“I Can’t Meditate!”: My Journey with Mindfulness Meditation
By: Jason Kniola, LMHC, LCAC
I had heard stories of meditation in my youth, seen depictions on TV and in the movies. To me, meditation was some esoteric practice for wise gurus sitting in some beautiful temple or summit of an exotic mountain. I was intrigued by the idea of a practice that seemingly led to peace of mind…or maybe even magical powers! However, it all seemed unattainable and quite out of reach.
Then I met a friend and mentor. She had training in something called, “Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy”, a mindfulness-based psychotherapy (I know, it’s quite a mouthful). I had already been in therapy to address my struggles with anxiety and depression. I read many self-help books in an effort to understand myself. Therapy and reading led to great insights and some wonderful coping skills. I was still searching, looking for something more. What? I didn’t yet know. My new friend described something that seemed to be that “more”.
I met my mentor when she was presenting on the topic of Hakomi Therapy to a local integrated healthcare group. I went up and talked with her afterwards explaining that something in what she described resonated strongly with what I had been searching for. We hit it off and over the next few years she and her husband became dear friends with my wife and me. Both her and her husband had attended mindfulness meditation retreats that lasted for several days at a time. They described their experiences, and I knew I wanted to see for myself.
I was quite nervous when I arrived at my first mindfulness meditation retreat. I had read plenty about the topic but had never had in-person teaching nor extensive experience in the practice. I didn’t know what to expect.
The schedule at the retreat was rather intense for a beginner. We arose at about 5:30 a.m. and practiced alternating sitting and walking meditation all day until about 9:30 p.m. with only a few short breaks for meals. The retreat was completely silent, meaning nobody talked unless it was during a teaching session. The sitting periods were 40 minutes, the walking 20 minutes. So, yeah, for a beginner it was quite intimidating!
As the retreat began the teacher guided us through the basics of focusing on the breath, how to notice distraction, and how to continue to bring attention back to the breath. We were taught how to walk mindfully. I settled into the rhythm of the practice, hour after hour, day after day. Some moments were challenging with distracting thoughts, physical pains, negative thoughts, and restlessness. Some moments were calm and peaceful, much more deeply present than daily life. The retreat continued for 3 days and 3 nights. It was…good. It was what I had been looking for. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was deeply moving, and I wanted to learn and experience more.
Looking back, I can see how I got hooked, why it touched me so deeply. I had been in therapy working to understand myself, learning to challenge my thoughts, learning to cope with anxiety and depression. It all helped tremendously. I learned so much. However, I still had difficulty BEING with myself in a deep way. When I practiced in my first meditation retreat, I had a taste of something, a way of being that could hold all my experience. No matter what thoughts or emotions arose I saw a way of being with them, non-judgmentally, moment by moment. I had a taste of faith in a practice that helped me BE with life itself.
That first meditation retreat was over 20 years ago now. I have been to many since. I have completed my own Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy training. I can say with confidence now that you need not attend retreats and extensive training to benefit from mindfulness practice. The most important thing is to spend a little time just BEING every day. Just that can change your life for the better.
Practicing mindfulness creates a state of mind, a way of being. We can all do it. Even you! Even me! We can all become present with what is, without judgement. In the beginning we practice cultivating this state of consciousness. After practicing throughout the many seasons of life this practiced state becomes a trait. Meaning, when we first practice mindful meditation it feels like a completely different way of being. After repeating the practice this way of being becomes part of who we are and how we experience life. We become less distracted, more present.
When I came to mindfulness and read accounts of amazing people learning in exotic parts of the world my first thought was, “yeah, it works…for THEM. But not for ME!” Most of us feel this way at the start. After so many years of practicing and teaching others I see ANYONE can learn to be more present. Any of us that care to learn to be more present gain the benefits.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, with non-judgmental awareness. When we practice, we are at peace and more able to meet life on life’s terms with acceptance. This way of being is available to all of us, each and every moment. All we need to do is turn towards it.
So, did my journey into mindfulness “fix” my anxiety and depression? Did I find what I was looking for? Yes and no. Yes, mindfulness practice leads to a reduction in anxiety, a lessening of depression. However, it does not remove the difficult parts of life. Mindfulness does, however, deepen a faith and courage to meet life with less resistance, no matter what comes along. Mindfulness has helped me be more present with myself, with my loved ones, with challenges, and with blessings. I am so very grateful for the teachings of mindfulness and for the friends and teachers along the way that have shared these practices.
When people tell me, “I can’t meditate!”, I just smile. I remember.
If you’re interested in learning about mindfulness practice, check out Mr. Kniola’s workshop! You don’t need to show yourself on camera and can just listen in.
July 27th, 2022 from 5:00pm – 6:00pm CST