Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg declares, “They say that the healing is in the returning. Not in never having wandered to begin with.”
The most important job is to begin again.
In mindfulness meditation, a core practice is returning your attention when it becomes lost. You may find yourself lost in thought. And that is okay. The point isn’t to perfect your meditation or empty your mind. Instead, it is to return over and over, no matter how far your mind has traveled or how long it has wandered from the present moment. We use our breath, our body, our senses to gently guide us back to now, the only moment that there really is.
Its simple but not easy. I regularly find myself in meditation ruts, barely making it into the chair each day. Sitting for a few minutes and then bailing out. At these times, I remind myself to begin again simply. I abandon the elaborate practices I’ve been forcing myself to do and move to a single instruction: “Just put your body there.” I may find myself sitting in a car, lying in bed or walking to class. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just begin again.
Science tells us that meditation cultivates brain neuroplasticity. We can literally rewire our brain through intentional practice. Building new pathways in our brain that support positive habits. Jonathan Foust writes, “The neurons that fire together wire together.” This is one reason why consistent practice is so important. We are literally restructuring our brain.
Beginning again doesn’t just apply to meditation. The same thing is true in life. Routines and habits become ingrained and unconscious. But you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” Contrary to previous understandings, we now know that the brain is constantly growing and changing.
How do we begin again? Start before you’re ready. Start now, while you are reading this sentence. Begin again. Allow yourself to breath deeply. Lower your standards and let go of expectations. After all, the practice is in returning. So naturally, any new plan, system or resolution is going to run into trouble. The work will be to return, adjust, to begin again. This form of beginning again is a radical type of self-care. Recognizing our human fallibility and resetting our course.