Your mindfulness journey and success
July 20, 2016 8:16 PM   Subscribe

For a number of reasons, I have embarked on a journey to really cultivate some mindfuless in my life. I'm attempting to do 10 minutes of meditation every day, and I'm finding it very challenging - your tips, experiences and eventual success would be very helpful to me.

This is something I feel that I need; I have a problem with being thoughts rather than having thoughts, and I'm aware of feeling and acting considerably better when I'm more mindful.

I know that one can be mindful outside of meditation, and I'm working on that, too, but where I could use some help is the meditation stuff.

Things I'm struggling with:
1) During my workday is the most helpful time for meditation, but finding somewhere private is challenging and I feel like a total weirdo/vulnerable sitting in a lounge where people can see me with my eyes closed.

2) Give or take, my mind wanders like an absolute mofo and I know it's meant to, but I battle with feelings of frustration/impatience with it.

3) I also feel like there's a bit of a clash between 'just let it happen, don't force anything, observe your thoughts' and 'gently guide your concentration back to your breath' or whatever. It's like, don't force anything, but also don't let this thing happen.

4) Feelings of failure or inability to do it, creating space gives room for negative thoughts to lumber in..

I'm doing guided meditations for what's it's worth, I'm useless without them except in very particular circumstances. I've been doing it every day for over a week now, but I've kinda dabbled on and off for years, so I've read a lot, Kabat-Zinn etc. It's practice, not knowledge, I'm struggling with.

Have you done your own mindfulness journey? How did it go, when/if did you feel it started to really help you and/or felt a bit easier?

Did you grapple with any of the challenges of outlined above? What helped?

Has mindfulness made a really positive difference to you and your life? I'd love to know about it, it will help inspire me to persist. Thanks very much.
posted by smoke to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
1) During my workday is the most helpful time for meditation, but finding somewhere private is challenging and I feel like a total weirdo/vulnerable sitting in a lounge where people can see me with my eyes closed.

I was in an urban area where this was easy, but finding an open church and sitting there for 20 minutes at lunch worked well for me, since it just looked like I was praying (and I figured meditating was an appropriate use of a church space).

3) I also feel like there's a bit of a clash between 'just let it happen, don't force anything, observe your thoughts' and 'gently guide your concentration back to your breath' or whatever. It's like, don't force anything, but also don't let this thing happen.

Switching from "changing" to "noticing" helped me. "I have to change where my mind is going!" to "I'm noticing my mind wandering."
posted by lazuli at 8:36 PM on July 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

I struggled with several guided mindfulness meditations until I tried headspace. If you haven't tried the free into sessions, I highly recommend it. The intro sessions are very guided and don't try to advance the practice immediately to some complex emotional being thing. At first you're really just trying to be present in the moment. Following that meditation for a month had huge benefits for me in tons of facets of my life. It's a multi month progression to the type of stuff you're mentioning that doesn't feel forced. It made no sense to me without Headspaces guided beginning and middle.
posted by Kalmya at 8:38 PM on July 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

1) During my workday is the most helpful time for meditation, but finding somewhere private is challenging and I feel like a total weirdo/vulnerable sitting in a lounge where people can see me with my eyes closed.

The most helpful time for meditation is whenever you can find a slot that actually lets you do it. Meditation is not like aspirin: you can't apply ten minutes of meditation to a few hours of workplace stress and expect to gain a lasting benefit. Meditation, when practised regularly, changes who you are. That's not a thing that happens quickly.

If your current practice is ten minutes per day, you'd be better off prioritising privacy and lack of external distractions over trying to find the "most helpful time". Do it at home.

2) Give or take, my mind wanders like an absolute mofo and I know it's meant to, but I battle with feelings of frustration/impatience with it.

Learning to meditate is like learning any new bodily skill. You are going to suck at it for a very long time before you start feeling even slightly competent. Do it anyway.

On the upside, incompetence at meditation, unlike incompetence at playing drums, doesn't distress the neighbours :-)

3) I also feel like there's a bit of a clash between 'just let it happen, don't force anything, observe your thoughts' and 'gently guide your concentration back to your breath' or whatever. It's like, don't force anything, but also don't let this thing happen.

"Don't let this thing happen" is an unhelpful mindset. What you need to be practising is just noticing when it does happen, followed by a conscious choice to make something else happen right afterwards i.e. a return to concentration on the breath.

The only way to not let attention loss happen would be to remain hypervigilant about its precursors. However, any kind of hypervigilance is itself a distraction from attention to the breath.

