My client agreed that she ought to be using Autogenic Training (AT) every day to support a feeling of peace and confidence. She agrees that feeling more peaceful would help. “But I get bored doing it,” she complains.
We know lots of benefits of meditation. I have been using Autogenic Training as my personal meditation strategy for over thirty years, and I make every effort to practice every day. I am never bored. What is going on?
The complaint, meditation is boring, is actually quite common. Early unbiased studies of Transcendental Meditation (TM) found only one in four or one in five continued to practice. Progressive Relaxation, the most common technique taught in graduate schools over the past thirty years, has about the same compliance rate. It also has the same benefits of TM, as contrasted with the in-house research claiming that TM was better than anything else.
In fact, the best research suggests that while there are many benefits of meditation, any approach, from self-hypnosis to mindfulness meditation gives the same general advantages. So how can we use that information to improve compliance?
I like to give people choices. My client that complained of AT did find that slow deep breathing was more enjoyable. She is more likely to practice breathing. Since the research suggests any approach is as good any any other, choices among AT, TM, Mindfulness, Progressive Relaxation, or self-hypnosis are useful.
What else can help? Well, since my visit the other day, I have been giving this a lot of thought. I will offer a strategy and invite your participation. Let me know what you think and offer your ideas, please.
I think that perhaps something missing in our orientation is a hidden agenda about time. Perhaps our western views are that time must be productive or pleasurable. To the untrained eye, meditation is neither. Instead of learning and growing, the meditator appears to simply sit. And instead of excitement or pleasure, again meditation appears passive. While I enjoy meditation, the evidence is that it is an acquired taste.
Here is a possible solution. Suppose we teach people to enjoy the feelings going along with meditation? We call this intervention savoring. It is the moment to moment focus on the inner experience. A good example of this is a quote by Helen Keller:
“I wondered how it was possible to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note. I who cannot see find hundreds of things: the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: use your eyes as if tomorrow you will have been stricken blind. Hear the music of voices, the songs of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again. Make the most of every sense. Glory in all the facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you.”
– Helen Keller
Here she parses the crucial element: “Make the most of every sense.” When we shift our attention from past / future to the immediate moment, there is a pleasant relaxing response. So would it help for us to first teach people about savoring? I propose we should try it and see if we can get a better compliance than 20% or 25%.
Focus on the immediate feelings of eating, for example. Notice the texture, the colors, and savor the odors. Focus! Note how much more enjoyable a meal is.
As you talk to friends, try to focus in on the immediate moment, again following Helen Keller. Fill up your senses. Besides the sights and sounds of a conversation, what else can you notice?
Go for a walk in the woods, as Keller recommends. Again fill up your senses with the moment. Discard thoughts on the future or the past and focus on the immediate moment.
Recall a favorite vacation. What did you see? Hear? Taste? Touch? Smell? Let yourself savor a memory.
With the savoring skill in hand, I propose that meditation is much more pleasurable. Instead of being driven by demands that one must “make the most of every minute” though learning, mastery, or pleasure, the experience itself of peacefulness becomes an end in itself.
Do you meditate? What has kept you in practice? Do you agree with my idea about savoring?
Have you been trained in meditation but you have dropped out? What was missing? What would cause you to pick up the practice again? If you try savoring, can you report?
Let the dialog begin.