Goodness knows we all need a break sometimes--even "good" jobs we love can be stressful, and life brings its fair share of chocolate pudding that, sadly and disgustingly, is most definitely not chocolate pudding. And meditation is said to be one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself and what's around you. So prepare yourself--there's a dark side to the practice, too.
When it's a chore to restore
In an article on Goalcast, Ricky Derisz outlines his experience with what might be the biggest danger to meditation, which is treating it as one more necessary chore rather than truly using the practice for restoration. After completing a meditation retreat that encouraged participants to meditate an hour a day, twice per day, Derisz eventually found himself faltering. The problem become clear.
"I realized that I'd moved away from the practice itself and was conceptualizing the results," Derisz writes. "I wasn't open-minded or ready to experience. I was sitting with the expectation I'd feel better, calmer, clearer, through meditation, but these expectations led to disappointment, frustration, and a sense of entitlement."
Meditating for 45 minutes became too much. And soon, he stopped altogether.
It was, essentially, a detox from detoxing.
Meditation, restoration and the "window problem"
I point Derisz' story out largely because, even as we understand that no one can fire on all eight cylinders 100 percent of the time, I don't believe he's alone in performing a restorative activity--i.e., reading, taking a walk, journaling, whatever--with a checkbox next to it. In doing it because of what we anticipate or because others tell us it is "good" and we should. In doing it to fulfill the status quo. And as Derisz points out, the expectation of something (for example, calm), can create a resistance to anything other than that expectation, creating the very tension or other negative symptoms you're trying to ditch.
This doesn't mean you should ignore the activities that are supposed to give you rest. Even Derisz came back to his practice having learned a balance to it. But it does mean that you have to be free with those activities. If you're called to a different option one day, for example, then give yourself permission to respond to that call in full self-awareness. And if you honestly feel like completing the activity won't help, then it's OK to skip the session and do it when you actually can embrace the benefits instead.
The difficulty for professionals, however, is what I call the "window problem". With so much on your plate, it can be tempting to lapse into the practice of tucking restorative activities into little chunks of free time, rather than using them when you really need the break. You might only be able to meditate in the 30 minutes after you get up, for example, so you feel obligated to do it then because you know it's your only chance. And so in trying to be free, you end up rigid.
Don't settle for that.
Restoration isn't something you pencil in. It's something you should grab intuitively, just like whipping together a sandwich when you're hungry. And just like sometimes you want a 5-course dinner and sometimes a snack will do, one size doesn't always fit all. Be as flexible in your self-care as you are in any other area, and don't hesitate to encourage others to do the same to build healthier expectations.