I’ve been meditating for a few years now, maybe ten, and I still find myself having difficulty meditating sometimes. Not every day, but some. I’m one of those people who isn’t naturally relaxed so the benefits of meditation are right up my alley you know. Sometimes, like some of you, I have a hard time concentrating….a hard time relaxing….an even harder time making the thoughts stop. And after all, aren’t all those things supposed to be our goals?
Meditation has been around like, forever! Well, maybe not forever….but apparently there are cave paintings that are as much as 5,000 years old that depict people in typical meditation poses. And 3000 year old Indian Vedic scriptures that describe meditation techniques, so it’s been around for a very long time.
HAVING DIFFICULTY MEDITATING ISN’T NEW!
And much as we might be having difficulty meditating, don’t you think those people long ago had the same problems with restless minds? They must have! It’s said that the Buddha coined the phrase ‘monkey mind’ over two thousand years ago when he explained how our thinking goes. He is said to have commented, “just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.” So I’m guessing, yeah, they had the same problem. We’re in good company.
VARIOUS STYLES OF MEDITATION
While there are all manner of official methods, they kind of boil down to six main styles, including chanting, focused, mindfulness, etc. You can read more about them here. Variations in application is kind of the main difference and beyond that, pretty much the same results. You feel better in all kinds of ways. You’re more relaxed, your blood pressure goes down, you develop a better understanding of yourself, etc. Wonderful things like that! That same post explains 15 other wonderful benefits of meditation that could be yours if you decided to make this a part of your daily routine.
Anyway, in reality, I think every day is different and you’re going to be making use of several of those methods, depending on the circumstances and your mood. Some days you’re going to be having difficulty meditating, and some days you’re going settle into it ‘like you’re coming home’! Yes, once in a while it can be that good! The important thing when you’re dealing with that silly ‘monkey mind’, is to really focus on how you feel physically.
WHAT DOES THE AVERAGE MEDITATOR DO?
Here’s how I think of the problem. When the average meditator sits down to their practise, the impulse and focus is towards ‘emptying the mind’. We work on that with each practise. But the problem is, whatever we focus on, we make stronger. By paying attention to emptying our mind, we’re essentially turning our focus on that busy brain that we’re trying to tame! What you focus on…you make stronger.
I think if you quit working on emptying your mind and just began to notice how you feel, moments of ‘quiet-monkey mind’ come easier and stretch out longer as time goes by.
Here’s an example. Sometimes when I sit really still and its quiet, I try to home in on only the feelings in my skin. I feel the temperature around me. Is it warm and comfortable or do I feel cool air on it….? I feel how my clothes touch it, the textures, the tightness or it’s looseness. And it’s like, after a minute or two of having that in my mind, I can almost feel the multitude of tiny electrical impulses that are happening at the cellular level. Sure it’s just millions of nerves tingling like they do all the time, but the difference is, this time I’m noticing it. And while I’m paying attention to only the physical Me, my brain or my mind gets to take a pause. And voila! You’re not having difficulty meditating anymore!
You know, from a strictly learning standpoint too, it’s giving you a taste of the experience you’re aiming for. And when we know how it feels, somehow it’s easier to aim for next time!
BUT WHEN YOU’RE HAVING DIFFICULTY MEDITATING….
……. because of that ‘monkey mind’ problem, you could try this little technique for ‘settling’ yourself right when you start. How you ask? Well let me tell you…
First of all let me say this, I’m trying to get in the habit of starting off with a little 10 minute meditation before I get down to writing. I’m hoping that the brain ‘rest’ will give me a head start on pouring out an abundance of fascinating and seriously great words! I haven’t been doing it long so I have no interesting successes to point to, but I’m hopeful.
THE METHOD, THE MUSIC AND YOUR ACHING BACK!
Once you’ve settled and you’re ready, try the following:
- Take a very deep, steady breath. Notice how your body is feeling. When you comfortably can’t inhale anymore, take a slight pause….then in a quick, full exhalation, push it out.
- Now, for as long as you are comfortable, pause for a few moments. Just wait for several seconds before the next breathe. Your next inhalation breathe should be gentle and steady. Fill your lungs, gradually, deeply.
- Take a tiny pause and then a quick, full exhalation again. Repeat this four or five times and always think about and feel the process and how it’s affecting your body.
Let me share another example with you. When I sat down to first meditate for a few minutes before I started writing this post, I was feeling pretty scattered as far as ideas were concerned. I felt hurried and restless. I also felt the pressure of everything that I needed to do later and more importantly, that I wanted to write something worthwhile now but didn’t have any good ideas! Not the right frame of mind for writing at all and I was definitely having difficulty meditating. So it was a lose/lose situation right from the start.
