Many people tell me they just can’t meditate; I wholly respect and honor this feeling. Before I began investigating it, I felt the same way. Too restless, too busy, it’s boring. If I have 30 minutes to myself, I’d rather do something else. I get it. But before you toss out the possibility, let me encourage you to expand your definition of meditation. Begin where you are. Just tweak an element of something you already do.
In my experience, most of us try out meditation like speedboats: we are running around in our lives, we read somewhere about the benefits of meditation, decide we need to meditate to calm down, so we add that to our already overflowing to-do list. We say, “Ok, I am meditating, NOW,” then slam the power off, screech to a halt from full speed and sit there in the water, rocking vigorously and coasting and wondering why we can’t focus. And we get impatient and give up.
Perhaps think of getting prepared to meditate like turning a cruise ship: you need a long stretch of water and a wide berth to slow way down, turning off engines one-by-one.
Instead of going right to trying to go sit in a chair and settle down, why not try out some mindfulness activities for a while?
· Take a color walk once a week (without your phone). Pick a color like yellow or blue or silver and take a 15-20 minute walk trying to find as many unique objects or as many shades of that color as possible.
· Walk, bike, drive or take the same bus or train the same route every day? Try to find 1 - 5 things you have never noticed before. Someone changed the color of their house, that store is closed, that sign is broken, the person that is always on your bus cut their hair.
· If you are waiting in line, or in a waiting room, instead of going right for your phone,
pick a color again, or a letter, like “M”, and see how many things you can find that start with the letter “M.” Once you exhaust that, pick a different color or letter, or in you imagination try and think of as many things you can that are pink or start with “M.”
· Whenever you are in between tasks, like in between calls or emails or chores, take 10 seconds, take deep breath, and focus your attention on a body part you never think about, like your left pinkie toe or your right elbow. Learn as much about that elbow or toe as you can. You’ll notice you can focus a bit longer each time.
You’ll hopefully begin to see that these small changes help you slow your mind down a bit. It can help you notice habits of rumination, problem-solving or future-anticipating you might normally do on a walk or drive, and you should find yourself feeling a bit more present and refreshed afterward these little trial exercises.
I’ll offer more exercises in future posts, but try not skip ahead. Build a foundation of a few minutes of noticing. Like sit-ups, start small and build slowly over time. You are getting to know yourself in a new way, after years of reliance on a particular way of attending to your thoughts. An attitude of tender curiosity towards your thoughts will serve you better than trying to make yourself change them.