Enjoying meditation

There is no doubt that meditation is not always enjoyable. Sometimes it can be hard work, even confronting. The aim of meditation is not necessarily to feel relaxed at all times, yet our meditation practice can also become a bit too earnest, involving too much striving for some desired outcome. Different times in our lives may call for varying emphasis in meditation. We don’t want to discover one way of meditating and then stick to that for the rest of our lives. It can be interesting to look at our personality and tendencies, and to consider how these might impact on our meditation.

If we have a personality which likes to take it easy and prefers the path of least resistance, then perhaps during meditation we can balance this out by being more willing to stay with difficult feeling states. On the other hand, if we tend to drive ourselves quite hard most of the time, then meditation could be an opportunity to practise being more gentle, less compelled.

Even on days when we feel quite stressed, we can make a conscious effort to enjoy one aspect of our meditation. This can also be true for any other time when we take the opportunity to pause for a few moments. For example, our mind might be quite busy with anxious thoughts, but the feeling of the breath in the belly might be pleasant. There may be a bird which sings from time to time. Our face might be at rest, or the ground may feel solid underneath our body. We might be aware that the sun is shining outside, or there could be the yearned-for patter of rain.

There are many opportunities for resting in a small area of enjoyment, even when our life is far from easy. Most of our moments, if we become more attuned to them, are like a painting with many different colours and shapes. There may be a dark corner, but also shimmering light, and a section in the left which is intriguing but doesn’t quite make sense.  We’re complex beings, and we can live more embodied lives when we embrace the full range of our experiences.

This includes enjoyment – enjoyment of the simple fact that we are alive and breathing and able to perceive the world through our senses. That is by no means the whole of meditation, but sometimes, perhaps, it is enough.

Mindfulness practice:

Sit for ten minutes, and allow your mind to rest on enjoyable experiences – something very simple, such as the softness of clothing against the skin, or a sound which is nice to listen to. Notice how it feels to turn the mind towards enjoyment.

Anja Tanhane

Enjoyment

I recently gave a presentation on the community choir which I conduct, and as part of this talk, I was able to show a slide show of photos of our performances which one of the choir musicians had kindly put together. What struck me when seeing these images, apart from the wide range of performances (nearly forty in just over two years!) were the many photos where people are smiling. We’re clearly having a good time, and when choir members talk about the choir, they often say things like, ‘it lifts me up, I always walk out with a big smile on my face.’

One of the pleasures of spending time with young children is their seemingly boundless ability to revel in enjoyment. Similarly, a dog chasing a ball, or a cat stretching out in the sun, is happy to be having a good time. There are no guilt feelings attached, no sense of ‘perhaps I should be more serious’. Some people go to the extreme of a hedonistic lifestyle, where the only thing which matters is how much fun they’re having. This is self-centered and immature, and often the hallmark of narcissistic personalities. Others go through life with a permanent frown, constantly anxious about not taking life seriously enough. This can be the glass half-empty phenomenon, where all we ever see is problems and things to worry about, rather than appreciating the gifts we have been offered.

Somewhere in the middle there is probably a happy medium, where we are not just chasing from pleasure to pleasure, but we’re still able to enjoy the blessings which life is offering us. Much of the time, these can be the simple pleasures – a cat purring on our lap, watching children play, hearing a favourite song, going for a swim in the ocean or a walk in the park.

Different cultures have very differing attitudes when it comes to the amount of enjoyment we’re ‘allowed’ to have. Sometimes, these can unconsciously make us feel guilty for enjoying life – perhaps it feels frivolous, or selfish, to be taking pleasure in something. We all have to find the point on the continuum between narcissism and excessive guilt which feels comfortable for us. Yet enjoying life is good for our bodies and our minds, it has a positive flow-on effect on those around us, it’s a way of appreciating our blessings – perhaps we could benefit from allowing ourselves to have more enjoyment in life?

Weekly practice idea:

Take the opportunity to watch a child or a pet at play. How does it feel for you, when you see their simple enjoyment?

Anja Tanhane