Finding Your Zen–For Meditation Flunkees

Dr. Alyson Nerenberg, Psy.D., CSAT-S can help you find your way to live in the moment and meditate.In 2020 there seems to be an unwritten rule that all holistic therapists are supposed to recommend  that their patients meditate. This recommendation has become so popular that it feels “on trend” like eating kale or suggesting yoga.  The goals of meditation are varied, but generally the purpose is to encourage our patients to “be in the present,” unplug and focus inward. Many therapists suggest meditation apps as well as going to private meditation classes. While that is a great aspirational goal for many people, it does not work for everyone.

Several years ago, I googled “surrounding meditation classes” and did not find many that were close to where I lived and had times that were convenient for a working mother. However, I did find one class that I could attend, but found it difficult to incorporate it into my schedule on top of my regular cardio workouts and other life commitments.  Subsequently, that meditation studio moved out of my area.  After that unsuccessful endeavor, I downloaded a couple of meditation apps on my phone and began the process of “disconnecting.” I went into my bedroom, surrounded myself with a bunch of pillows, closed the door and began my meditation practice. Unfortunately, my family members all found me. The first offender was my teenage daughter who had an urgent question for me one minute into my practice.  After “shooing” her out of the room, I got into my comfortable position again, and my young son came looking for me.  After explaining to him that “Mommy is busy right now,” I once again tried to engage in the practice of meditation.  Two minutes later my husband found me and wanted to talk. Before you judge me for having no boundaries, I want you to appreciate the fact that I live with several family members who have ADD. The moment that I am preoccupied, I suddenly become the most fascinating person in the house. After patiently explaining to my husband that this was “my time,” I locked the door.  Unfortunately, my dog suddenly experienced separation anxiety and started barking outside of my bedroom.  At this point, I gave up and decided that meditation might not be the relaxation of choice for me.

About ten years ago, I rediscovered my love of tennis.  Tennis was a sport that I began playing in high school, but gave up after graduation. As my daughters grew up they began taking lessons and got on their school tennis teams. After many years of being a tennis mom/spectator I decided that I wanted to play again too. Reconnecting with this sport has been very therapeutic for me.  As an adult, I initially started by joining a tennis clinic where I made some new “tennis friends.” After a few years of practicing, I took a risk and joined a team where I played doubles. Now, I do not want to misrepresent myself as an amazing player but through practice I have become above average.  More importantly, I found an outlet for my competitive energy as well as a place where I could get exercise and have fun.

Recently, I became aware of some of the psychological benefits of playing tennis.  I realized that while I am playing a match I actually use many of the techniques I recommend to my patients. For example, I use positive self-talk while playing.  I may speak to myself in a kind voice and say things like “You’ve got this.” or “You can do it.” On a side note, my partner tells me that she appreciates when I say those positive statements aloud to encourage her. When I feel myself getting anxious before returning a serve, I remind myself to breathe. Just the act of exhaling a deep breath makes me feel calmer. Additionally, playing in a match helps me stay in the present moment. For example, if there is ever a dispute between players about whether a ball was in or out, or if I made a bad serve, I have learned to “let it go.” Instead of beating myself up about if my opponent is judging me about whether my call was correct or not or if my serve was “good enough,” I have learned to move on and just focus on the next ball that is hit to me.  My mantra while I am playing is simply the words “be present” and I repeat this to myself many times during a match. Additionally, while I am playing, I do not think about my family members, patients or any worries. I just focus on “the next ball in front of me.”

So, I have a choice: I can beat myself up for being a “meditation flunkee,” or celebrate my resiliency in finding a sport that I actually enjoy, that gives me the benefit of  ”living in the moment.” Those of you who know me are aware that I choose the later option, embracing my spirit and ability to persevere in finding an activity that provides me a pleasurable way to focus my attention. What I would like to leave you with dear blog readers, is if meditation does not suit you, find a sport or activity that helps you relax and focus on the present moment.  Whether it is playing basketball, running marathons,  taking pottery classes or performing in a play,  take a risk and find your zen.  There is not one correct way to “do life.” Explore what works for you and stick with it!