So in fact you have no way to not let loss of attention happen. Nobody has that. What meditation practice can build, given enough of it, is a mode of brain function where this loss of attention simply does not happen. There is no "let". There is only training.

4) Feelings of failure or inability to do it, creating space gives room for negative thoughts to lumber in.

Yes, that will happen. The game is: when you notice it happening, use that act of noticing as a trigger to return your attention to the breath.

I'm doing guided meditations for what's it's worth, I'm useless without them except in very particular circumstances.

Useless by what criterion? Sitting for ten minutes with your eyes closed, doing nothing but returning to paying attention to your original object every time you notice that it has wandered elsewhere, is the whole game.

You don't actually need the external distraction of a voice reminding you what to do. Give that up until you can sit still and pay attention to your breath for ten minutes straight without beating yourself up when your attention wanders and without noticing that you think you're bored.

I've been doing it every day for over a week now

So that's what, a couple of hours total? And you expect to be good at it already? Not realistic. Expect to suck at it instead. That way you can suck at it with full-hearted enthusiasm and without needing to beat yourself up.

It's practice, not knowledge, I'm struggling with.

With meditation as with any other difficult skill, making it look easy is the hard part.

At this point in your practice, I recommend more emphasis on finding a regular ten minute slot in your day when you can be somewhere as private and quiet and distraction-free as possible. Continued practice is more likely when you don't have to deflect an entire external world to get it done.
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on July 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

I didn't really "get" the experience of mindfulness in everyday life until I read "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer. I really resonate with your experience. When I read your question, his book is the first thing that pops into my mind to recommend. I know you're not looking for books, but it's not theoretical or mind candy. It's not a "how-to." It explains, in a very accessible and concrete way, exactly what mindfulness is and is not. I'm still amazed at my experience - how reading it shifted my consciousness into a place of complete presence and calm. Not 100% of the time, of course, but it gave me a frame of reference I didn't have before. Something clicks in me when I read it, it's like something aligns for me in a way that other books and Headspace just didn't. Not that other things aren't valid - this stuff is universal but very personal in some ways. Different things work for different people. It's like..... it's simple but not obvious. And his book cuts to the core of what's right in front of my face but somehow I can't always see it.

When I say I didn't really "get it" I mean I didn't really feel seated and present with a capital P. My mind is always running. Headspace helped, but I kept feeling like I was doing it wrong.

I do have a lot of experience with meditation, living in the desert and going to school there, having a spiritual teacher and such. Back then it was much easier for me to slip into a state of mindfulness, because where I lived, the pace of life was much slower and I was surrounded by like-minded people and chasing a dream which I felt really good about. Now I live in a much more urban area, in the "real" world, with demands in life I didn't have back then, and this upped the challenge of being mindful in a way that felt pretty much impossible for me. But really, it isn't impossible.

I could have written all these questions myself! This ended up being a novel, sorry for my wall of text....

1) During my workday is the most helpful time for meditation, but finding somewhere private is challenging and I feel like a total weirdo/vulnerable sitting in a lounge where people can see me with my eyes closed.
* Do you work somewhere where you can take a walk? Even if it's not a quiet walk, switching your environment can help get into another headspace.
* Are you open to coloring? Adult coloring books are pretty popular where I am and might occupy your mind enough to let go of some of those thoughts, if you're open to that.
* Do wear a watch with an alarm that can be set? Setting it every so often might help you remind yourself to be mindful in the moment. Obviously best with a silent/vibrating alarm.

2) Give or take, my mind wanders like an absolute mofo and I know it's meant to, but I battle with feelings of frustration/impatience with it.
* When this happens to me, I imagine my mind as a very cute and very untrained puppy, generally a boxer puppy because I love boxers, but sometimes a yappy small dog with sharp teeth if I'm feeling particularly irritated. It takes the frustration away because ohmygodlookathisadorableface, but also because puppies are just gonna puppy, and minds are just gonna.... get frustrated.
* Not that this applies to you, but I'm a perfectionist, big time - and I get super frustrated and impatient, but it's because I want to get it right. The only way out of the binary thinking is to experience yourself in that state without judgement. Have you ever worked with challenging people? Trained a puppy? It's kind of like that. But your mind is the challenging child who won't stop throwing a fit. Or the puppy who just peed on the floor five minutes after you brought him out for a walk. The idea is to have compassion for yourself. Not read about the compassion, or think about compassion, but see yourself as the fitful individual or untrained puppy. To open your heart to yourself with compassion instead of closing in judgement. This isn't a concept - it's an energy that you can literally feel.

