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Mental Masturbation or Mindful Meditation?

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but my relationship with meditation is much like a dieter’s relationship with the latest eating fad.

I’ll be more disciplined when the holidays are over.

I’ll start on Monday.

I did it for a week. Why aren’t I seeing results yet?

Well, I missed a day. I’ve totally blown it. Might as well give up…

You get the point. It wasn’t always that way. For years, I had a diligent, daily ten-minute meditation practice. I even took Penn Medicine’s 8-week mindfulness course. For a while, I treated meditation like it was my job. But then I slowly began letting my daily practice slip. That was years ago, now, and I’ve found it excruciatingly difficult to muster up the willingness to get back to it.

My biggest excuse: time.

But I have so many other things to do, I tell myself. I can’t possibly justify sitting in a room with my eyes closed. What would that accomplish?

Indeed, I am the epitome of hypocrisy. A yoga teacher who’s lost the Zen zone.

“Mindfulness?” the non-meditating, type-A, workaholic side of my brain scoffs. “Isn’t that just mental masturbation?”

My internalized yoga master, spiritual guru side takes a deep breath, sighs, and tells type-A to take a hike. The only problem? Type-A’s unmovable. But I know the research on meditation. I’ve read at least a dozen books on the topic and I’ve experienced the increased sense of calm and uncoiling of the knot of anxiety that lives within my chest.

Meditation works. I’ve felt it. Ten years ago, when I first began earnestly seeking recovery from an eating disorder that had plagued me for nearly a decade, it was through the miracle of meditation that I was able to climb back inside my body and begin to take better care of it.

Until then, I’d always seen my mind and body as two distinct and separate entities. Meditation was the beginning of integration. So why’d I stop doing it?

Complacency. Busyness. Letting life get in the way… A million reasons, all of them understandable, and none of them valid. A few months back, I took a course in Transcendental Meditation in the hopes that it might jump my meditation engine. No luck. Or, maybe, the technique was simply marinating…

A week ago, I decided that I would begin to employ what I had learned. I’d meditate two times each day for twenty minutes at a sitting and see what came of it.

“Holy shit,” Type-A said. “Forty minutes a day! Talk about a waste of time.”

Is it helping? So far, it’s hard to say. I feel a sense of accomplishment at being willing to devote forty minutes a day to letting go of stored stress within my body, and I do have moments during meditation when I feel flooded with peace and tranquility. But I also have moments when it feels like nothing more than mental masturbation – the self-gratification of a self-indulgent brain. I don’t know. All I know is that it feels important for me to have meditation in my life in some way.

I’m not sure if this daily discipline will stick, or if I’ll resume my former mindfulness ways or if, at the end of the month, I’ll give up altogether – like that very same dieter at the end of her rope. But I know it’s important to admit (to myself and to anyone out there who thinks that being a yogi means being “evolved”) that sitting with myself can be a struggle. Still, experience has taught me that the only way to overcome a barrier – whether external or internal – is to move through it. One day, and one moment, at a time.

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