Why Bother (meditating)?

Why bother (meditating)? Woman standing in woods asking why.
WHY BOTHER (meditating)?

If you’re like most people, including me, you exercise for a variety of reasons. You’re depressed, so you exercise to cheer up, or you’re anxious and want to calm down. Maybe you hope to relax or zone out. Perhaps you seek bliss and joy, an escape from your troubles. Or you want to feel strong.

Then again, you might just want to look fabulous in your swimsuit. No shame in that. The beach beckons.

Plus, you’re already busy. There’s the partner and the kids and the dog. You need to mow the lawn. That work project is (still) due, and those groceries aren’t going to shop for themselves.

So why add what sounds like another task? Your mind gets a workout every day, all day long. Isn’t exercise a time to give it a rest? Why pile what seems like another layer on top of your current exercise routine?

After all, meditation of any sort takes time, energy, grit, determination, and discipline. As contemporary Buddhist Monk Bhante Gunaratana (Bhante G.) says in Mindfulness in Plain English, “Meditation takes gumption.”1 Why on Earth would you want to infuse your movement with something that requires effort and  dedication?

There are a host of reasons.

You’re probably already aware of the many ways movement improves your life. Meditation enhances that. Studies on people who meditate show the physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits ranging from improved athletic performance to growing new brain cells.2 Combine the two for a supercharged growth recipe. But there’s an even more compelling reason to add meditation to your movement routine.


Beneath any desire you may have to relax, zone out, or toughen up, and under that wish to look and feel physically and mentally better, lies the urge for freedom.

Freedom from what?

Freedom from suffering.

And that—freedom from suffering—is the main reason I bother.

During the winter after I turned forty-nine, a social media post by a high school friend caught my attention. It read: “Call me crazy, but this running is getting to be fun!”

I did indeed think she was crazy, but she also looked like she was having fun. I was definitely not having fun.

The chronic depression that had plagued me most of my life resurfaced after seven loved ones, including my twenty-four-year-old niece and my mother, all died during the same year. That friend’s social media post found me on the couch. I don’t remember bonbons specifically, but excess food had become the anchor in my “wellness plan,” causing my weight to balloon. Exercise seemed long behind me, and I didn’t believe it would help anyway. I was suffering so much; I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on the planet.

Meanwhile, that high school friend kept running. As I watched her gradual progress, principles I knew from years of meditation and previous stints of movement resurfaced. The change in her and the shift I felt was familiar: impermanence. Her progress and my interest reflected the natural ebb and flow that’s always happening, which many of us never notice.

Her online training plan said, “Sixty seconds of jogging.” That’s not all it said, but that phrase stuck like a mantra. As winter wore on, my
curiosity grew.

One March weekday when my husband, Ed, and most of the neighbors were at work, I pulled on faded, tight workout clothes, picked up a digital kitchen timer, leashed up our yellow Labrador retriever, Morgan, and walked to a secluded ravine in our neighborhood where no one could see us. I set the timer for sixty seconds, then stood long enough for the dog to wander away and “water” a nearby shrub. When I finally hit the timer button, it set in motion a series of changes so huge I can hardly believe them myself.

But running was tough.

In my first book, a running and mental health memoir called Depression Hates a Moving Target, I shared how a congenital ankle defect, my weight, one especially unhelpful medical professional, and my incessant, negative, chattering thoughts threatened to derail me. Some days, I still hear that familiar refrain, “Who do you think you are?”

I feel a sense of gratitude that before I found running, I’d already been meditating for fifteen years. I also had a solid writing practice, a strong community, several great teachers, mental health medications, and therapy. Movement rounded out that tool kit.

I quickly realized I could meditate while I ran. Infusing the thoughts and body sensations that arise on a run with focused attention and a calm attitude makes running less difficult and more interesting.

Meditative skills keep me going when willpower fails.

In the years since that life-changing social media post, I have run nearly 12,000 miles, including two ultramarathons, three full marathons, thirty-six
half marathons in twenty-three states, and more than 100 shorter races.

While those numbers may sound impressive, what counts is my improved inner fitness. I went from a woman who wanted to die to one who thrives.

I feel more stable, calm, caring toward others, and interested in the world than before. That inner transformation motivated me to share this practice.

1 Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1993), 7.

2 Patrick Zeis “30 Evidence-Based Benefits of Meditation” www.balancedachievement.com/areas-of-life/benefits-of-meditation.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.