3) I also feel like there's a bit of a clash between 'just let it happen, don't force anything, observe your thoughts' and 'gently guide your concentration back to your breath' or whatever. It's like, don't force anything, but also don't let this thing happen.
* I can so relate to this! You know... I realized that some people learn formally how to meditate, sitting and everything, and for me... I needed to have the experience of what mindfulness truly feels like before telling my body how to breathe. For me it felt like I was forcing something; I got caught up in the tension that you describe in #3. So... I learned how to knit. And eventually I got to a place where my mind just... stopped. No thoughts, no nothing. A place where I was kind of watching myself learn this new skill. The only way I can explain this is to say, that learning to knit kept my mind occupied enough to keep the negative thoughts away, yet was simple enough to not really think about.
* Swimming is like this (for me), but of course I can't swim in the middle of a workday. But I realized that I could fake my mind out. I remembered this thing I learned about the mind not knowing the difference between thoughts and reality. I will sometimes imagine myself underwater, swimming and weightless and (this is the key) completely absorbed in what I'm doing and nothing else - swimming. It's something that momentarily takes my mind away from the present because I become absorbed in the thought (which, admittedly, isn't mindful) BUT it serves the purpose of shifting my consciousness in the moment. For me, swimming feels like going with the flow and not fighting the process. If you do something in your life that just "flows" then you can use that to train your mind to stay present. I'm not a great swimmer, I'm actually a terrible swimmer and I'm still learning, but that makes it even better - I swim without judgment, and somehow I don't drown : ) It's the same with your mind. Practice, practice, practice - you won't drown. You can't.
* When I REALLY can't get out of it, I ask myself, "What if there were no failures in life, only successes? Even those things that I think I failed at?" I mean, really, who's the judge? There is none. You can't fail at existing, and really that's all we're doing.

4) Feelings of failure or inability to do it, creating space gives room for negative thoughts to lumber in..
* In Singer's book, he talks about a roommate that just.... takes over your entire apartment. Uninvited. Doesn't care, has no boundaries, has no regard. A difficult, challenging person to live with. Treats you like crap sometimes. Says horrible things sometimes. Is completely neurotic and needy most of the time. And once you realize that your mind is like the roommate you can't get rid of but must reconcile with, the frustration and impatience goes away. Because.......
* .......That voice in your head with those negative thoughts? It isn't you. And once you realize that.... you can't really go back. It's truly life changing. He says that "the prerequisite to true freedom is to decide that you do not want to suffer anymore” and I think there's so much wisdom in that - it's so empowering. We tend to think of suffering as something acute, physical in nature and terrible, but sometimes it's a lot of little things that you don't really think about... that eventually add up to a lifetime of inattention.

* I'd also recommend Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.

Good luck, and thank you for posting the question!
posted by onecircleaday at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Are there any temples or similar places in your area that you can go to before/after work? I know that you said during the workday would be best, but I sometimes find thoughts crop up about work after the work day is over, and something like this might help.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:38 AM on July 21, 2016

I have been experimenting with walking meditations. Is there a long corridor in your building or a park path nearby?
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:44 AM on July 21, 2016

Ask around your hippie friends if someone wants to be your accountability buddy, or join a time-bounded challenge of some kind.

Doing a 40 day meditation challenge with a friend really helped me "get it" that meditation was just something I was gonna do every day, like brushing my teeth. I don't have to be AWESOME at brushing my teeth. I just have to do it every day and it will work. Same thing-- non-negotiable and not something to freak out about the quality of. You're in it for the long game.

And, yes, I am a better person if I meditate every day. But journalling and coloring and knitting and quiet walks and other mindful activities that aren't formal meditation also help. Try a combo of long-term practice building and emergency deep-breath / go take a walk triage.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:06 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I should mention that maybe the guided meditations are making you feel like you are not doing it right when you your brain doesn't want to follow their instructions. Ain't nobody got time for that! Maybe try something as easy as counting your breaths to ten and then resetting, noticing when you get distracted by your thoughts-- or repeating a mantra like "inhale (let) exhale (go)" (cheesy but powerful) or alternate nostril breathing to structure your experience instead.

Also-- ten minutes isn't the golden rule. You could try for three minutes after you wake up, or in a single stall bathroom at work, or in your car-- it doesn't need to be a whole production to be effective if you do it every single day.
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:11 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got to this really slowly but now I usually meditate in the 10-15 minutes per day thing. I usually do it either right when I wake up or right before I go to bed. What was helpful for me was just starting by building space. That is, as part of my anxiety management generally I built in a 40 minute buffer in the morning before I'd do anything with a screen. No checking email, no phone anything, nothing. It sucked at first. I'd set a timer and leap right on when the alarm went off, but over time it's helped me find space in my life generally and I think it helps me prioritize my life over my work.

