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How I fell off the meditation wagon (and got back on)

Last year, I was perfect.

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Every morning I meditated for 20 minutes. On days when I was in a rush, I made sure to squeeze in a shorter session later on. I took pride in building my Run Streak on the Headspace app, watching it hit 30 days, 90, 180, 365 and beyond. I wrote an article about how to maintain a meditation habit and even gave a similar presentation at my work. I had it all together. Then it all fell apart. This spring I had what you might call a life crisis. I was commuting every day from Philadelphia to New York, and the constant travel wore me down physically and mentally. I needed to make a decision about my next career move—whether to continue my two-city lifestyle or start something different. Decisions have always been difficult for me. I tend to blow them out of proportion into all-encompassing, life-or-death choices. This particular decision consumed my mind for months. I began waking up in the early hours of the morning, thoughts racing, unable to sleep.

As my thoughts became more chaotic, I found it harder to sit in silence. I’d focus on my breath or an image, only to find myself back in the same negative loops. So instead of actually making a decision on this heavy career dilemma, I started skipping meditation sessions. Just a few at first, but soon I stopped doing any meditation at all. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. At the time I most needed mental clarity, I gave up my best chance at getting it. If I couldn’t meditate every day, I thought, why bother doing it at all? My Run Streak reset to zero and stayed there. For the next few months, I sweated over my career dilemma. I mean that literally; I woke up at night drenched in sweat, soaking my sheets and grossing out my wife. I wrote pro and con lists, spoke with friends, talked to therapists, slept on it, drank. After about four months, I realized the only thing that was going to get me out of this rut was action. I needed to make a decision, whether it was the “right” thing or not. So I made the call. I took a job closer to home, prioritized my mental health, and started to get my personal life back in order.

I’d like to say my decision magically made it easy for me to start meditating again. But it didn’t. My life was so destabilized that I had to build the habit from scratch. What was the best time of day to meditate? How long? Do I start from the beginning or pick up where I left off? It took a couple weeks before I found a schedule that worked for me, and got back on my 20-minutes-a-day routine. But I’ve stopped trying to be perfect. There’s this article from The Onion titled “Annoying, Well-Adjusted Friend Even Fucking Meditating Now.” I was trying to be that guy, the paragon of self-improvement. Now I average about five meditation sessions per week. I don’t have a perfect streak anymore, but I’ve seen where an all-or-nothing mentality gets me. Now, the way I keep the meditation habit going is by giving myself permission to miss a session from time to time. Even one day of meditation per week is better than none. I’m still showing up, still doing my best to look after my mind—for myself and others. And for me, that’s perfect enough.

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I was trying to be the paragon of self-improvement. But I’ve stopped trying to be perfect.

Chris Plehal

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