Meditation for People who can’t
I’ve been wanting to write a meditation guide for people who think they can’t meditate. Finally, I decided to do a series of installments. Maybe one day I’ll put them all together in a book.
My first blog was on meditation. I’m a firm believer in its benefits. Needless to say I’ve suggested a meditation practice to friends and colleagues over the years. I’m not a new age guru. I don’t go on and on while munching nuts and seeds. I’m not giving people mala beads as gifts. But I have suggested it as a good habit and for its many benefits.
I credit meditation with boosting my creativity, finding solutions (both in my writing and real life), not taking things to to heart, not dwelling on certain events–and God knows I’m a dweller. There are many other benefits to meditation that are more physical: reduced stress levels, blood pressure.
My suggestion has been met with answers that varied from Yes, maybe I should, to I’ve tried but it didn’t work, to I can’t even sit still, to, from a coworker suffering from anxiety and insomnia: Are you crazy? It’s only gonna make it worse!
Why it’s not hard, but is
I encountered some difficulties when I started meditating, and I think it’s those same difficulties that make people think they can’t meditate. First of all, there’s no clear instructions out there. When I started meditating I couldn’t find anything that told me exactly what to do, what was supposed to happen or what I was striving for. I just wanted some clear instructions.
Secondly, it quickly gets complicated. There are many different styles of meditation and it seems you have to choose one, meaning you have to figure out which one is better than the other and which is suited to you. But in truth all meditation techniques aim for the same goal: to find that inner silence. It doesn’t matter what technique you use or even if you follow any school. I suggest you don’t. You will evolve to a style, or maybe not. And it doesn’t matter.
And finally, like so many other activities, we seem to have this idea of needing to have constant progress. We set goals and pressure ourselves when meditation is the opposite of all that. We want to get to the ‘next level’. Meditation isn’t competitive. It’s your own private thing and you make it what you want to make it. To sum it up, I think the frustration comes from the fact that when we start to meditate we’re just trying too hard.
You have to stop thinking
Really? How is that possible, except when you’re asleep or unconscious? It’s OK to think about stuff the first times you try to sit in silence. It’s OK to have 1 million thoughts going through your mind, because your mind is going to be so incredibly happy to have you all to itself.
If I can give you one lesson when you first start meditating, don’t go all crazy and expect to levitate off the floor or go to some Nirvanaesque place or to see the white star in the blue circle or maybe it’s the blue star in the white circle. I don’t know, it’s never happened to me. This is probably the biggest reason people think they can’t meditate. Because they aren’t meeting the mark, or progressing. Let me be clear: there’s not such thing in meditation. You’ll progress at your own pace, sometimes noticeably, sometimes barely. All that matters is practicing sitting in silence.
What to do
Just start by sitting comfortably and quietly. No need for lotus position, or hands in prayer position. Use a chair, it’s fine. If you sit on the floor, have back support, like being against a wall. If your legs are sore or your back is strained it’ll distract you. I tried, for some stupid reason, to sit cross legged for years and with no back support. I spent my times distracted by the soreness.
Rest your hands on your thighs. You can touch index and thumb, or not. You can sit with your palms up or down. Or one on top of the other (my usual hand position), like in the photo.
Set a timer on your phone because time is going to distort and your mind is going to be telling you every three seconds that 10 minutes has gone by; or that maybe your phone is on silent and you didn’t hear the timer ring; or maybe you didn’t start it in the first place and you’re gonna be checking that darn phone every two seconds. Start with a minimum of five minutes, no more than ten.
If you start thinking about something if you start following a train of thought just tell yourself to let it go. It’s quiet time now you can think about that later. You can even talk to your mind. “Hey mind, I know you’re worried about that but I’m gonna sit here for a few more minutes and afterwards we can think about it. So you just go sit in a corner and hang on, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Eventually thoughts will arise, you’ll notice them in passing but they’ll disappear just as fast and you won’t even remember them.
Occupying the mind
There are techniques to occupy the mind. Paying attention to your breath, repeating a mantra, staring at a candle, putting a stone in each palm and focussing on how it feels. The idea is to give the mind something to do that is calming and keeps it occupied, rather than letting it take the lead and wander all over.
Remember your mind is going to want to ramble on about all sorts of things. Be patient, it’s an emptying out process. The more your mind is cluttered with stressful events, conflicts, with a lot of stimulation (tv, social media, social interaction), the longer it’s going to take to reach a state of calm. It has to empty out. It’s going to want to go over and over everything until it settles it.
There’s a reason why Tibetan monks live isolated and in silence: it’s to avoid too much stimulation. They come to their practice in an already conducive to meditation state. But since that’s not us we’ll work with what we have.
So start with that. Just sit for five to ten minutes, try for everyday. Breathe in, breathe out, and relax. When you begin to think about something, just say to yourself: Later. When your timer rings be proud of yourself for having taken the time to practice. That’s it. Lesson 1 of meditation for people who think they can’t.
Image credit: the author. (No, I didn’t arrange the flower like that.)