So doing that first and then I found "Hey I can slot meditation in there" I also found Headspace's intro stuff to be helpful for the idea of getting in a rhythm. They are very good at building incrementally and having small bits of advice within a larger structured routine. The things that helped me are

- everyone has intrusive thoughts, this is definitely ok and normal, learning to not let them take over is the thing to work towards. You can note all your bad feelings and let them drift out and feel normal about that.
- just push them out of the way with kindness and grace, don't get mad at yourself, your thoughts etc (and yes this is hard when you feel you ARE your thoughts) look at them like clouds in the sky, a brief notice and let them pass
- meditation is a practice, not a goal-oriented thing. Some days are better and some are less good. We all muddle forward. When I've got a busy day I sometimes just try to do it for 3-4 minutes. Anything helps.

When my Headspace free trial ran out I decided to see what else was available (My AskMe) and I use a combination of apps now mostly. Two that I really like are buddhify (cost a few bucks but worth it) which has a lot of situational meditations like for being at work or going to sleep, and stop breathe think. There's also one called Smiling Mind which is a very friendly app that also had meditations designed for younger people which sometimes I find helpful, they're more basic, more supportive. I'll be honest, I dislike an awful lot of guided meditation. I listened to one this morning that was all about letting your divine consciousness run your business. Finding a good fit was the most important part of this to me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 AM on July 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

Mr K and I find Pema Chodron's writings and video talks very helpful. Finding a teacher who resonates with you, rather than bouncing around and trying everything simultaneously makes it easier. Some specifics:

1) Our meditation practice became regular when we instituted one rule: "Can't start the coffee until we've meditated for 10 minutes." We want the coffee. We get it after we meditate, so we meditate first thing.

2) Remember that the purpose of meditating (for us, this is not true for everyone who meditates) is to train ourselves -- to practice -- being mindful. So we sit, our minds wander, we notice and go "Ah, my mind is thinking thinking thinking" and let the thinking go. We aren't trying not to think, but to notice when we are thinking.

3) The reason for training in mindfulness (again, this is for us, others have different goals) is so that during the day, when we find ourselves reacting, and judging, and thinking things or people are So Wrong --- sometimes we realize "thinking thinking thinking" and are able to let it go and just be in the moment with compassion. Sometimes!

Important Rule: Doing is all. Doing it right -- meh.

Peace, my friend.
posted by kestralwing at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you done your own mindfulness journey? How did it go, when/if did you feel it started to really help you and/or felt a bit easier?

Oooh, boy, yes. I experimented with mindfulness several years ago (mostly body scan meditations via assorted apps and podcasts, I think there was a Meditation Oasis podcast that I really liked). It did not provide general day-to-day benefits in my life but did provide me with the body scan as a really good way of focusing my mind so that it couldn't be running around in anxiety circles, which has proven really useful for helping me do airplane travel - much less panic on take-off and landing when I'm focusing on a body scan. So, useful at the time in an extremely limited way. More recently, about two years ago a difficult and traumatic event happened in my life and left me with a lot of anxiety and PTSD. One of the ways I tried to deal with that was by taking another shot at mindfulness, first via Jon Kabat-Zinn's "Full Catastrophe Living" book, then via the Headspace app, and by ultimately by taking an eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. At that specific time, with those specific tools, mindfulness really worked out very well for me - I credit it as one of the primary things that saved my sanity during that time and in the year or so following. More recently, mindfulness is still a tool I pick up when I feel my life getting hard or difficult, but I've felt less need for it as a daily sort of practice.

All of which is to say that I wonder if it might not be helpful to think of it more as an exploration than a journey - you're not so much travelling toward One Right End Point and when you get there you'll have Achieved Your Goal. It's more, there is a tool here, you're going to spend some time finding out some different ways to use that tool, maybe you'll find some areas where it helps you, and that would be great. Maybe down the road you'll find that specific use of the tool isn't so great for you anymore, but you've since started to have this other problem over here, what if you turned mindfulness 45 degrees to the left and tried using it this other way? It can be an evolving tool for an evolving life. (Ugh, what a terrible thing to have said. My meditation teacher would have loved it. Did I mention that at one point halfway through that eight-week class I wrote a poem about what would happen if the class had turned upon her and eaten her to gain her inner peace?)

Did you grapple with any of the challenges of outlined above? What helped?

