I Can't Meditate, My Mind Wanders!
Meditate or Medicate?
Are you one of the many who gave up on trying to Meditate because it was just too difficult? Were you frustrated that your mind just seemed to wander and could never be still, quiet or focused? Well, I'm here to give you a little pep talk, some encouragement that can perhaps convince you to try again.
As I've written previously in Stress and The Restless Mind, the mind is restless by nature; it wanders from thought to thought, goes on long tangents, and takes you to random, sometimes even dark places. Reoccurring, anxious thoughts and worries can lead to chronic stress and disease, so the need to help quiet them becomes quite critical. If you don't Meditate than the only other intervention left might be to Medicate and for some this is a last resort option. Others who choose medication can still benefit from meditation, but still, getting started is often too challenging and people give up too quickly, thus making the mistake of saying, "It doesn't work for me".
The Body-Mind; The Great Interrupters!
To start (again) with a Meditation practice, focus on the word, practice! This can help remind the achievement, goal-driven, overwhelmed, or easily frustrated parts of your brain that not all results occur immediately and one must take the time to practice, practice, practice. With a practice mindset, you can now sit & close your eyes.
"Now what? Breathing. I'm supposed to focus on my breathing. Ok, inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Am I even doing this right? This seems weird." Right there the restless mind wanders and makes a judgment. With your next breath think, "Inhale. Judgment. Exhale. Inhale. Let Go. Exhale." and continue this until the next time your mind wanders. Again, you can name it, "wandering", "judgement", "thinking" or whatever you want so that you acknowledge it consciously and let it go.
It's actually this kind of inner chatter that meditation begins to work in contrast to, so if anything to be aware of it's the baseline quality of such thoughts. If you are noticing a lot of negative and judgment coming up during your practice, this is a good indicator that your brain has been encoded with these types of messages and have become habitual. With your meditation practice and different things to focus on, you will be creating new habitual thinking patterns.
Also, it's probably wise to mention the body here. Since the mind and body are connected, we can definitely call it the Restless Body-Mind! As you sit, you may not only have distracting and wandering thoughts, but all of the sudden your body has this itch behind your back or this cramp in your leg, and oooh, pins & needles in my bum, a cough, a sneeze, "I just can't seem to sit still!" Your body's inability to relax is also a symptom of your anxiety and stress and needs to practice sitting still and being relaxed. If your body is really difficult to tame, you may want to add progressive muscle relaxation, stretching or other movement into your routine before or after your meditation. During your meditation, you'll want to resist all body urges as much as possible.
Shouldn't I be using an image, mantra, music or some other strategy to help me focus? The answer is YES! All of these can be positive to add into your practice as you see fit. Will you be doing it wrong if you don't? Absolutely not! The point is you don't need anything in order to sit, breath and just be, so don't think you have to wait to begin your practice until your new cushion, candle and CD's arrive from Amazon or until you are at home where no one is around and it is absolutely quiet. In fact, anytime you can steal away for 1-10 minutes throughout the day can help you build this meditative muscle and bring you closer and closer to desired results. Apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are bringing rich material like guided meditations with music or other sounds to our fingertips, ears and inner eyes! Your practice will always have somewhere to go, if you have one!
Force of Habit
So when should I expect to see results? When will my mind become calmer both during and after meditation? Research is showing that results can be achieved and felt instantaneously, but somehow this isn't everyone's experience. To this I would say a couple of things; first, you may not be fully aware or able to perceive the results you are actually creating deep within the brain. Perception is another complex function of the brain that varies greatly among individuals, so your actually better off believing that "Yes. I am making real change" (use that placebo effect). Secondly, the research tracking the formation of new habits reports that it can take up to 30 days before a new behavior can become a habit. I believe it's realistic to expect to see results and change on a spectrum over time and sometimes a much longer time that you or others might think. So like diet & exercise, meditation becomes another tool we add to our routines as part of a healthy lifestyle. Interestingly enough, what I never hear people ask is, "I've tried meditation and I've achieved all I feel I really can from it, what else is there?" This is to say that once the habit is there, there's this irresistible urge to keep going, to learn, grow and heal more. Wouldn't you call that progress? I would. May we all be well.