I’ve been meditating for a long time – more than 20 years – and to be honest, I still feel like I suck at it.
My problem at the beginning was reading about the mediation habits of yogis and Buddhists, who would fly off somewhere in their heads to Nirvana, where the mind was empty and everyone was peaceful. The problem is, nobody’s mind is ever empty, and while you can be peaceful, you’ll never, ever stop thinking. Took me a while to realise that (and also that I wouldn’t levitate – true story), and to realise that meditation is still super-useful even if you think you’re no good at it.
These following five ideas are the things I use to help me when I feel like I just can’t settle in. Which, since having kids, happens a lot.
1. Do it anyway
You’ll be so tempted to have a couple of goes and think “ugh I’m getting nowhere and I’m better off going and doing something productive with my time”, but don’t. So much research supports the idea that meditation is one of the most useful things you can do, so it’s worth sticking it out. But the key is not to keep doing the same thing every time and getting frustrated seeing no results.
The key is to keep working at it, to a point where you see there are benefits and it is worth it.
2. Be kind to yourself
Everyone sucks at it. Promise. Don’t get all judgy and mean toward yourself, and you can quit that negative self-talk about how you’re so useless you can’t even sit still for five minutes. Like just about everything in life it’s something that you just get better at it with practice. Would you be awful to a two-year-old who is learning something? No? Well you’re learning too, cut yourself some slack. I’m still learning after 20something years so I have to remember to lay off the frustration.
3. Don’t try to clear your mind
I know, right? The opposite to all we’re ever told. Well it isn’t going to work and you will end up over-thinking trying not to think and ain’t nothing about that peaceful!
What works for me is letting the thoughts flow, and when I notice I’m getting off track, just letting them go, not continuing that train of thought, and coming back to centre. I always daydream, I always go off on tangents, and that’s normal – the thing to do then is acknowledge you’ve headed down that path but to let it go.
Sometimes I imagine I’m in a boat and the thoughts I’m having are in the river below me, and I’m watching them go on their natural progression but not hanging around. They’re drifting down the river by the current and they’re not affecting me in any way. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Stay neutral
It’s human nature to have our thoughts affect our physical bodies, but the aim is to have this happen as little as possible. You will suddenly remember something for the shopping list, you will be reminded of that stupid thing you said yesterday, you will worry about something you’re meant to have done already for work and forgot. Your pulse will quicken, you’ll stop breathing properly, and you’ll tense up.
Now if you want to worry, that’s awesome (not really) but the time is not now. You can worry all you want when your 10 minutes are up, but for now you’re going to let that thought go, breathe deep, and relax. Every single time you drift off into TenseWorld, recognise that and relaaaaaaaaaaaaaax. I mean it. Let it flow on down the River of Dreams (sorry/not sorry for any Billy Joel earworms) and get back to what you’re doing. The only thing you need to be concerned about right now is being still.
5. Remember to breathe
This is the only thing I get right in meditation, really. Some people chant to help clear their minds, some people concentrate on a colour or a place – I just breathe. When I start to mediate I just think “in…. out…. in… out” and eventually when my thoughts drift off, I just keep coming back to the breath. In, out. No chanting, just the word “in”, while I’m breathing. There are different schools of thought on whether you should breathe slowly and deeply during mediation, or whether you should let your breath return to a natural pattern, but I say do whatever is best for you. I enjoy just coming back to breathing, concentrating on breathing, and letting that deadline stress just roll on past me.
I’d love to hear your tips though – as I said, I’m still learning!