Absolutely! Almost everyone does! That's one of the ways the class setting can be helpful, should you have access to and interest in an MBSR-type course - it's fascinating to hear everyone having so many of the same struggles, albeit different variations. It can be really heartening to know that you're not Doing Something Wrong so much as going through a process that's similar for many people.

As far as your specific struggles - yeah, your mind wanders. Meditation is never going to stop your mind wandering. It may alter how you feel about your mind wandering, and how you respond to it. Feelings of frustration and impatience are part of mindfulness. Reminding myself of that helped me some. I also liked an image that the above-mentioned teacher shared with us, of thinking about your brain as a basket of extremely wiggly very young puppies. You cannot control the puppies. The puppies are puppies, and they're gonna do what puppies do, and spill over the basket in every direction. You wouldn't yell at the puppies or hit the puppies, they're not bad for doing what they are. They're just doing what it's in their nature to do. What you can do is gently scoop them up and redirect them back to their basket, maybe see if you can find some amusement in yourself about the process or some interest in compassion in how hard they want to explore, and perhaps over time the puppies will get a bit calmer and stay in their basket a bit more. Mindfulness is that whole process of watching the puppies, exploring how you feel about the puppies, redirecting the puppies, and trying to be forgiving of yourself and the puppies if they just keep getting away sometimes because that's never not going to happen. Also trying to be forgiving of yourself for sometimes being unable to be forgiving of yourself!

I also think it was really helpful for me to learn that mindfulness does not HAVE to be "sitting still with your eyes closed for ten minutes watching your thoughts." It can be "eating your lunch alone, with as few interruptions as possible, and trying to really focus in on the sensory experiences of eating your lunch." It can be walking meditation - I haven't experimented with that as much, but it is a thing, and might be a thing for you to look at if meditating in the office is just not a good situation for you. It can be a more structured sort of guided meditation - a body scan or a lovingkindness meditation, maybe - where you are really getting very specific instructions all the way through about what to think about and focus on, that may help you feel a bit less like your thoughts are flying in every direction. It can be one or two minutes at a time, spread out over the day, instead of ten or twenty dedicated minutes. Often my mindfulness practice was whatever amount of time I had to stand at the bus stop in the morning. Hell, these days, for me it looks like "scattered bits of practice here and there when life gets particularly difficult, and then four times a year I go to an all-day silent meditation retreat that I have free access to as an MBSR graduate."

Has mindfulness made a really positive difference to you and your life? I'd love to know about it, it will help inspire me to persist. Thanks very much.

I absolutely think that mindfulness was part of what kept me sane during that particularly terrible patch. I probably started to feel that way after a few weeks of daily-ish practice on my own, but I wouldn't swear to that timeline. That whole period of time is a bit of a jumble for me. At any rate, it was helpful enough that I wanted to explore it more, sunk money into that class, etc.

Having said ALL of that I will also say that there's this sort of idea of "mindfulness is a great tool for everyone!" and it's really just not. There are plenty of people for whom it makes their anxiety or their depression worse, focusing in on their own thoughts. And sometimes those folks end up thinking they're doing something bad or wrong, and they're really not. It's just that a particular tool doesn't work for them, at least at the particular time they're trying it.

Mindfulness is a great thing to explore, but ultimately it's just not a thing that everyone finds useful, so if that turns out to be you, please don't beat yourself up over having taken some time to explore something new, however it works out.
posted by Stacey at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

The key realization for me (2 yr x 15' meditator) was:

When I feel my mind has drifted, or I'm reliving a previous experience, or whatever,
that moment is the point of meditating. Because I am mindful in that moment. I have noticed, and I can steer my attention back to the breath. Even if I spend 15 minutes doing nothing but
getting distracted
attending back to breath
in 15 second intervals, that is meditation.

At the start I fretted that guided meditation was somehow "doing it wrong". After 30 times, I anticipated each word, so I used the voice in my head to meditate. So I meditated to that for a while. After a year or so, I began to use a timer app, where I could set intervals to call me back to attention.

I learned these techniques in an 8-week MBSR course like ^ Sandy ^. I strongly recommend one.

My first week I was sure I was the worst meditator ever. After a month, I noticed that when I felt angry or frustrated, I noticed that instead of immediately acting on those feelings. I asked a 65-year-old Buddhist friend, "so when does this get easy?" and she said, "It's never easy for me. I struggle every morning." In sum, a week or a year or a lifetime of meditation may never transform you into an ideal person, totally alive in the moment. Keep practicing anyway.
posted by Jesse the K at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I return to meditation after a long time away from it, I re-experience what I experienced at the beginning: that the first month is just about (re)learning to sit still. My mind can wander, I can think all the thoughts, but if I sit for the full time, I'm doing what I need to do. The second month, I am over the urge to fidget and get up and run away. Then it's about (re)learning to return to the breath. I find by the third month, it's less of a struggle—though it's still never easy, per se, and every day is different.

