Searching too hard: A Brahmin’s lesson about finding peace and happiness

Hermann Hesse Siddhartha - too much searching for finding

I just finished reading a beautiful little book called Siddhartha. It’s a very colorful story about a man who crossed paths with the Buddha and lived a hundred other little adventures on his way to finding meaning, fulfillment, and peace in life.

The book literally led to a few tears as I read on the airplane. And led to the occasional discreet hiding of a page, so the teenager next to me couldn’t read the parts about Siddhartha’s lover teaching him “the game of love . . . one of the thirty or forty different games [she] knew. . . .” Like the one “which the textbooks call ‘climbing a tree.'” Like I said. Colorful.

But honestly, it was a really eye-opening book. Really deeply human and incredibly inspiring.

I think one of the most human lessons I’ve learned in all of life is this–and the book was a really strong reminder of it:

“Quoth Siddhartha: ‘What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?'” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

When we try really hard to be happy, happiness is elusive.

But sometimes when you stop trying, you discover that you are happy.

Siddhartha spent years and years and years of his life looking for peace and wisdom everywhere, only to find that it had been there with him all along.

He just had to stop searching.

“Everyone’s always trying so damn hard. Trying to be good enough. Trying to rest. Working hard at relaxing. Everyone’s trying so hard to stop being spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed, because that’s ingrained in us. Trying so hard might just be the exact problem.” – an excerpt from an old message I ran across that I wrote to my sister

What if we stopped trying so damn hard?

What if every now and then we paused in all our searching?

Maybe we have all we need.

Like Andy Bernard from The Office says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve left them.”

How to Get Started Meditating

I don’t think I can overstate the role meditation has played in my life. It’s given me a lot of peace and hope. It’s honestly one of the healthiest things I do.

But meditation has NOT been easy to get into. And it has NOT been easy to continue doing.

Recently I wrote about 7 Ways Meditating Has Helped Me, from stress relief and managing anxiety to learning compassion and being present. When I published that post I offered to help anyone who was interested in meditation to get started. A few people have talked with me about it since then, so I decided to go ahead and put together a starter kit.

I love a number of types of meditation, but I’ve found mindfulness meditation to be especially helpful and accessible for just about everyone. So in this blog post, I’ll recommend resources and ideas for getting started with mindfulness meditation specifically.

Getting into meditation can be confusing and there is SO MUCH material out there that it can be hard to know where to start. So here are some ideas. I hope this helps!

 

BEFORE YOU START

“Meditation. It’s not what you think.”

I thought I should pass along Jon Kabat-Zinn’s warning before I go any further.

Meditation is not some weird ritual that brings you other-worldly feelings. It’s also not this quick exercise that rids your life of pain and frustration. If what you’re looking for falls at either of those extremes, meditation might not work for you.

In fact, meditation might not “work,” regardless. Actually, that’s kind of the point. One of the points, anyway. True, as meditation becomes a consistent part of your life, I’m sure you’ll find that stress, anxiety, and mind-numbing distractions hold less control over you than before. But one of the strengths of meditation is the opportunity it provides to daily practice acceptance of your whole self just the way you are and of the world just the way it is. In other words, meditation isn’t really about changing your life. It’s about accepting your life. Which, ironically, can be life-changing.

That means, if you’re going to give meditation a shot, don’t look for it to work. Don’t assess its effectiveness at the end of a session. Don’t check to make sure it’s changing or fixing you. Don’t expect it to feel good.

Actually, do expect that you’ll feel like you’re really bad at it! Do expect to feel like it’s “not for you.” Do expect to feel like giving up, to get bored, to get distracted, to feel like it’s hard work.

If you’re okay with all that, then let’s get started:

 

TRY IT OUT

Spotify has an album from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre called Mindfulness Meditations with Mark Williams. Its tracks are very simple, basic guided meditations. These are hands down the best guided meditations I can recommend for getting started.

Don’t try meditating for too long your first time around! That can lead to discouragement. Here’s a great one to try first: 10 Minute Sitting Meditation

 

LEARN ABOUT IT

Anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Books, lectures, interviews.

Start out easy. He has abridged audiobook versions of two books that are ideal for mindfulness meditation:

3-hour Wherever You Go There You Are. Start with this one!

And 3-hour Coming to Our Senses

Reading the full books is also a great idea! Wherever You Go There You Are is a pretty easy read and a fantastic introduction to mindfulness meditation, geared towards a western audience–not too “weird.” I like his book Coming to Our Senses even better, but fair warning–it’s a biiiiig book.

