Inside my personal journey to reinvigorate and deepen my formal practice
Written by Ross C., a buddhify user since 2017
Though I’ve been meditating on my own for about three years now, I’d recently started to feel like my practice was stagnating. My meditations were getting a bit stale. I knew the importance of silent meditation, but I felt like my sessions weren’t reaching the same depth as previously.
This then became a negative feedback loop and the doubt I was feeling started filtering into my meditation and made the situation worse. This really impacted my motivation and although I continued to meditate it wasn’t as regularly.
Stuck on the same note
At this point, my self-guided practice was focused solely on a concentration style meditation. I’d listened to a lot of guided meditations where breathing is the focus. They kept using the same instruction of ‘concentrate as much as you can on the sensations of breathing’, so I’d got it into my head that I’d needed to do this every time.
After a little while, this became incredibly difficult. My brain was getting bored of it and I thought that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t able to focus on this one thing day in, day out. I interspersed this approach with guided meditations for grounding and clearing and also gratitude and loving-kindness types, but I wasn’t getting the instruction that meant I could take these styles into my silent practice. I felt stuck and dissatisfied.
My brain was getting bored of it and I thought that there was something wrong with me.
Around this time I’d seen the Formal tab appear in the buddhify app, but I hesitated to explore because I wasn’t sure how these new offerings would differ from the other meditations. It was only after a particularly poor session when I felt like I had nothing to lose that I decided I may as well give it a go.
Exploring other techniques (with guidance)
Getting access to the Formal meditations has reinvigorated my practice. After years of focusing on drilling down into my breath, the development of just one small facet of practice, it turns out that I needed some guidance and structure to navigate the next step of my meditation journey. With the help of some quality guided meditations, I was able to explore other core techniques and felt supported if there were parts of that experience I found difficult.
The change was revelatory, it was exactly what I needed. There’s the guidance to tell you what to do, but there are the gaps to give you sufficient space to allow you to reach the depth that I really value from silent meditation.
I liken it to being able to let go of the side of the pool.
I liken it to being able to let go of the side of the pool. Guided meditation is great but it’s like holding on to the side of the pool, you’re not going to learn to swim that way. The Formal meditations allow you to drift out to the middle of the pool but it provides you some lanes to swim down to give you some structure and help guide you in the direction you want to swim in. It was the perfect way to deepen my practice.
Growing my formal meditation skills
Now that I can properly reflect on it, a part of successful practice to me seems to be making sure there’s some variety. When I was stuck primarily on the concentration type of meditation, I had occasionally dabbled in other styles, but I wasn’t taking the time to develop other skills in depth.
One thing that I had completely missed out on, which is invaluable to me now, was working with the theme of letting go. If I’m honest, this is the type of meditation that I still have the most difficulty with, but
it’s also the most beneficial. Noticing negative thought patterns and not holding onto them has improved my relationships with others and my attitude towards life in general. This is an amazing skill that has enriched my day-to-day life so much.
A part of successful practice to me seems to be making sure there’s some variety.
A key takeaway I’ve learned around exploring the different techniques is how intrinsically linked they are to each other and how developing one skill helps you in the development of another. This is a little hard to elaborate on, but there’s something about giving skills the space to unconsciously develop whilst you’re working on the others.
Often it feels like something isn’t developing whilst you’re looking at it, but then when you’re doing something else you can feel it. Take awareness for example. When I’m doing other techniques, like a concentration meditation, I can now sense a lot more that’s going on inside and outside of me and it means that I’m more aware of my mind drifting. I can also tell that the subtlety of mind I’ve developed through body-centred meditations applies to the subtlety of experience I can sense when I’m doing an awareness meditation.
Tackling the goal to sit longer
My goal was, and still is, to explore a strong sitting practice. I have a very active mind and a sitting practice gives me a framework I can take out into my day to calm myself down and bring myself into the moment. I’m a firm believer in only meditating to the length of time that’s right for you but I definitely feel that the longer I can sit, the more I feel that in my day, so my goal is to increase the time I can comfortably sit.
I’ve been trying to meditate for 20-30 minutes before I get on with my day as it helps set me on the right mindset. With the help of the Formal meditations, I’m getting the extra bit of structure and guidance that I needed to do this. The more confident I’ve become that I’m going in the right direction, the longer I feel like I’m able to sit. I’m really happy that in a short time I’ve basically managed to double the length of time I can practice.
What I’m noticing is that I’m finally starting to see meditation as an end in itself. I think before it was just a means to an end — I could see it was helping, but it was something that I’d have to power through to a certain degree. Now it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s such a gift to take time out of my day to just be in the moment and be with myself.
Wisdom from my meditation journey
When I was in my twenties, I was very depressed and although I managed to pull myself out of it, there are still lingering issues. Meditation is an ongoing opportunity to break self-harming mental patterns and train the thought patterns I want to have.
My practice has helped me to come to a greater degree of peace with myself. The longer I sit, the more I see what’s going on in my brain and the less in conflict I feel. It’s not that it’s fully resolved my issues, but there is value in having the awareness to identify these patterns, notice where they start, and accept them. And in the case when I’m not able to let go of the object that’s causing difficult feelings, it’s helped me to see that I need to redirect my mind onto something else.
Sometimes difficult things come up in my day-to-day life, but because of my mindfulness practice, I’m in a better position to manage them. It’s not like it’s a magic wand and everything is all better now, I still have bad days and they frustrate me, but when I look at now compared to when I started, I feel so much happier with who I am.
Ross C. is based in London, England. He initially joined Membership to get access to the new Formal meditations, which are longer sessions designed to help you deepen your practice. To explore this curated wheel, you can just click Formal from the main menu of the app.
If you feel you have learnt something important through your meditation practice and you’d like your share your insight or experience, we’d love to hear from you. Let Dana know via [email protected] and she’ll get in touch.