Ofosu and Leah discuss challenges they've encountered in their own meditation journeys and share tips for how to overcome them.
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[Sound effect - singing bowl]
OFOSU: Hi, I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on Balance.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
OFOSU: So. We are going to be talking about meditation today, specifically what it's like when meditation feels hard, because people do run into challenges, myself included.
I don't know about you, Leah.
LEAH: Um, yeah, absolutely. And I know the balanced community runs into challenges too. We get a lot of questions from them about their meditation practice.
OFOSU: Yeah, And so we're going to share a few of the challenges that we've come across in our own meditation journeys. And we're gonna get into how we got over them, or at least worked with them in a healthy way.
And hopefully what we've learned can help you keep going on in your own meditation process and sort of normalize the path a little bit too. So you on board with this Leah?
LEAH: Oh yeah, this is my favorite topic.
OFOSU: Yeah, mine too, actually. Okay. So I will go first. I'll start with something that I struggled with when I was just starting to get into meditation.
I was like 21, 22 years old, something like that. And while, I came into it really wanting and expecting to have a peaceful, blissful, enlightening experience. What I actually had was an anxious, intrusive thought ladden physically uncomfortable experiences.
LEAH: Sounds about right.
OFOSU: Oh gosh. It reminds me of what those memes on Instagram are like, you know what you ordered and versus what you got.
It wasn't so much that I hadn't experienced that I wasn't expecting it's that I blamed myself for it. And I felt really guilty and I felt that there was something wrong with me and something wrong with me as a human being. And this was somewhat due to me practicing without any real guidance, just kind of reading books and getting the instruction without context, without specifically the guidance to be kind to myself, to be patient, to go gently, to not try so hard and to normalize the arising of unpleasant experiences, especially when you're first stepping onto the meditation path.
And unfortunately, I dealt with this for years and it developed as a habit and a pattern of thinking and relating to myself even after I met my wonderful teacher who set me on the right course, but I had already started to develop these attitudes about myself. So it wasn't until I was kind of at my wit's end and began to practice more deliberate kindness towards myself and began to pivot towards self-compassion and self-kindness as the foundation of how I related to myself as a human being and in my own practice. So it continues to be a journey, but what was meaningful about me going through that was the fact that I was able to be thoroughly convinced about the power of self-kindness and self-compassion because I wasn't practicing with that at first. And it was very painful as a result.
LEAH: I so relate to your story. Something in the earlier days of my own meditation journey was I, uh, I came into it pretty open-minded and willing to just be led by the teacher that I had at the time.
And because of my openness and my curiosity and, and this kind of mindset I took into it of trust. I had a few really huge releases that would bring me to tears.
What was beautiful about that was, it really turned me on to the power of meditation. But the pitfall fair was that I kept trying to recreate those experiences. I felt like if I was not having one of those amazing types of experiences, then I wasn't doing it. Right. Yeah.
And so I found myself. Trying to control the experience, trying to concentrate my way back into that destination. There became a goal in mind that I must experience something like this for it to be rated a quote, good meditation, everything else was a bad meditation or a waste of my time, or I wasn't doing it right. So that same kind of level of blaming myself for it not working. And I think this is a crux that a lot of people fall into when they first have profound experiences in meditation, just like me then believing that, unless that is happening again, each time that it's not a valuable meditation, um, I later learned from my teacher it doesn't need to happen every time. If I have a thought filled meditation or a pretty just chill meditation that doesn't have a lot going on, those are all valuable in their own ways and benefit my mind body system.
And it wasn't until I started letting go of the control mechanisms, the same control mechanisms that I was applying in all the other areas of my life of work and relationships and everything else - I was putting right into my meditation practice, thinking that that was going to work and it didn't. Meditation's about effortlessness.
And I didn't know that from the beginning, I thought it was about hard work. I thought it was. I need to try harder. I need to make this happen. I gotta squeeze all the magic juice out of this one. And, uh, it doesn't work that way. It works more with openness and effortlessness and appreciating what's happening in the moment, regardless of what it is.
OFOSU: Yeah. I mean, it's funny. It sounds like we both found ourselves in the same place coming from two different starting points or perspectives, because once I started experiencing negative thoughts and anxiety and, and yeah, it was like what I ordered wasn't what I got. Then I also moved into this control thing where I was trying to control bad thoughts from arising, trying to control away thoughts, period from horizon and trying to control a way or squeeze myself against the arising of anxiety, which as you can imagine, just dug me in deeper.
And it was just like you said, I was a new dad at that time. I had just started a family, my whole adult life, every aspect of it was happening exactly the same time. My music career, my just getting an actual regular day job, graduating college, moving in with my girlfriend and our new kid. And then starting in like a very rigorous meditation practice. All the anxiety and fears that I had about myself, who I am as a person, all that stuff. All those natural growing pains were showing up in my meditation, but I saw them as a big no, and I tried to control them away. So yeah, it took a while to adjust from that.
LEAH: Wow. Yeah. You know, I, this has been a recurring theme that's popped up for me throughout the meditation journey even lately, uh, most recently in just the last couple of years I found myself again, rating my meditations and judging my experience, even though I'd gone through this the first time it was like, it was like, I suddenly forgot, but it was a new thing this time I kept, I started to think, well, you know, I'm a more of advanced meditator now shouldn't I be having more thoughtless meditations naturally shouldn't over time. Like the thoughts start to decrease and decrease. Like it doesn't work that way either. It's not linear like that, but I was rating my meditations versus my husband's, who would have different experiences than me. We were both meditating together in the morning as a practice that we do together.
