You've probably heard a lot of great things about the benefits of meditation – maybe even from your doctor – and perhaps you've decided to take back your morning by working this practice into your daily routine. It seems easy enough: Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. After 15 minutes your mind will be clear and you'll stand up a wiser, calmer person.
Only...not so much. The moment you sit down and close your eyes your mind starts taking advantage of you. You start remembering things you forgot to do, and then you begin to plan for that meeting you have later, and then you're reliving an argument from two weeks ago (and now you've got the perfect comeback!), and then you're worrying about the family, and then, and then, and then.
You try to yank your mind back to the breath, but it just flits off again. There's no turning it off and you start to get mad at yourself. Honestly, this mind - it has a mind of its own. Before you know it a rough emotion sweeps in and your meditation practice ends after 20 seconds on the first day. "I guess I'm not meant to be a wise or calm person," you say to yourself as you reach for your phone to watch a cat video.
If this scenario seems familiar to you, we have good news: you're not alone.
The purpose of meditation is not to clear your mind; it is to prepare your mind, body, and spirit to act with compassion for your day to come.
It is the nature of your mind to think in the same way it is the nature of your ears to hear. Being frustrated with your mind for thinking is about as productive as getting mad at your ears for hearing an unpleasant sound.
Just as a good musician trains her ear to know the difference between a sharp and a flat note, you can train your mind to recognize the kinds of thoughts you're having. And as you begin to notice the differences, you'll begin to relax around them, and they'll have less power over you.
This ability to hold yourself compassionately—regardless of what your mind is experiencing—is one of the reasons why medical practitioners recommend meditation. In fact, Psychology Today reports that doctors refer one in 30 Americansto activities like meditation and yoga.
"In the treatment of chronic problems, mindfulness techniques and practicing meditation in combination with medications and other treatments have been shown to improve goals of care, such as lowering blood pressure," says Dr. Priya Radhakrishnan, the chair of the internal medicine department at Dignity Health's St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. "In our fast paced society there is increasing evidence that switching our awareness from our devices to our minds and bodies will improve our physical and mental health."
When meditating, embrace how active your mind is
Catholic theologian Thomas Merton once said, "Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony."
Some mornings you'll sit down for your meditation and it'll be great, no problem sticking with the breath. But for those mornings when it's harder to find the balance and harmony, here are three things that can help you stick to your practice:
1. Walk it out: Sometimes sitting still is impossible. In these moments, try a slow walking meditation. You don't need a lot of space – the length of your room or a hallway will do. With each in breath, lift a foot. With each out breath, place that foot in front of you and shift your weight. Pace it with the natural flow of your breath and notice how amazing your body is.
2. Play with it: Meditation is an art. You'll want to play with different things to figure out what works for you. If paying attention to your breath is just not happening for you, try sound. Notice the rhythms of the traffic or the wind or even the kids playing in the next room. The only rule is to choose an object to focus on and stick with it during that meditation. When your mind wanders (and it will wander), come back to that anchor.
3. Be kind to yourself: Our thoughts can be truly enchanting. It feels really good to give into that fantasy about saving the world or winning an argument. But you might also be surprised to find a lot of angry, worried, or judgmental thoughts up in that mind of yours. This is when kindness for yourself is most needed. Remember, you aren't alone. There is no need to change what you're experiencing. Just notice – ah, I'm worried – and then return to your breath or to sound.
Over time, your meditation practice will build into a skill that you can rely on in both pleasant and unpleasant moments. By taking back your morning with a daily meditation you might find that the wiser, calmer person isn't so far away after all.