 

MEDITATION FOR SKEPTICAL DOWN-TO-EARTH PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE IT’S TOO WEIRD AND ARE LIKE A LITTLE BIT INTERESTED IN IT BUT ALSO WOULD FEEL SUPER AWKWARD MEDITATING AND WOULD DEFINITELY NEVER LET THEMSELVES BE CAUGHT TRYING THAT WEIRD BUDDHIST MUMBO JUMBO

If meditation just sounds way too sketch for you–too weird, too silly, too spiritual, or just–yeah–totally weird. . . . don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people find their interest piqued but are either too weirded out or too self-conscious to try it.

If that’s you, check out the podcast 10% Happier with Dan Harris. The name of his corresponding App says it all: “10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.”

This is an oddly specific suggestion, but if you’ve ever heard the comedian John Mulaney (or if you haven’t), Harris’s conversation with Mulaney is a really good example of how meditation works in the lives of really normal people for whom meditation doesn’t come naturally. If you’re having a hard time picturing this weird mindfulness thing as a regular part of your life, give this one a listen. You can also browse his podcast for other names you recognize. I think hearing how meditation has worked for others can help make it more accessible.

Another great episode to start with is his interview of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who also leads a short meditation demo.

 

A FEW TIPS TO HELP ALONG THE WAY

Don’t check whether it’s working.

Don’t try too long at first. Short and frequent is the best start.

Don’t get too caught up with finding just the right thing to listen to, or just the right place and time to meditate. Imperfect and unexciting meditation is meditation.

Don’t be afraid to listen to the same guided meditation again and again. Find what works for you.

You’ll get worse at it after you get better. Some days you’ll be antsy and bored and skeptical. Other days you’ll feel like a badass yogi. It’s all okay.

You WON’T be “good” at it, and that’s okay!

 

If you give it a shot and would like some more ideas, let me know! And I’d love to hear your meditation story, too!

Jon Kabat-Zinn - surf the waves

It is okay to be you

Remember that it is okay to be you.

Take breaks regularly from making judgments about yourself. It’s exhausting. And you’re probably wrong about yourself half the time anyway.

You are loved. Who you should be isn’t loved. You are.

You are enough.

Good Advice For When You’re Worried

When you’re tired and worried, sleep.

When you’re hungry and worried, eat.

When you’re bored and worried, have some fun.

When you’re overworked and worried, go home.

When you’ve got a headache and you’re worried, find some pain relief.

When you’re lonely and worried, talk to someone.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got about being worried, overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, is to deal with the other problem. You probably can’t fix the overwhelmed part when you’re sleep deprived.

One of two things might happen: You might wake up feeling refreshed and ready to deal with your yucky feelings. Or you might wake up worry free and realize the yucky feelings were just there because you were sleep deprived.

7 Ways Meditating Has Helped Me

Jon Kabat-Zinn - Time By Yourself

I love meditation.

But I feel like that’s a strange sentence. It’s kind of like saying “I love sports.” There are a million different kinds of meditation: Body scan, mindfulness, mantra, loving kindness, transcendental, breathing, visualization, contemplative, affirmations, etc. Meditations ranges from the very scientific to the very spiritual, from the very basic to the very ritualistic, and from the very thought/idea-filled to the very quiet/empty.

There are also so many different purposes in meditation: Releasing stress, freeing yourself from constant judgments, slowing down, finding peace, appreciating life, building confidence, accepting yourself and the way things are, feeling present and thankful, increasing physical or mental health, and the list goes on.

So to say I love meditation is to make a very broad statement. I’m not sure I want to narrow it down much, though, because I haven’t yet found a type of meditation that, when truly embraced, doesn’t seem to provide some good and some peace.

I personally have done more mindfulness meditation, breath awareness, mantras, and contemplative meditations than other kinds, so that may be worth knowing when I share a few of the ways meditation has helped me. But at the same time: I’m not you. I encourage you to try (“try” might be the worst word to use about meditating) various kinds meditation with an open mind and see if one helps you. Keeping in mind that many kinds of meditation will not feel like they “work” for a very long time, if ever. In fact, for some kinds, not having to “work” or “make a difference” is the exact point.

I’m no guru or yogi and it’s not like I spend hours every day meditating. But meditation has become a pretty regular part of my life, and I’ve found that it has helped me in more than a few ways. Here are just seven ways it’s helped me that I hope might pique your interest:

 

1. Releasing physical tension and pain.

I’m starting with an interesting one, because I have found a lot of peoples’ experience with “spiritual” and “out there” things has turned them off to meditation: It’s too weird. It is weird, but it can help even the most down-to-earth realist (which used to be me).

