6 things to try when you suck at meditation


Yes, yes, yes, I know. There is no “suck” when it comes to meditation. I’ve read the posts, the stories, the blogs about how there’s no being bad at meditation. Making the effort to sit down, focussing on your breathing and emptying your mind, that’s already half the battle.

Ok, I might not suck at it, but I don’t enjoy it. Earlier this year I tried it for three months. And I tried lots of different things from guided meditation, to focussing on my breathing to walking meditation. None of them worked for me. My nose itched. My back hurt. My scalp prickled. My mind was going 100 mph. It just didn’t do anything. I wasn’t more relaxed or felt I dealt with stress better. I usually sleep well anyway, so no change there. Instead it felt like the time I set for meditating was the time my worries lay in wait to ambush me. All. Of. Them. At. Once.

I gave up. Or to phrase it more positively, I refocussed my efforts to calm my mind. Instead of trying to meditate by emptying my mind, I decided to empty my mind by filling it. If you can’t beat it, embrace it. Here’s what helped me to focus and empty my mind:

1. Kneading dough

Yes, this one sounds weird. But I love the feeling of working dough with my hands. Doesn’t matter whether it’s for bread, cookies or scones. Feeling how it transforms under my hands grounds me. Not to mention the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked goods.

2. Knitting

Yes, knitting totally is the new yoga. There have been studies proving that. I love the repetitiveness of it. After a few rows of the same pattern my hands know what they’re doing and I switch off. I try to only knit with natural fibres like wool or cotton because they just feel so much nicer while I work them (Baby alpaca is my favourite) and the finished project has a touch of luxury. Though I guess more often than not it’s about the process and not the finished project. Whether you’re starting out or are a seasoned knitter, don’t be harsh on yourself. You’re doing this to relax. Do yourself a favour and try to leave the perfectionism out of it. If you want something easy and want extra guidance, check out Wool and the Gang. That’s where I usually buy my yarn from.

Side note: I also love to crochet, but I can’t do it as much as for some odd reason it tends to hurt my hand after a while.

Bonus points if you can knit at a beach, with a view of the sea. I find it impossible to be anxious at the beach.

3. Sewing

When I was a child my mum used to sew clothes for my Barbies and dolls. (Yes, I know, I’m incredibly lucky to have such a kickass mum.) I’d take the dolls to her “dressmaking studio”, we’d pick designs and then she’d start making them on the kitchen table. Mostly I sat next to her, playing or colouring. Now I love hearing the whirring sound of a sewing machine. When I started to sew little things myself, that love only intensified. There’s just something comforting about its white noise quality.

4. Doodling/drawing

I only recently got into this one. And if you follow me on Instagram (shameless self-promotion, I know) you’ll see some of my doodles. This one was really hard on my because I kept comparing my doodles to those of other people (mostly illustrators or just insanely talented humans or both) and to the real thing. And of course I felt my work came up short. But the more I’ve been doing it the more I’m managing to switch my brain off and to just do it for the process. It’s also a lot nice to do in summer or while you’re traveling as opposed to carrying yarn around.

PS: I only just started to call it ‘drawing’ and still am a bit reluctant to do so. Why? Because when an adult does it, ‘drawing’ sounds to me as if there’s some skill associated with it and I didn’t want to pressure myself into perfection, so I just called it doodleing. Nobody judges a doodle. That’d be just wrong!

Is it automatically a painting if you add watercolours? Painting sounds even more skilled than drawing. A painting is something you find in a museum. So I’ll stick with doodles.

5. Writing

Each day I’m trying to write for 10 minutes before starting my day. With pen and paper. I set a timer and just write. No reading back what I wrote, no attention to writing nicely or with correct spelling and grammar. And most importantly no judging what I write whatsoever. It was quite hard when I started but this exercise really did get easier over time.

When I went to a School of Life mini workshop recently they called this “Western Writing Meditation”. Instead of focussing to empty our mind by concentrating on our breathing, this empties the mind by exploring what’s in it. Instead of letting your thoughts pass, you embrace the reoccurring ones and examine them closely. They suggested a more elaborate version than my word-vomitting, as I like to call it.

Ask yourself the following questions and then write down the answers.

I love writing with a fountain pen and ink. What I love less is the mess I tend to make of my hands when I do.

6. Museums

This isn’t an everyday thing, but occasionally it’s a nice break. Luckily, I live in London and most museums are free. Wandering around among beautiful exhibits and soaking it all it is wonderfully relaxing. I don’t go from object to object and examine it closely. Quite the opposite. I drift around, letting my eyes and mind wander until something catches my eyes. And then I just look at it. Really look at it. Try to notice the details, observe it from different angles and just be absorbed by it.

Find what works for you.

All these things give my brain something to do. It’s nothing challenging, but it’s something that distracts it so that the deeper thoughts can emerge. It may sound counterintuitive, but doing “something”, actually helps me to think about nothing except be fully focussed on the task at hand. This might not work for you. For me it’s definitely related to the fact that I work on a computer all day and nothing I do at work has a tangible outcome. So just sitting there, doing nothing feels, at least physically, too close to what I do enough of anyway. To relax I create contrast. I make something with my hands .For you it might be going for a run, doing some yoga, walking your dog, or whatnot. That doesn’t matter just find what whatever works for you. Find the contrast to your daily life and embrace.