I have had the experience of sitting at meditation retreats in rooms full of people who seemed to be meditating perfectly. How did I know? They were sitting straight, they were less fidgety than me, they looked peaceful. Then, when the teacher asked for questions, one of those “perfect meditators” would inevitably raise their hand and talk about how distracted and unfocused they’d been.
When I was looking over the National Institute for Health’s description on meditation, the words “an open attitude toward distractions” jumped out at me. We exist in the realm of great distractions, and these only seem to be accelerating as we carry our technology with us and are rarely unplugged. But even the ancient meditators sitting in peaceful rock gardens would be tormented by their own versions of anxious, wandering minds; distractions are not modern, they predate apps, and are more a product of human nature than technology. Besides, the very technology that distracts you can also help you meditate and be part of a global mindfulness community.
So what do we do with our distractions? According to mindfulness, we don’t yell at them, or belittle them in any way. Beating ourselves up for being susceptible to them won’t help either. I know longer meditate under the myth that other meditators are better or more evolved than me. Distractions come and go, and actually, that’s just how it is.
Essentially, it’s not a problem. It’s only when we try to do major battle with our distractions that we find ourselves locked in thinking about good and bad meditation, and judging ourselves on our mindfulness progress. The biggest thing mindfulness offers is this “open attitude”, which allows us to hold things more lightly, without the need to label good/bad, success/failure.
Those labels might be useful and provide discernment in other areas of life. Mindfulness, however, let’s us take a break. The ideas can come and go, the items on your mental shopping list can enter stage left, and exit stage right; no big deal. Your mind is the stage, and you are your own audience, focused on the greater backdrop of your mind. Everything else just enters and exits the mental stage.
Why do we practice this? Because when we are not on the cushion, or online doing a guided meditation, or practicing a one-click meditation exercise, we are more likely to deal with stress, unexpected situations, and even unpleasant people with the same relaxed open attitude. Just as a piano player who practices everyday will likely give a better concert, we are more able to show up and be present elsewhere in life if we spend daily time practicing mindfulness.
The possibilities are endless and for everyone. Sitting on a cushion or a chair, at the office, or even on the train. You can light a candle in a quiet room or use online meditation platforms in the middle of a busy day. Just practice…and forget about perfect!