Let’s talk about your brain. So many people tell me “I tried meditating. I’m not any good at it.” And that makes me sad.
Here’s the thing: most people who feel like they “failed” at meditation only feel that way because they’ve been given bad information about what meditation really is. Let’s poke some holes in that narrative.
MYTH #1: The goal is to stop thinking. Your brain should be empty. (Nope.)
MYTH #2: You have to meditate for 30 minutes or more for it to help. (Nope.)
MYTH #3: You have to sit perfectly still in a pretzel position. (Nope.)
Some folks do have a practice of sitting quietly, mind relatively calm, for a long time. And that’s wonderful. But do you have to do that to receive the benefits of meditating? No. It can be so much more simple.
And I really like simplicity. So here’s my take:
- Meditation involves being aware in the present moment. The most common tool is to focus on each breath. Here’s where you might have gone off the rails. You get distracted and think “I suck at this.”
- But your brain is made to think. If you set a timer for one minute, it might wander off 1,000 times. THAT’S OKAY. Pretend your brain is a puppy and say “Come on back now. We’re just breathing.”
- Each moment you notice distraction and bring yourself back to your breath — with kindness — is the KEY moment. That’s you training your “present moment” muscle. It takes time, but all that matters is to practice.
- You can do this for 2 minutes a day and it will still benefit you.
- You can do this washing dishes, sitting at your desk, in bed. Most every new patient in my clinic is given the “prescription” of 25-50 calm, deep breaths before going to sleep.
- Or you can breathe while moving! The most profound meditation I ever experienced was during a walk in Golden Gate Park. I wasn’t trying to meditate. I just walked and tried to notice every tree. After a while my mind and breath got very quiet. The park was suddenly a place of magic. I wasn’t stressed anymore.
- I thought that was a fluke until years later, when I had the privilege of joining a walking meditation led by Thich Nhat Hahn, the great Buddhist monk and teacher. So if walking works for you, walk. If being in nature works for you, go outside. If yoga works for you, do yoga. You can live in the present moment in many ways.
Still struggling? Here are a couple of extra tips for you:
If you’re anxious, you might find that meditating with your eyes closed makes you feel worse. A stressed nervous system can shift into hypervigilance when it feels unsafe. The solution? Just keep your eyes open. Look a little bit in front of you and keep your gaze soft.
Also, some people benefit from guided meditation. This can help focus a busy brain, or help you meditate on something you want to cultivate in your life, such as gratitude, calm, or acceptance. There are so many great apps for this. I love Insight Timer, and I know many others who love Headspace or Calm. Check them out.
To sum up? You CAN meditate. Meditation brings more emotional calm, mental clarity, and resilience. Keep it simple, don’t try for perfection, and start with your breath, wherever you are.