“I can’t meditate. I can’t stop my mind from thinking. It’s way too hard!”
I hear this fairly often from people who are new to meditation, and sometimes even from people who have been practicing meditation for quite a while.
I have a real soft spot for people who are struggling to find the inner peace that meditation provides, because I know from first-hand experience just how frustrating it can be when that monkey in your mind REFUSES to sit still.
If you feel like you can’t meditate, do not despair! The solutions are probably a lot simpler than you might think. In fact, there’s a good chance that you are better at meditation than you realize. You might just have fallen victim to one of the most common misconceptions about what meditation actually is…
It’s NOT Perfect Inner Silence
This might seem like a controversial statement to some people, but I believe it wholeheartedly.
Newcomers to meditation often become trapped by the belief that they must achieve complete and utter mental silence through meditation. This can really lead to frustration and disappointment. Some people, after practicing meditation for a few weeks, or even for some months, still find it extremely difficult to stop their mind from wandering off.
You know what? This is NORMAL! It does not mean that you are unable to meditate.
So let’s re-define what meditation is, shall we? Meditation is not “complete mental stillness”, it is “sitting with the intention of becoming still”.
That’s right – meditation is not a destination, it’s a journey. The journey will be slightly different every time you meditate. Sometimes it will result in a feeling of profound stillness and relaxation, sometimes it won’t. Meditation is just not something you can judge in terms of success or failure.
So don’t judge yourself harshly if your mind wanders during meditation. This is normal, and even the most experienced meditators still get lost in a few “mental wanderings” during their meditation…sometimes more than a few.
Now is the time to remove the phrase “I can’t meditate” from your vocabulary. You can meditate, you might just have been holding on to a false idea of what meditation is supposed to feel like.
If you are really struggling with meditation, then my best advice is that you take a step back and don’t try too hard. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. If your mind wanders off during meditation – and it will – remember that this is perfectly OK. For some people, this simple realization is enough to take the pressure off their meditation practice and make room for a more relaxed approach to meditating. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way!
Over time, you will find that brief moments of silence between your thoughts gradually expand into longer and longer moments, and then one day, before you realize it, you’ll find yourself lost in bouts of long, deep, serene meditation. It does get easier.
Regularity is Your Friend
If you want to make great progress with meditation then it’s important to meditate regularly. If you sit to meditate just once or twice a week you may find that you don’t really gather enough momentum to experience the type of deep inner stillness that we all yearn for.
Any meditation is better than none, so if you only meditate occasionally then you still deserve a big pat on the back for making time for such a healthy practice! You will still experience many of the benefits of meditation, however if you wish to become someone who can find stillness and peace in all moments of life, and someone who has the ability to achieve very deep states of relaxation, then daily meditation is a must.
Think you can’t meditate? Practice it daily and you will notice big changes. They happen in a sneaky kind of way. You might not even notice at first. But sure enough, the day will soon come where you reach the end of a meditation session and the first words that come to your mind are, “Whoa! I feel amazing!”
Chronic Stress & Lifestyle Change
Sometimes when someone says “I can’t meditate”, what they really mean is “My life is out of control, and I am so stressed that I am incapable of sitting still for just 5 minutes”.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal put it nicely when he said: “The sum of man’s problems come from his inability to be alone in a silent room.”
You’d be amazed how many people this applies to. For them, meditation can be a real challenge.
If you live a particularly hectic, stressful life, then meditation will be incredibly beneficial to you. However it might not be a cure-all. If you are chronically stressed then a quick meditation session at the end of your day might not be enough to really bring you back to a state of complete health and harmony.
My advice in this matter may be contrary to what many websites will tell you about meditation. The world is full of people who will promise you “instant relaxation”, or “super deep meditation at the touch of a button. It’s time for a reality check. Your mind is NOT a machine. You cannot switch it on or off instantly, and for most people, deep states of meditation are not achieved overnight.”
People who are chronically stressed usually became so gradually. Stress builds up in your mind, your emotions and your physical body, and it can accumulate over a long period of time. Ridding yourself of this kind of stress can take time, and it may require a number of changes to your lifestyle.
I like to use the “hitting yourself in the head with a hammer” analogy to really drive this point home:
John spends his days hitting himself in the head with a hammer. He does this all day, seven days a week. As you can imagine, John’s head gets very sore, so every night he applies an ice pack for 20 minutes to reduce the swelling. This is his meditation, and it works quite well. The swelling goes down just enough for him to get some sleep. And boy oh boy does he need that sleep! Without a good night’s rest he won’t have the energy to hit himself in the head with a hammer again tomorrow.
I think you get the point. John doesn’t need more meditation or some magical “quick fix”. What he really needs to do is change his stressful lifestyle and stop hitting himself with a hammer all day!
Unfortunately for John, if we were to tell him to put down his hammer and go for a relaxing walk outside, or to take a nice warm bath, he would probably say, “I’m way too busy to spare any more time for relaxation!”
Ironically, people who feel this way about relaxation are usually the ones who need it the most. Even worse, some people are so incredibly busy that they do not even realize how chronically stressed they really are. It’s not until they try meditation that they realize how much noise and calamity is roaring around in their mind. The noise is so overwhelming that their conclusion is “I can’t meditate. This is way too hard”.
That’s an erroneous conclusion. A more accurate and beneficial conclusion sounds something like this:
“Wow. My mind is out of control. This can’t be normal or healthy. I need to change my life and make relaxation a much higher priority”.
You Can Meditate!
Inner stillness is actually a very normal, very natural part of life. Look into the eyes of a newborn baby and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The stillness you were born with never left you. That profound peace is within you right this very moment, but you have probably piled up a lifetime of noise around it.
To go beyond that noise and reclaim your own inner stillness requires very little in the way of effort. All you really need is the intention to be still and the desire to experience peace in your life. Let your meditation flow from this intention. Let your choices in life flow from this desire and you will know stillness again.
Christopher Lloyd Clarke
Founder of The Guided Meditation Site.