nervous system is grateful for the scintilla of extra space. This is not good marketing language for a meditation-is-the-answer-to-everything sales pitch. Meditation is not the answer to everything. It is one tool in what is ideally an ever evolving and updating kit.  

Last year Kim (of this blog) and I challenged each other to write a poem every two weeks (there’s a post coming later today about that). As I was looking through them, I came across this haiku that captures why I continue to meditate:

And if I lived true/ open curiosity / no judgment or fear?

The promise of meditation is that you will notice more. That’s it. That’s enough.     

10 thoughts on “Does Meditation Even Work?

    1. I have a superstitious part of me that thinks the last and first day of the year set the whole tone, so I’m “noticing” that voice and we’re considering how that might not have to be the case … work in progress. CDE rides help 🙂

      1. If that were true, would that explain previous years (2020 for example?). I have never sustained a traditional meditation practice. I dabble and feel I use active meditation regularly. I have been noticing my apprehension about starting work again this week and anticipation of things that *could* go wrong, but trying not to dwell. And, also trying to remember “I deserve”, “I envision better” ala CDE 🙂

      2. As with all superstitions, it has partially self fulfilled and most been not true. I am enough. I can improve the year. I will improve this year. I do it now 😉

  1. Mina this is so good!!!!! I just relate so hard to all of this. Meditation can’t fix these kind of experiences and neither can therapy but there is so much value in being able to see what is happening and realize what you are doing with it, even if it feels out of control in the moment (or many moments in your case). I am currently SO BUMMED OUT about teaching online, doing group online UGH. But my awareness of my mistakes from last time means I am just going to let myself be SAD and MAD about it while I do it instead of trying the push myself into “It’s FINE IT’S ALL FINE” vibes that I tried to drag my students into with me last year. That was awful for the group, for my mind and also my body. I didn’t come into this awareness until I started more regular yoga that happened to be heavy on the meditation and the meditation is slowly replacing morning doom scrolling. I still think about doom but I am present in myself with it instead of lost. Thank you so much for this post. Also, I hope your course is MARVELLOUS and may we all be back in person soooooon.

    1. Susan, I so appreciate all these thoughts. And I love the idea of meditation replacing doom scrolling. Sometimes sitting on the cushion has a doom scrolling feel. And yet–as you point out–it’s conscious of itself. I dream of in person–including meeting my fellow bloggers one day!!

  2. I enjoyed reading your experience. So many people get stuck on meditation, believing, hoping, doubting it will fix their problems, only to find themselves escaping from their problems, and having to face them again when the meditation is over. Meditation isn’t the solution – only a device, a useful trick, so we can see that we are not our thoughts. So we can remember, again and again – I am, and what I am is a mystery, and that is awesome. Forcing yourself to meditate, to ‘get there’ is a sure way to make your mind go crazy afterwards. Ha ha ha. The trick is to learn to flow, all the time, with real life, including the horror of the news and relationships and all, effortlessly, without trying to achieve anything at all, especially when you’re not meditating! Nice post. Enjoyed your honesty.

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