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“Just Sit,” or, Is Meditation Pointless?

“Just Sit,” or, Is Meditation Pointless?

Once again, I’m trying to get into meditating. Every now and again, usually after having read something like Eat, Pray, Love or The Accidental Buddhist, I say to myself: “hey, other people seem to get a lot out of meditating! Maybe I could, too!” On Day One I sit down, excited to count my breaths and reign in my mind as it tries to wander. But by Day Three, I start to find meditation boring and frustrating, and I’d rather be eating breakfast, or going to sleep, or doing yoga, or writing a blog entry. Whatever daily meditation routine I’ve set for myself becomes oppressive, and by Day Four, meditation feels like a distasteful chore. “Why exactly am I doing this?” I ask myself. And I decide to quit.

This time, it only took me until Day One before I wanted to give up. But let’s back up a little….

This time, my boyfriend is meditating with me. In fact, it was his idea. And I thought, hey, maybe this is what I need: a meditation partner. I’d never been able to run more than two miles until I started running with Paul – he encouraged me to run longer distances simply by running beside me. So maybe, I thought, the same would be true with meditation. I’d be able to stick with it because Paul was doing it with me.

Except that when we sat down to meditate the other night, I was already thinking of things I’d rather do. Like read a novel. Or eat some pineapple. Or put on my pajamas and get ready for bed. I sat there trying to focus on my breath, but a nagging thought kept pushing it’s way into my mind: “what’s the point of this?”

And then there was the fact that Paul seemed so good at meditation. Oh, I know that’s a silly statement. I know that an enlightened Buddhist teacher would smile indulgently at me and say in his Yoda-like voice, “no good or bad in meditation. Only like Nike: just do it.”

Even still, I couldn’t help saying to Paul, “you seem so sure of what you’re doing.”

“I’m not,” he protested.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said. “I mean, I’m counting my breaths because that’s what I’ve read you’re supposed to do, but I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

I told Paul that I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a big, blank field, with nothing but whiteness in all directions. I can’t tell where the sky ends and the ground begins. I want to use meditation to get to a new place, but I don’t know what or where that place is. I certainly can’t see it from here. “If I just knew which direction to go, I could start off in that direction and go for as long as I need,” I said. “But I don’t know which direction to go in, and that’s frustrating.”

“I don’t think there’s a “right” direction,” Paul said, and I knew I had set myself up for that one. Of course there’s not. You can get there by going up, or by going down. All roads lead to the same place eventually. Something like that, right?

Drawing by Eva Langston!

Drawing by Eva Langston!

“Maybe meditation just isn’t for me,” I said glumly, feeling like a Type A failure.

“I don’t think you should give up on it so easily,” Paul said.

I don’t think of myself as a quitter, but on the other hand, when the path isn’t clear, I’m not always willing to meander blindly in search of an answer.  I’m a very practical, “get-it-done” sort of person — I like efficiency and directness.  With meditation, I don’t know what it is I should be doing, or even what it is I’m trying to accomplish, and the uncertainty makes me feel like quitting.

“I think you’re asking yourself the wrong questions,” Paul said. “I think you should just do it and try not to over-think it.”

“I mean, I could just sit there,” I said grumpily. “I could just sit there and not count my breaths and let my mind wander wherever it wants, but that seems lazy. That seems like I’m not doing anything really.  What would be the point?”

There it was again: what’s the point?

A point is something sharp, something at the end of a pencil. A point is a location, a main idea, an ordered pair. Maybe there is no point to meditation. No sharp, ending location, no exact conclusion or coordinate. Maybe the point is that there is no point.

I am the type of person who wants to always be productive. I hate wasting time. I like getting things done. I make to-do lists and enjoy crossing items off of them. It’s hard for me to understand how “just sitting” could be productive.

And yet, maybe it would be good for me to have a time in the day when I allow myself to be unproductive. Maybe that would turn out to be productive after all.

Oh, the circular logic.

I thought back to my statement: I could just sit there and let my mind wander, but what would be the point in that? Well, I could see where my mind goes. As a writer, might that not be a good thing? Doing nothing can actually be quite stimulating sometimes for the creative process. When I was a kid, my life wasn’t as structured as it is now. I wasn’t zooming around trying to “get things done” all the time. Sometimes I did nothing, and sometimes that was when my mind came up with the most amazing things.

In Dinty Moore’s The Accidental Buddhist, his most common suggestion for meditation is to sit. Oh, sure, he talks about counting breaths and about mindfulness and about Buddhist chanting, but when it comes right down to it, his first and only rule is “just sit.”

So that’s my plan. I’m not going to worry about counting my inhales and exhales or doing Pranayama breathing. I’m not going to worry about sitting correctly or chanting an appropriate mantra. I’m just going to sit. I’m going to allow myself ten minutes a day (or however long and often I want – no rigid routine this time) to sit and do nothing. To be unproductive. To do something pointless. It seems like doing nothing shouldn’t be too hard, but I know, for me, it will be.

This time, no rules, no expectations. Just sitting with my mind and paying attention to what it does.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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