Progress Report: Bad Meditation?

Eight weeks in and meditation has been consistently impactful.  I think.  Probably.  Definitely probably.

I was surprised to find meditation had an impact even when it seemed to have gone badly, which led me to realize my measure of meditative merit was flawed.

Here’s what I thought was a bad meditation: I sit there for the ten minutes and am barely able to focus on the breathing, my thoughts are digressing “too much”.  (A good meditation, in contrast, would be one where the thoughts wander less, where the focus on breathing is stable and well-preserved throughout the session.)

What I noticed was that most of my meditations were “bad”, yet still had immediate benefits. When the alarm rang to note the end of a meditation, I'd get up to tap it off and notice I was feeling calm and focused, and even contented.

This didn't feel like the end-result of a bad meditation, and it wasn’t.  The point of the mindfulness meditation is not that your mind stops digressing, it’s that your mind will digress, but you’ll be mindful of it, and then return your focus to your breathing.  It digresses, you note the digression, you return to the breathing.  It digresses again, you return again.  Again, and again, and over and over.

With practice, this exercise—returning your mind to the subject of focus—is supposed to become a reflex, it’ll be what your mind more and more tends to do outside of meditation.  The practical result of which is that your mind wanders less—fewer racing thoughts before sleeping, if that’s a problem for you; fewer ADD-ish pulls at your attention when you're trying to focus; less bandwidth spent rehashing the past or playing out the future; etc.

I already knew all this from what I’d read and heard about mindfulness meditation, but I didn’t internalize it until realizing my “bad” meditations weren’t bad but normal.

So.  Eight weeks in.  I’ve had days when I’ve walked around feeling like it’s working, and days when I’ve felt like it’s done nothing.  Some days the immediate impact of the meditation lasts an evening, other days it lasts maybe a half hour.  I’m curious to see how this will trend over time.