Ideas for those who think meditation doesn’t work… but still desperate to find peace.
For the last decade or more, various celebs and gurus have promoted meditation as the must-have wellness tool. Now it’s everywhere, from the corner café to the workplace. They’re even teaching it in schools.
Which makes it even more frustrating for those who can’t meditate. Everyone seems to be doing it, even 9 year-olds. What do these people know or have, that you don’t?
Why is meditation so hard, when the concept is so simple?
For about a year or so, I had difficulty meditating – I thought it would be like learning a new recipe, I just needed to follow some instructions. At the most I thought it might be like learning to swim, something quite alien but with persistence would just happen. So I sat on the floor cross-legged, sometimes in grassy fields, over and over again, waiting for peace to arrive – but it didn’t.
I thought maybe if I paid for a subscription to the popular app Headspace, that would work. But all I could hear was my inner voice telling me how irritating Andy’s outer voice was, so I gave it up.
“Sit quietly and just connect with yourself” they say. Yeah right!
In the end I realised I had the wrong end of the stick in several ways. Now I can actually meditate.
If you’re frustrated with trying to meditate, I get it. Here I’ve listed a few techniques that might help you approach things from different angles and find what works.
1 – Forget the idea that you have to stop thinking
The aim is to get into a state of relaxation where you are not running away with the constant chatter bouncing around in your head.
It doesn’t mean that thoughts disappear completely, or having zero thoughts.
It’s when we try to stop thinking that makes meditation so hard. It creates a war with ourselves, which in turn creates more thinking.
So instead of focussing on ‘not thinking’, focus on relaxing instead. That way you can start detaching from your uncontrollable thinking mind.
“Meditation is not about seeing nothing or that your mind begins to stop, it’s all about becoming the observer and the witness of your thoughts,” says Lou Stokes, Style & Confidence Coach.
Lou spent time living in a buddhist monastery 19 years ago, where meditation became her daily ritual, and ended up training as a meditation teacher. “I can’t imagine life without meditation,” she says. “It’s medicine for the soul.”
2 – Give it just 1 minute of your time
Try limiting yourself to the deep breathing that’s normally done at the beginning of a meditation routine. Whilst doing a deep breathing exercise (especially the diaphragmatic type where you fill the belly like a balloon), the racing mind shuts off. Yes, it will fight tooth and nail to come back, but you can survive for one minute without it.
By doing this, you are training the ‘thinker’ in you to understand that you don’t need it in your life 24/7. When you are comfortable with that, you can expand to 2 minutes, 3 minutes and so on.
Alternatively, spend 60 seconds focussing on the sensation in one of your hands. Many meditation routines involve sensing or scanning the body, moving from one part to the next. This can be a tall order for a beginner. Sensing the just the hand for one minute, without making judgements about it, counts as meditation.
Now you can stop saying to yourself “I can’t meditate” once and for all, because you can!
3 – Let Barry Long trick you into not thinking
Thinking is a psychological disease, a madness affecting just about everyone. It is the cause of worry and all unhappiness.Barry Long
The secret to meditation is realising that you are not your thoughts. You might even understand this on an intellectual level, but still not really know it. That’s where Barry Long comes in.
If you’re not keen on the ‘woo-woo’ aspect of meditation, or if visualising yourself floating on a cloud doesn’t work for you, Barry Long (one of Ekhart Tolle’s influences) could be the teacher for you. From Australia, he had a no-nonsense, honest approach to meditation which was also at times, cunning.
In his recording “How to stop thinking” he somehow creates separation between yourself and the thoughts you have, without you realising.
So, sit back, put your headphones on and let Barry take care of it.
Listen to “How to stop thinking.”
4 – Watch someone restoring an old Louis Vuitton clutch bag
Zen Buddhists practice calligraphy as a way of entering the ‘no-mind’ state and connecting with the real self. You may have experienced this if you practice an art or craft.
But even without picking up a brush or pencil, you can still get into a ‘no-mind’ meditative state – by watching someone else practice their craft.
On YouTube you can find videos – without commentary – where you can immerse yourself in the sensuous sounds, textures and close up visuals of someone mindfully paying 100% attention to their craft.
Watch two hands restoring a clutch bag:
5 – Listen to a talk by a ‘non-duality’ speaker
Looking for ‘being’ is believing that it is lost. Has anything been lost, or is it simply that the looking obscures?Tony Parsons
It is the identification with the voice inside our heads that causes stress, worry and anxiety. The key to entering a meditative state is the understanding that you are not your thoughts.
A non-duality speaker might say that “there is no such thing as a ‘me’ that thinks”, and that “thinking just happens”.
When the sense of there being an individual controlling things in the world is no more, what is left is liberation. Listening to Tony Parsons or Adreas Müller, can give you a sense of that liberation even if only for a brief minute or two.
6 – Soak up some noise
This is probably the easiest and most accessible way to get into meditation.
You don’t need peace and quiet to meditate, in fact you can actually use the sounds that happen to be around you, even the sound of traffic or roadworks. You can do this literally anywhere.
The key is to remain still, and focus only on the sounds. Closing your eyes helps. Open your ears and let the sounds ‘fall in’.
I used to do this on the train to work, focussing my attention on the sound of the wheels on the track. You could do it in a hospital waiting room, at a bus stop, or even queuing at the supermarket check out. So not only are you meditating, you’re making good use of your time as well.
7 – Use a time machine
Trying to keep up with the racing mind is exhausting. Sometimes all we need is a break from ourselves and to stop excessive thinking.
I’ve found that watching restored film footage of real people going about their daily lives in the 1800s and early 1900s stops me thinking and being caught up in my own daily concerns. I’m not sure that you could call it meditation, but it’s a great way to switch off the mental gymnast after an intense day working.
Nothing disrupts the mind more than looking through a time portal and having people from 1901 staring straight back at you.
8 – Hug a tree, watch a bee, stand barefoot on the grass and breeeeeeath
Yes, all that good hippy stuff.
I thought I was the last person on earth who would ever hug a tree, until a friend forced me to do it. To my astonishment, I didn’t die of embarrassment but instead discovered it was one of the best things ever. The ‘me’ thoughts faded and I felt at peace for a whole minute.
It seems that when we really connect with nature, we disconnect from the thinker.
Other ways to connect with nature:
- Watch long grass swaying in the wind
- Observe a bee or an ant going about it’s daily business
- Stand on grass barefoot with your feet rooted to the earth and breath deeply
Loose clothing and mantra not required
There is no right or proper way to meditate, and no one-size-fits-all set of instructions.
If you’re having trouble meditating, remember the basic idea is to disconnect from the thinking mind by putting your attention on sensations and sounds.
A final bit of meditation advice from Lou Stokes:
First of all: stop thinking it’s hard, change your mindset around it. I would say try it for five minutes for a few days and then increase the time you meditate for gradually. Guided meditations are always a good way to start too.
Photo: Mitchell Griest