No Need to Meditate Perfectly

How one woman learned to let go and welcome stillness.
By Susan Lembo Balik

I sat cross-legged on the living-room rug, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to quiet my mind. Alas, random thoughts persisted, flickering about like fireflies on a summer evening. After five minutes, I abandoned my Zen pose. I would have rather folded laundry or gone on a 3-mile run—anything with more tangible results.

One day, I shared my frustrations about meditating correctly with a practiced teacher and learned that there was no wrong way to meditate—it would be like breathing wrong. I was trying too hard. She suggested I come to her meditation group, but meditating with a dozen other people sounded distracting, and sitting in a library chair wasn’t exactly my definition of bliss. But I liked her “can’t do it wrong” approach, so I ventured to the library basement for this “meditation spa.”

The first thing I noticed was the particularity of the circular chair positioning. As a writer, I appreciated such attention to flow. A more sporadic placement, like an awkward transition or misplaced passage, would have detracted from the whole. Mood music, dimmed lights, and quiet conversation helped me relax. Sensing we were ready, our instructor asked us to close our eyes and inhale deeply. On the exhale, we joined her in chanting om, releasing our breath for as long as possible. We did this three times, our voices overlapping in one long melodious note, as tranquil as a wind chime. The chanting slowed my breathing and stilled my mind for a short time, and when thoughts popped up, I did my best to ignore them. Then the instructor asked us to drink in a white light, each breath filling us up like a balloon. After about 20 minutes, she gently “brought us back,” though there was no place to come back from. We’d never left the library basement.

What I discovered was that meditating perfectly is not only unattainable—it’s missing the point. It’s not the mantra, the breathing, the teacher, or the time of day; instead, it is the simplicity of peace and silence I found within myself through meditating. Now when I meditate, I don’t get upset when I worry or when I can’t empty my mind. Instead, I try to open myself a little more each time to the stillness that has always been there.