It takes time. Don't worry about doing it wrong. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by BrashTech at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel you. Those unpleasant thoughts are not fun, but they are also part of the deeper work of meditation as a practice. Learning to deal with, and overcome them by letting them go, is sort of the point. The idea is that you can apply this skill in other areas of your life, which is why meditation is often trotted out as beneficial for people struggling with depression and anxiety. I don't recommend learning to meditate at work right away: do it someplace you feel comfortable. The benefits will still be there. You can build up to that later.

That said, I have some tricks that I use when I'm coming back to regular meditation:

First, just learn (or re-learn!) to sit still and quietly with your body. Don't worry too much about the mental bits just yet. Just teach your body to calm and settle, until it feels more comfortable. We are so used to being active or mentally engaged that this can take some time. Which is fine! Taking this in stages is helpful because you're not trying to train both your body and mind at the same time.

Once that starts to feel more comfortable, then you can start training the mental aspects. The very first step to this is


it won't work. Your brain is used to supplying you with thoughts, which is an important job that your brain does not want to give up. So give it something else to focus on. That can be counting your breath, repeating a mantra silently or out loud, or looking at a mandala. My personal favorite is instead of trying to "not think" you focus on FEELING and LISTENING. Feel your body sitting, the temperature and air currents around you, the small noises that you usually tune out. Don't attach words or concepts here, just bring your awareness to these things. Hold your mind there, and push your awareness out slowly from your body until you can sense a bigger and bigger space around you.

If you do have thoughts come up, and you can't bring yourself back to just feeling, try taking a mental step back and just observe the thoughts. Remind yourself that your thoughts are a function of you, and that you exist even in their absence: they do not need to define you and your experience of the world. Don't think *about* the thoughts, just let them happen. It's kind of like a child that will act out to get your attention. Don't yell at it or get mad, just watch how it behaves without reacting. As your brain realizes it can't pull your attention back to itself, it will lose interest and quiet down. Then gently guide yourself back to feeling and listening.

As that starts to become easier, you will notice that your brain automatically starts to drop into a wordless "feeling" state when you meditate, and you can fine tune your experience to work towards whatever goal you have, whether that is increasing time spent meditating, achieving altered mental states, etc.

Good luck, and stick with it. It's worth it. :)
posted by ananci at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take it or leave it, but every morning as I'm preparing breakfast & lunch, making coffee & generally getting stuff sorted for the day, I listen to mindfulness / Buddhist podcasts, typically Free Buddhist Audio (Insight Meditation Center) or Against the Stream / Dharma Punx. This is typically at dawn & accompanied by incense just to add a bit of ceremony to it.

I know you said you're across the theory, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't get reminded of something useful for the practice.

Also, don't think you have to focus on sitting, specifically. You can eat mindfully, do walking meditation, introduce a mindfulness approach into everything you do.

And don't be discouraged if it doesn't always happen: one key reminder recently was one of the teachers saying that if a person can be mindful for even 5% of the day, they are already doing incredibly well.

Remember, awareness is an emergent state, not an end goal.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:01 PM on July 21, 2016

awareness is an emergent state, not an end goal

A strange game. The only moving play is not to win.
posted by flabdablet at 10:55 PM on July 21, 2016

I want to echo the suggestion for buddhify. It has all kinds of meditations for different situations like walking, sitting in the park, being at work, eating, and even doing housework.
posted by daybeforetheday at 5:09 PM on July 22, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all, this is exactly what I was looking for. :)
posted by smoke at 10:30 PM on July 22, 2016

Correction: I stopped listening to Free Buddhist Audio. Audio Dharma was the one I was thinking of from the Insight Meditation Center.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2016

I like Mark William's 10 minute sitting meditation audio - it was the first time I got to ten minutes. It's on spottily if you have it, but I imagine it's on other platforms as well.
posted by anitanita at 6:55 PM on July 23, 2016

I can't imagine meditating at work. It's not that I need quiet -- though that's nice -- but rather it's a place where I'd be sortof on display. I could meditate in a place with people around, so long as I could sit back a ways -- a park maybe, maybe even a mall or a neighborhood that has a nook I can be in. Mostly though, I'm alone, and even if it's a place that's public I'm more comfortable if no one is around, for example I live in a condo complex on a river and there are great places to sit -- a couple of benches, a couple of boat docks, etc -- my neighbors *can* come around any old time they want but I'd not be comfortable if any of them were right there.

