I regularly suggest meditation as a remedy for client, and more often than not the response is “I tried meditation once but I couldn’t get my mind to stop” or “I failed at meditation, it just doesn’t work for me”. The word meditation can conjure images of sitting cross-legged on the ground for hours, in a blissed-out state of peace. For me, that seems totally unachievable, who has the time? Or flexibility? Anyone else relate?
There are many styles of meditation, but the most prevalent is Focused Attention (FA) where you focus on something outside the mind, such as the breath or parts of the body, to train attention. And for some this is a wonderful place to start. But not everyone…
When I started meditation with FA I felt that same way. A generous friend gave me a meditation course as a gift, and for the sake of the friendship I endured 8 Monday nights of sitting cross-legged, failing dismally at focusing my mind and instead listening to my inner critic going crazy with “Another thing I’m a failure at”. Even in the quiet at home, no matter how much as I sat, I couldn’t make my mind go quiet or keep my focus on one thing. The more I struggled the less quiet my mind was, so I gave up and became that person who said “I can’t meditate”.
But one day, someone wise explained: “It’s not about quietening the inner dialogue, it’s about stepping away from being involved in the conversation”.
LIGHTBULB! Suddenly I realised meditation isn’t about stopping the thoughts at all. Instead, it’s letting go of my engagement with them.
Here’s an analogy to help illustrate – think about witnessing an argument. Firstly, imagine it’s between close friends or family. Our intimacy and emotional involvement draw us to be involved – either adding in our own point of view, trying to make the peace or feeling hurt and upset at what is going on. Next, try instead imagining it’s a group of strangers near you at a park. Now you step into witness mode, totally detached from the outcome, either watching impassively to see what happens or even turning away with disinterest. This second space is where we need to inhabit in meditation, in a style of meditation called mindful or OM (open monitoring).
When I was struggling to quieten my mind, I was in hand-to-hand combat with my monkey mind and it was enjoying EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT because it had my full attention. So I stepped back, like an audience watching actors on stage, and then I was no longer engaged and could see the bigger picture. Here is the core self, the ‘me’ listening in to all other parts of ourselves, knowing they are parts of us but not all of us. And here was that space we crave, where we don’t have to do or react to what they saying and how they are feeling. That for me was the key to freedom, and I hope it’s the same for you.
For those who have an over-active mind, mindful meditation can be easier to access. Instead of forcing the mind to stop, it builds a space between us and the “monkey mind”, a buffer of calm and respite. These voices can be helpful, like our intuition or our heart. Or they can be less helpful, like the inner critic or the defeatist. But when they’re all trying to talk at once, calling for our attention, it’s hard to make out what any of them are saying. Or we may always go for the loudest, or easiest to believe – sadly that’s often the inner critic.
If you’d like to try it mindful meditation, here are 5 simple steps to try it:
- Set an alarm for 5 minutes, and find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position and as you close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths and then tune into the inner dialogue, bringing a forensic mindset to the process.
- Passively listen to what is going on. Is there one particular narrative on repeat? Or a few voices bouncing back and forth.
- That’s it.
Once you finish, it can be helpful to write out what was going on, but that’s a nice to have, not a necessity. There is no perfect time to do meditation, just when you can. Before you get into bed, first thing in the morning, in your lunch break, on the toilet. Wherever you can fit in 5 minutes.
You may not enjoy sitting, so a walking meditation could suit you. When you next go for a casual walk (with no set destination or timing) try simply breathing in for 4 steps and breathing out for 6. This is a way of using FA meditation actively, that almost forces out attention.I will say, it’s called meditation practice for a reason, as with practice and repetition, it becomes easier, and the results come, and you get into a cycle of wanting to do it again. You may find yourself staying in meditation for 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, as those inner lives enjoy the focussed attention you bring to them and calm their shouting as they know they are now heard. And you may drop it for a while, getting into a new rhythm in life, but it will always in your toolbox if you need to revisit it again.
Sadly, in our perfectionist culture meditation now has put so much judgement and expectation of specific results around that this simple, yet effective, tool that it seems unattainable. Throw out that image of “I need to able to sit in lotus position, meditating in a cave on a mountain top or deep in a forest”. When mediation is done without expectation of the look or the results, with the simple hope of a small amount of time in your day that is for you and you alone, then all judgement and self-criticism falls away. And perhaps, over time, other benefits may fall into place, including:
- self awareness
- responsive instead of reactive
- inner settlement
- ability to discern intuition from fear or worry
- sense of peace with where you are, in the moment
- connection to your higher self
I hope this brings small moments of calm, connection and joy into your life.