Western culture is all about results. This mentality is evident virtually everywhere. We all prefer tasks that yield immediate tangible results. The prototypical somewhat narcissistic CEOs tend to be focused on results. We haven’t really moved since the time Ford made lapel pins with the number of the financial result they wanted to achieve – for everyone in the company. We’ve replaced them with motivational posters. During our formative years – in school, we are conditioned to look for results: high grades, won matches and debating trophies. The recent fitness cult is also driven by results. It is fascinating what people will do to get a six pack. While there was always the phenomenon of recounting your experience as a result, social media enhanced this conversion of experiences into results: taking a picture in a scenic place is different to just being there.
Mindfulness goes against this obsession with results. It’s tempting to compare a tough mindfulness session with a tough day at the gym, but the analogy doesn’t really hold. There is no metric, no result, nothing tangible, strive towards or nothing to brag about in mindfulness. If you go running and it’s really tough, at the end you can say: I ran a 5K today. What if you just turned up and ran for 30 minutes? That a bit closer to mindfulness, but the fitness world wouldn’t approve. After all, you could have been slacking off for the 30 minutes. Why weren’t you tracking your speed? Why didn’t you measure the distance? Did you at least weigh yourself or measure your waist the next day? What gets measured gets managed, they say – and it’s true. Fascinatingly, there is no goal and no metric in mindfulness other than to actually turn up and do it. It’s binary.
So if the whole thing is making you feel like it’s impossible, just remember that it’s a yes or a no. Any kind of yes, even the most distracted meditation that feels like a Herculean effort, is a yes.
Some worry that if your practice feels really distracted, it doesn’t count. It does. However, there are ways to make it better. There are countless techniques, but this is the one I found works best: counting.
Counting involves focusing on a very transient moment in time: the moment when the in-breath becomes the out-breath and then the slightly longer moment: when the out-breath stops.
So it goes:
- breath in
- when your in-breath stops, count 1. You may not even have time to say 1. You can just see the number in your head.
- breath out
- when you breath out stops, count 2. There will probably be more time here
It may be tempting to pause after the in-breath. Some people do. For me, it seems that mindfulness is more natural when you are just observing your breath rather than changing it.
It’s not always true, but in case of meditation the maxim done is better than perfect certainly applies.