And you know me in the morning, I, I don't need coffee, my brain is going a million miles an hour. Like I worked so fast and that's the time when I get everything done, I'm super efficient in the morning. But because of that, when I meditate in the morning, it tends to be filled with all the thoughts of my to-do list and the things that need to get done.
It's like, this is the time my body's like zoom zoom zoom, and I was thinking I need to slow down. 'm supposed to be more zen in this meditation. And I would get frustrated that my mind was going 10,000 miles an hour until I had another conversation with my teacher. And he was like, listen, Leah, the cycle of meditation, which normally would occur over several minutes for most people, you know, you go into rest and relax and then you release tension and then you start to review the thoughts about the things that made you tends to begin with, and then you learn to relax into those and then your body starts to heal itself, and then it starts to choreograph its future. And then you remember that you're meditating. He's like, that's a normal meditation cycle, but for you that happens every 30 seconds or less.
And you just have to learn to accept that that's the speed of your brain, that's you as an individual that works differently than your husband who might be having his very zen chill meditation in the morning. And here you are going zoom, zoom, zoom, and then comparing yourself to him. So that was a really big learning lesson for me to, again, accept that different times of the day might mean different experiences in my meditation, and that I can't compare myself and my brain to another person.
And so this has been a recurrent theme is learning to always accept that where I'm at is where I'm supposed to be.
OFOSU: Mmm-hmm, how it is, is always the right way. Next obstacle I want to talk about is from later in my meditation journey, and it might be something that is helpful for the meditators out there.
Who've been added a little bit longer. My obstacle was my belief in my meditation practice as being enough to make me a good person across the board. because I was a meditator, that meant I was a good dad, a good husband, a good friend, a good artist. I'm a meditator. So I'm good. Which is not true, just because I spend time on my meditation cushion, just because I radiate out thoughts of love and compassion in my mind, doesn't necessarily mean that I am the Dalai Lama. Yeah, exactly. It doesn't mean that I'm going to engage in enlightened conduct, you know, in all of my interactions with people. And that mindfulness is something that really has to show up in how we think, speak and act off the cushion. And I put so much worth and emphasis on my practice that I kind of just felt like, okay, well then the rest of my life sort of, sort of taken care of because I get up and I sit every day. Um, it wasn't until I spoke to another teacher of mine who reminded me that, you know, your real practice, the real practice is how you speak, think and act in the world around you.
Are you having healthy interactions with strangers when you're driving around in traffic with those friends, those family members, and then also yourself, how are you talking to yourself and how are you, you know, all of those things. And so that stuff is not all solved by the fact that you're a meditator, you can actually end up compartmentalizing and your meditation is one thing.
It could actually be very advanced but then you get off the cushion and it goes away.
LEAH: Yeah. Because you have all those layers of all the learned belief systems, all the patterns that we inherit from our families generation after generation, and those things are hard to break. Those things are hard to rewire.
OFOSU: Yeah. So talking about deep wiring in this.
LEAH: I joke, but you know, if it wasn't for meditation and mindfulness, I don't think I could hold down a marriage. I don't think I could hold down a relationship for very long.
OFOSU: Yeah. I couldn't hold down life, but it's what I learn and what I gather from my practice, that when I put it into practice in my wider life, you know, that's where it really shows up.
And that's where meditation becomes this broader blessing or benefit, not just the meditation for meditation's sake.
LEAH: Yeah. Wow. That's a really great takeaway. Um, I think that that's something that we can all think about that we don't have to judge ourselves. We don't have to rate ourselves. Don't have to compare ourselves.
Um, and into this I have more compassion. I think that's what it all boils down to more compassion for ourselves.
OFOSU: I totally agree
LEAH: While still aiming for excellence, but not in a way that we are judging ourselves or bringing ourselves down. Totally agree. You know, I'm super glad we had this discussion. It's really nice to see myself reflected in your shares.
And to remember that there's no such thing as a perfect person. There's no such thing as a perfect meditator where I'm at is where I'm supposed to be.
OFOSU: Oh, yeah, I feel great right now, like us having this conversation - exactly what you just said, like seeing me reflected in your journey as well, and us being able to normalize for each other, what we've gone through.
And hopefully we've been able to do that for y'all as well. It's funny, because it makes me think about working on a new song. I want it to open and close with this line. How do you know, meditation is working, be calm to yourself and just be a good person. And, uh, so yeah, I think that's the theme. I think that's our theme, but yeah.
So, Hey, if y'all have any more questions about meditation for us, we are here for you. Find us on Instagram at balance B A L A N C E I guess, you know how to spell balance. Every Tuesday in our stories, you'll see a question box where you can type in whatever has you curious about meditation? Leanna? I take turns answering as many questions as we possibly can later in the week.
And we post video responses on IG stories at balance.
LEAH: I love seeing all the questions that pour in. There's some that always surprise me and a lot of frequently asked questions, but, you know, ask away - we want to hear from you. And, uh, we want to help.
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OFOSU: All right. Y'all. Thank you so much for joining us today. And Leah, thank you for sharing.
LEAH: Well, we come out with new episodes every Monday, so make sure to subscribe and follow us on your favorite podcast app. So you're notified when our next combo goes live until then see you later have a wonderful week.
OFOSU: Yeah. Be kind to yourselves. Take care. Peace.
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