But I did the above exercise and it got easier to move from there into just breathing and focusing on how my skin felt. And from there, more easily into some moments of a real sense of peace and quiet in my brain.
WHY DOES IT WORK?
I think the reason this works is it’s like the exclamation mark at the end of a sentence or the sound of a crash. That forceful exhalation pulls your focus in. It’s probably some kind of primeval physiological response, i.e., ‘pay attention to sudden changes because survival depends on it’ kind of thing you know.
Furthermore, I think it works on a principal of making gradual adjustments in where you’re placing your attention. Instead of attempting to go from chaotic mind to quiet, you advance to each level of focus by degrees. At least this is my theory of why it works for me. Probably there are as many reasons for having difficulty meditating and fixes for it, as there are people who are meditating. But because I’ve had such good results with this easy-peasy little technique, I thought I’d pass it on. I think it’s worth a try for anyone who finds themselves struggling to just settle down.
MUSIC HELPS WHEN YOU’RE HAVING DIFFICULTY MEDITATING!
The other thing that I always include in every meditation is the right music. I live in an apartment and while we’ve got great neighbours, there are always little sounds from next door or upstairs that can distract you. While your choice of music can change from time to time, right now I’m making use of two Youtube videos that just do it for me! I like to start off with excerpts from an address that Jim Carrey made to a graduating college class a couple years ago. I think it’s the coolest thing! Who knew a funny man could have such inspiring thoughts!
And when that’s done, I move over to this wonderful video of Tibetan Bowl music that’s going to give you enough music to keep you going for six hours! Not that I’ve ever heard the entire piece. Like which one of us can manage that right? After all, there’s the laundry! But, the point is, it takes your mind off the sounds around you for however long you do give over to meditating.
AND THEN THERE’S YOUR ACHING BACK!
Whenever you see photos of people meditating, they’re always deep in contemplation, seated on their mats in some lovely ashram. They don’t look like they’re having difficulty meditating. Just looking at the photo inspires you! Makes you want to plop yourself down and begin having all sorts of wonderful personal spiritual experiences!
Yessiree, with their eyes closed, a smile on their faces and their legs casually crossed in the lotus position, they look so peaceful and so relaxed! And for many of us, so impossible to emulate. Every time you try, it isn’t long and your knees are aching and your back is killing you! All you can think of is trying not to think of all the parts that hurt. Forget becoming aware of your deep and quiet inner spiritual life! That’s just not happening!
Did you ever read that wonderful book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘? Remember the part where Elizabeth Gilbert describes trying to meditate while ignoring the ravening hordes of mosquito’s who were treating her like the days feast? While there’s certainly merit in working towards achieving that depth of focus, most of us are a long way from that.
WHERE DID I PUT MY CUSHION!
I’ve been blessed with a pretty crooked body so sitting unsupported for meditating, is a no-go for me. What does work though, is my cushion laying on the floor right at the wall. By sitting on it with my back jammed up against the wall, I’m finally comfortable. I could sit there for an hour without any problems. Not that I’ve ever done that because… there is that pile of laundry! But the back support makes all the difference. Problems with your knees? Just swap out that cushion on the floor for a chair with good back support. The main thing is to get comfortable so that pain isn’t what you’re thinking about.
So just to pull the 3 tips together:
- Try the short breathing exercise, gradual breathe in, tiny pause, quick breathe out with a longer pause and do it 5 times.
- Make use of your favourite ‘meditation flavoured music’ to drown out the world!
- Find the most comfortable place to sit (where you won’t fall asleep because you’re too comfortable).
I hope that you’ve found this helpful. If you’re only thinking about giving it a try or you’re just starting out and are having difficulty meditating because of ‘monkey-mind’, or if you’ve been doing it for a while now, I’d love to hear your experiences! Who knows, maybe you could pass on another little ‘hack’ that would be useful to us. Don’t be afraid to comment, we’re here to learn from each other after all!
Love to you all and have a great day, wherever you are!
As always, I remind you that while I’ve spent the last 20 years focusing on and learning to ‘grow’ my own health, I’m not a medical doctor. What I’m sharing here is based on my own experiences and the things that I’ve learned from the real experts! Those are the researchers and doctors who’ve seen the actual patients, worked in the labs and write the medical reports that are sprinkled throughout these posts.
My goal is to motivate and help you find your best way to live a healthier and more peaceful life. I and Ageless at Sixty cannot be held liable for any resulting injury or adverse change in health status.
I also advise that any changes that might affect your health status be checked with your accredited physician. This would include changes to your exercise routines and any medications you might be taking or other supplements.
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