Meditation stressed me out, so I stopped trying to be perfect

How could I achieve a state of pure inner peace when I was worrying about whether or not I had turned off the oven?

My journey thus far in meditation has been remarkably cyclical — at difficult times in my life, I try to commit myself to the practice of meditation. I tell myself it will be different, and in some way, I try to make it so.

The cycle may continue by changing the style of meditation, my physical positioning, new app subscriptions or turning the temperature on my thermostat down a few degrees. My mind incessantly wants to perfect the process of meditation. After three weeks (I always try to build habits in three week periods) I’m usually no further than when I started. If anything, the practice brings more feelings of stress and being overwhelmed more so than it did at the beginning.

The first time I stumbled upon the idea of meditating was through an app called Calm. It was about five or six years ago, before self-care and meditation were such popular topics in the public sphere. I was scrolling through Facebook and among the sea of viral videos and political debates, an advertisement popped onto my screen with a picture of a tranquil ocean grotto and the word "Calm" written in a fancy font. 

The ad was alluring and enticing — it evoked feelings of relaxation and peace and put forth an idea that mediation was to be an enlightening practice of intense self-discovery with innumerable benefits. 

I bought a year-long subscription the next day. 

In theory, the year-long meditation journey would leave me with an ever-present feeling of calm and an arsenal of emotional and interpersonal skills to use in every domain of my life. 

I should be able to sit down, take a few deep breaths and summon my superhero meditative powers to aid me in my daily living. The personal implementation of the practice, however, brought very different results. I sought to recreate a picture-perfect meditation practice where I breathed rhythmically and peacefully among a backdrop of candlelight and calming soundscapes — but the actual sessions were stress-inducing and difficult.

The time was instead spent ruminating on my inability to achieve a state of pure inner peace and worrying about whether or not I had turned off the oven. 

Not only could I not put a pause to the endless mental chatter in my psyche, but I was obsessed with creating the perfect meditation.

I still have yet to create this perfect meditation. Frankly, I don’t think it exists. From the countless app subscriptions, nifty devices and self-help books I’ve purchased I should be a professional by now, but the slivers of inner peace I found exist far from that economic niche. One recent memory was a small adventure I took to the top of the Life Sciences Tower.

While meeting with a faculty member on the fifth floor, I noticed the view from high up in the tower. I could see as near as the students walking under the trees below and as far as downtown Phoenix, all in detail. The expanse of it all was breathtaking, and I stood for 15 minutes soaking in the cool air and the gorgeous view.

Moments spent in the now — reaching out your hand to feel the leaves of grass beneath your feet; feeling the cool autumnal breeze atop a seven-story tower; paying deep and sincere attention to your friend in need —  they are the creation of the purest and most transcendental beauty unparalleled by art or hobby. 

On occasion, I’ve felt this profound clarity. Though words would do it no justice, it brings about a stark lucidity different from the grievances of daily life. In changing times where breaks from the cacophony of city life are a treasured rarity, small, meditative moments are what keep us going — and you don’t need an app subscription to reach them. 


Reach the reporter at cbeal4@asu.edu and follow @beal_camden on Twitter. 

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