I also can't imagine meditating with my eyes open. I know people do, I know people walk contemplatively, etc and etc, but that's not me. (Which isn't to say that I haven't tapped into Right Here Right Now when walking outdoors and awed by beauty or just that for whatever reason I tap into it, or it taps into me, whatever. Beaches can be prime for this, esp if it's saltwater and I've been in and out of the water all day and sand on my feet and in my hair and swim suit and sun on my arms and shoulders and the surf is pounding and the sun is slanting toward sundown and I'm at that good tired that sun and salt water brings, and just walking, either alone or with a sweetie -- I don't even have to try to get to Right Here Right Now, I'm just sortof there. )
Though I know you're in Australia and you have those flippin' salt-water crocodiles so maybe the beach isn't as much a place of peace as of terror -- it's still astonishing to me that one of your prime ministers got eaten whilst strolling at the beach one day. WTF? How can that happen? What the fuck is wrong with you people? You should raise an entire separate army and/or navy and kill all those fuckers. I'd never go to the beach without a bazooka, or in a goddamn tank, I'd be Right Here Right Now out of terror, all of my hair standing on end...

In any case. There is an android app called Bodhi Timer, which is super simple, even elegant, and free, and no ads either. I set it to start off with three bells, and to finish with one bell, because that's sortof familiar to me from a couple of meditation communities I've been in. It also has three presets for how much time; I've mine set for 5 minutes, 12 minutes, and 20 minutes. If I could counsel you on this I'd really suggest that you do *not* set it so you can see how much time is remaining.

This links to a comment I made to a previous Ask. In it, I talk about the type of clocks that are very useful when meditating, and, to my mind, even when not meditating, as it generally helps me see exactly what time it is, and it never, ever needs reset. If I have a clock in view when meditating I find it difficult to not look at it, but I find that looking at this type of clock helps me, it smiles me right back into the practice.

The best book I've ever read on the nuts and bolts How-To of meditation was written by Father Thomas Keating, a monk who in the sixties saw the Catholic church losing so many people who had become interested in meditation as practiced by various people in India. So he went to India, and studied there, and learned there, and has brought back to his community here what he's learned.

The book is Open Mind Open Heart and it's good, most particularly one chapter. But it's really, really Jesus-y, as Keating has put his own take on what he learned. I don't mind, I can read past the Jesus-y jive, and truly, it is the best nuts/bolts book I've come across, one chapter in particular (I think chapter 6). But I can't in good conscious tell you to go buy it because Jesus. I'd send you my copy except I don't have one anymore; I try to keep books thinned down.

Keating details very well so many of the traps our mind has for us, all of the ways it'll pull us from sitting in conscious peace. One I love so much: He likens it to looking at a river, and that is what I'm looking at -- the river. And then a boat comes down the river, and that's fine, and then I'm thinking about the boat, and how nice a blue it's painted, and then I'm wondering what the boat is carrying, and just how deep is the hold on it anyways, and then I'm in the hold looking around, and then I realize I'm not looking at the river goddamnitall, here I am again, wool-gathering, and aren't I a big fat dumbo etc and etc. But that's going to happen, no matter who you are or how long you've practiced, you *will* look at more than just the river flowing by. Keating says hey, don't chide yourself, don't think you're a mope, don't get fussy, but rather just gently ease your mind out of the hold of that boat and look back at the river flowing again. Obv it's a metaphor, there ain't no river, the river is conscious peace, always it's flowing, waiting for us to look at it.

A very, very common thing for me is to be "waiting for the bell." Especially if I'm in some meditation workshop and I'm sitting for an hour (or longer), I have found myself almost in a sweat -- and sometimes literally pouring sweat -- as I'm waiting for the bell. It's ridiculous -- my stressing out over it, my impatience for it, my hoping for it -- none of that makes a bit of difference. Unless the person who is responsible for ringing the bell had a heart attack or stroked out and croaked silently or has fallen asleep, that bell is going to ring. But it's amazing how much attention can be focused on waiting, and wanting, and really wanting, amazing how much sweat can pour as time moves by.


Myself, I get on my knees and pray before I sit, head bowed. I ask that I be given help, guidance and direction, that I be divorced from all of the tricks that ego has up its sleeve for me.

Something about prayer on my knees is really good for me -- it's like the charging pads for my battery are in the front of my knees. Obviously, it's something to do about humbling myself, and I don't have any idea what I'm humbling myself to and I don't care, either -- what matters is that I do it.

