How to Create a Meditation Practice When Your Mind Won’t Stop Spinning
There are articles everywhere about meditation and all its benefits. It’s the cure to our restlessness, stress and anxiety. It helps us to be less reactive. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. So why aren’t more people practicing it? Everyone can think of a list of excuses for not meditating:
- I don’t have the time.
- I can’t get my mind to calm down.
- What’s the point?
- I’m not the kind of person who meditates.
- It’s not in accordance with my beliefs.
About fifteen years ago, the crazy busy mind of my Type-A personality wanted desperately to slow down. I remember asking my therapist at the time about meditation. How could I sit still and do nothing for more than a few minutes? Was it humanly possible to slow down the constant barrage of thoughts swimming in my head?
She suggested that I start small with a few breaths. That, I could do. Like any new habit, if you want it badly enough, you can make it happen one baby step at a time.
I started with simply sitting still and counting my breaths. My goal was to count to ten breaths without my mind drifting off. If it drifted, I started over. In many (well, most) sittings, I never made it to ten. I considered it a big win when I did. Then I challenged myself to repeat it in the same sitting. That took quite a while longer.
This process of sitting with myself and my breath was my (unknowing) introduction to mindfulness. Fifteen years ago, no one was talking about mindfulness. Only a few people were talking about meditation. Fortunately for us all, these ideas are growing quickly.
Benefits I’ve Seen from My Meditation Practice
The benefits I’ve reaped from a regular meditation practice are subtle yet powerful and continue to evolve. I never imagined that I could have a calm mind. Yes, at times it races around, screeching like the monkey mind it is. But now I can recognize this for what it is — it’s not me. It’s not who I am. It’s just a moment of craziness that I watch and patiently wait for it to pass. And it always does.
I’ve learned to differentiate my True Self from my monkey mind. My True Self speaks through my body, especially my gut. The monkey only screeches in my head. During meditation it’s much easier to tell the difference.
I now use my meditation time to ask my True Self about big decisions that I’m trying to make. When my body and mind are quiet, I can hear the subtle voices of my body that always know what’s best for me.
In my relationships, I’m much more comfortable with being honest in a compassionate way. I’m less worried about what others will think of me. Finding this new level of ease in speaking with others has significantly lowered my overall anxiety levels. It also allows me to communicate what I’m actually thinking and achieve the results I want more easily.
It may seem impossible that sitting for only ten or fifteen minutes most days could make all this happen. It didn’t happen overnight. Like everything else that’s worthwhile in life, it happened in baby steps. I’ve also noticed that the benefits seem to snowball — hard to detect at first and, later, hard to ignore. Life just gets easier to navigate, regardless of what’s being thrown at you.
I Don’t Think I Can Meditate
If you think you’ve never meditated before, you may be surprised. Have you ever paused in your day, closed your eyes and taken a few deep breaths? Bingo! You’ve meditated. It’s that simple.
If you can breathe, you can meditate.
Think you don’t have time? You don’t have to sit for an hour a day to feel its effects. I started with about 30 seconds (an excruciatingly long time when you’re a beginner with a busy mind). Sometimes I only have five minutes which is better than nothing.
When I make the time for meditation, I usually sit for about fifteen minutes. My left foot tells me when it’s been about fifteen minutes because it promptly falls asleep. I’m currently working through that to move to twenty minutes as I turn my focus from my breath to my foot to notice exactly what’s happening without trying to stop the pain. At some point, I end up moving my foot to get the blood flowing again.
Have a busy mind? Then meditation is exactly what you need. The goal of meditation isn’t to stop the busy mind. The goal is to notice the endless times that your mind wanders from your breath to the 60,000 thoughts that go through your brain every day. Your practice improves each time you catch yourself and shift back to your breathing.
After all these years of practicing, it’s a little easier for me to count to ten breaths without being distracted. I can’t do it every day, but it happens more often. My mind still wanders, but I judge the wandering less and objectively notice it before bringing it back to my breath.
Recently I’ve incorporated sound in my meditation. I’m a visual person so I think the sound helps to counter the visual images of my thoughts. I breathe in and, on the exhale, I hum or “say” Om with my mouth closed. The sound makes my exhale about three times longer than my inhale (without thinking about it). This action activates the sympathetic nervous system which increases the feelings of relaxation.
At its core, meditation is sitting in a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor with a straight back. Sit with dignity. Rest your hands in whatever position is comfortable for you. You can either close your eyes or maintain a soft gaze at a single object (candle, statue, etc.). Then simply breathe through your nose, focusing on your breath as the warm air exits your nostrils on the exhale and the cool air comes in and fills your lungs and sends energy throughout your body on the inhale. Don’t force the breath. Notice what it does on its own.
How Do I Start?
There are many different types of meditation out there. You’ll have to experiment to see which methods or combination of methods work for you.
For some beginners, listening to a guided meditation can help to stay focused. There are tons of these on YouTube and other meditation web sites.
For only $5 per month, you can have a meditation video emailed to you every day by going to Daily Meditation.
I recently tested a new and very popular app called Simple Habit that has a multitude of five to twenty minute guided meditations that you can use throughout your day. Just choose what you’re doing, and there’s a meditation for that. It also includes podcasts and tons of other info on meditation from a variety of teachers.
There are endless books, videos, courses and other resources out there to help you with your meditation practice. The choices can be overwhelming. One I found particularly helpful for all levels is Master Your Mind from LiveAndDare.com, a site devoted to meditation, where you can find answers to all of your questions about meditation.
The Master Your Mind program introduces you to a variety of meditation principles and techniques over the course of 35 days. The idea is to start you on a daily habit of meditating.
The first few days only ask you to meditate for 2–3 minutes each day. Anyone can do that. In addition to the actual meditation practice, the program helps you to establish triggers and other supports for your new habit. It also helps you manage the inevitable distractions that will come up.
Throughout the 35 days, you’ll be introduced to a variety of techniques as you grow your practice to 20 minutes each day. Although I’ve been meditating for many years, I learned more about how I can deepen my practice and gain more benefits from it.
There are also online forums and sixty days of email access to the creator of the program. While I would have expected the program to cost a few hundred dollars, it’s quite accessible at only $59 for lifetime access. That’s a small investment for a lifetime of returns.
Lately, I’ve been following the Master Your Mind program in the morning. During the day I use my Pomodoro timer or reminders on my phone to remind me to stop for a five to fifteen minute meditation break at work. During those breaks I’m using the Simple Habit app to keep my mind from wandering. It’s surprising how refreshed I feel after taking a meditation break in the middle of a hectic day.
Regardless of the one or many options you choose to help you start and maintain your practice, the key is to start. Then take the baby steps each day. Some days will be better than others. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. It happens. Each day is a new opportunity to begin again. It’s never too late.
Paige Burkes has come to understand that we need to find more effective ways of achieving our versions of happiness and success. The traditional methodologies are no longer working for us. In fact, they’re making us more stressed and less happy by the day. Paige works with companies, entrepreneurs and individuals to find and create their personalized versions of success. You can read more of her ideas for increasing your own happiness and success at Simple Mindfulness.