Meditation has actually made a significant difference for me with chronic headaches and muscle tension. Like many others, I “carry my stress” in my neck and shoulders. Massages and hot showers help because they relax tense muscles. In the same way, meditating can help by relaxing your tense muscles. Body scans and deep breathing have been especially helpful for me in calming and relaxing tense areas, and they often provide quick relief. Other meditations that help with developing peace and acceptance also provide more lasting help in relieving the stress that causes physical tension.

2. Stress relief and management.

People have a million different strategies for “stress management.” Stress seems to be a universal part of the human experience. For me, meditation has done more than almost anything else in the world to release stress–both in the moment when worked up or anxious, and longer term through regular practice.

Often mantras, chants, and other similar meditations which reflect on a hopeful, calming, relieving truth or idea really help to reduce stress. What has been especially helpful for me in this area, though, is mindfulness meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn has created an entire program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has been used in work places, hospitals, and more to help people reduce stress, which in turn leads to many other health benefits. One of the key aspects of mindfulness meditation is the incredibly simple allowing and accepting of things, relaxing from the constant strain of wishing everything was different.

For those of you who experience times of intense stress (so, all of you), various forms of meditation can be very helpful in the moment to calm down and regain clarity.

3. Getting through anxiety

I’ve dealt this last year with a lot of anxiety, and mindfulness meditations, deep breathing, mantras, and guided meditations have definitely been in the top three or four things that have helped me deal healthily with and find hope and peace during anxious times. I know anxiety can be a very dark and scary and draining experience, and I hope that if you sometimes experience it, you’ll try some meditation for yourself. I’d encourage you to look up some guided meditations Thich Nhat Hanh or Jon Kabat-Zinn and try it–see if it gives you a little break and helps you find some peace and strength in your anxiety.

4. Getting and staying in touch with myself.

All of life is crammed full of noise, ideas and thoughts and emotions being forced on you, people trying to influence you, events shaping your mood and impacting your mental health. I bet you totally get when I’m saying when I say it’s all to easy to lose touch with yourself.

Meditation can be extremely helpful when it comes to regaining self-awareness and staying in touch with yourself–your emotions, your dreams, your desires, and your own thoughts. Body scans and contemplative meditations have been very helpful for myself in this area. A lot of people think that meditation is about trying to get rid of all thoughts, but many types are not. In fact, some meditations are all about providing space for your mind to wander and think thoughts it doesn’t usually have the time or safety to think. One of the most helpful practices I’ve ever incorporated into my day-to-day life is sitting alone in silence for ten minutes with no agenda, just allowing my mind the time and space to run free.

5. Noticing the little things.

Meditation is a really great way to slow down your mind. It is hard not to get carried away in the fast pace of daily busyness, constantly having to worry about a hundred things and keep track of a hundred more. One of the healthiest, happiest things you can do is slow down enough to start noticing and appreciating the little things around you again. Meditating has really helped me with this.

When you just be quiet and sit in silence, your mind is sometimes able to calm down further and further, to let go of some of its intense stress about the past or about the future. And then, at least in my experience, the Present around you suddenly comes to life. You remember that there is a giant world full of beautiful present moments all around you, every day, a world that you don’t usually see. And the more frequently you get quiet enough to see it, the easier it becomes to find.

6. Developing the ability to quickly re-center or re-focus when needed day to day.

Somewhat related to the last one about finding the little things in this present moment, getting in touch with the Present also helps find perspective that we are too often missing. Slowing down and stepping out of the mind’s busy cycle of manufactured stress offers helpful reminders that everything really is okay, that life is more than our current chaos and worries, and that we are safer than we feel.

The more frequently you visit this place of perspective in quiet meditation, getting practice stepping outside of the constant rushing mental stress cycle, the easier it becomes to access this perspective and peace at any time you need it during crazy day-to-day life. The more regularly I have practiced meditation, the easier it is for me to refocus and regain a big picture perspective when I’m busy stressing about little chaotic life things. Stress has a way of completely blinding you, and meditation can help you to keep a clearer head.

7. Becoming more compassionate toward myself and others.

Meditation has a way of making you feel very deeply human. It strips away outer layers of styles and plans and accomplishments and messages and everything else that we see and judge every day. Mindfulness meditation particularly has really helped me accept things just the way they are without needing to constantly be judging–myself or others. It is an active practice of observing without judging, of fully accepting. Learning this and practicing this makes being compassionate to yourself or to other people very natural.

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.” – Sylvia Boorstein

 

So what do you think? Have you tried any kinds of meditation? What has it done for you?

I hope that if you haven’t already, you give meditation a shot. Or that if you’ve tried and been discouraged by distraction or invisible results, you’ll give it another shot. I hope that if you try meditation, you find it helps you as much as it has helped me. If you want any suggestions or pointers on where to start, let me know!