I had a guy I really trust and respect tell me that once I understand, truly understand, that it's all about the humility, well hey, I don't need to pray on my knees anymore. Sounds good.

But he doesn't live in my body, I do, and prayer on my knees does something for me, reaches me in a way that I need reached.

Sometimes I pray the John Lennon prayer -- "Help me if you can I'm feelin' down / An' I do appreciate you bein' 'round / Help me get my feet back on the ground / Won't you please, please help me?" I like that prayer a lot, it rings in me when I pray it. It's a good prayer for any old time, any old place; hell, you can sing it! People will sing it along with you! A prayer meeting! A prayer meeting and they don't even know, might be they'd slap you if they knew what you were up to. A song of praise! Etc!

So I start with a prayer, and I close out the period of meditation with prayer also, on my knees, a prayer of gratitude, and once again asking for help divining my way past the various tricks ego lays out in front of me, sometimes asking a more personal request, like maybe that I be given help so I don't drive like a big jagoff like I did yesterday on South Lamar, things of that nature.

I'm not suggesting that you pray, much less on your knees, but I do. And I was finding that I didn't want to write about it, like I was ashamed of my faith, such as it is, like I was ashamed and didn't want to cop to what gives me so much. So I knew that I had to write it.


I generally sit for 12 minutes. I often hit it for another 12 minutes, sometimes another 12 after that. If I'm totally flying out the door I hope that I at least sit for five minutes but I surely don't always. The more jammed up my day is, the more important it is that I meditate, as it gives me more time -- couple of days ago I had a shitload of stuff on my plate, I sat for 12 twice and then for five more, the day went smooth as glass.

Some people are totally redneck about not moving a muscle, not opening an eye, holding this pose or that one. I've done some of that but I sure don't any longer. Sometimes I'll have peanut butter toast cut into sections, on a small plate, good bread, and sprinkled just a touch that pink sea salt I love so much. That's nice. Why not? Generally I've got a big honkin' mug of iced coffee closeby, and I'll take a slug as needed/wanted. If I get an itch I'll scratch it. (No kidding, you'll find ppl who won't scratch an itch. Comical.) If someone comes to my mind particularly strong as I sit, I'll call them, and step back into the silence after the call. I've come to trust the silence.

I did some guided meditations early on, sortof like when you walk into a gym for the first time and there's all these machines and it's good to have someone show me around -- this is for your arms, this one your chest, this is good form, this is bad form, form is important, blah blah blah. But I don't need anyone to show me around a gym anymore, and I don't need anyone to guide me in meditation, a calm voice instructing " And now, in your minds eye, turn to the left, and see there a fine meadow, and now, yes now, the eternal now, turn to your right, and see the beauty in the mountains, and now, yes now, stand on your head and spit wooden nickels, blah blah blah."

I don't need a guide. There's nowhere to go, other than my couch, or wherever it is that I'm going to sit. There's nowhere to go, nowhere to get to. I have had moments of ecstatic joy, I've been jangled this way and that way, I have at times absolutely poured sweat as I've sat in silence, right here on my very own couch, unmoving. Obviously it's fun when I find some peace in it, really fun when I find joy, but I'm not looking for either of those, because then I'm looking, rather than sitting. It doesn't matter what I feel inside as I'm sitting, what matters is that I sit. The peace is not in the practice, or it damn sure isn't always in the practice -- sometimes it's a tumultuous uproar inside as I sit in silence. The peace is in the rest of my life.

I realize that what I've written here can easily be seen as woo jive but this stuff is really difficult to articulate, or it is for me anyways. It's late here, I'm tired, I've got more writing to do elsewhere, so I'm going to hit Post Comment, and if it's woo, well hey, say to yourself "Aw, he was all tired and stuff." and let me off the hook.

I'll end with a warning: If you do seriously enter into a practice, you're going to want to continue it. If/when you stop -- and you will -- you will notice that you're getting your back up over things that you didn't get your back up about last month. And it's more like vitamins than valium -- you don't notice the effect of stopping it immediately, any more than you notice not taking vitamins for a day or two. But when I go without vitamins daily, I tend to notice that I'm feeling weak, or down, or just Not Right. A meditation practice is sortof like that, except moreso -- once you get going in it, you'd no more step outside of it than go without sunshine. You miss it. You may in fact find out the benefits of the practice by quitting it for a while, and then going back -- it's like easing back into comfortable, comforting clothing that fits just right.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:20 AM on July 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Franz Kafka
posted by dancestoblue at 2:06 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let's go. Yes, let's go. (They do not move).
Samuel Beckett
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:48 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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