The “I Can’t Meditate” Syndrome

I have heard so so so many people, mostly myself, say “I can’t meditate. I try, but I can’t focus. My mind just won’t stop.”

Many years ago I got it in my head that meditating was something I wanted to do, or knowing me I probably decided it was something I should do. It had a lot of buzz, ya know? But sitting down to try to have a blank mind? It was literally like torture. My mind wasn’t blank. It was chock full. Who wants to focus on that? Attempting to sift through the noise to find some silence seemed impossible.

Having committed to a daily practice for almost the past four years now, one misconception, in my opinion, is where the benefit comes in. It is not in successfully emptying your mind and being completely peacefully blank in that head space for minutes on end. I would assume it would be a large miracle if one decided they wanted to meditate for the first time and then could sit down and go (and stay) there immediately. The benefit, the actual meditating, is not in getting to peace and staying there, it is in noticing what is in your mind, letting that go, and coming back. Coming back to empty, or breath, or a word or alternatively coming back to some aspect of connection that appeals to you (a higher power, an energy, a relationship). And then some other thought or sensation will race right in there, so you let that go and come back. And for the first three minute attempt and the next and the next, and even when you get up to five minutes and still feel like you’re fighting the same battle… you are doing it.

Another misconception, for me, was that I assumed after a session (or attempt) I would feel blissed out, however, most times it was an incredibly frustrating experience. I might feel a little uncomfortable, irritated, or “itchy” and basically like I hadn’t accomplished anything. Now, I liken meditating more to brushing your teeth every day. One two minute session one morning is not going to increase your oral hygiene, just like one meditation attempt is not going to have an impact on your psyche. But get a regular daily routine going, no matter how short, and your mind patterns may start to change in a seemingly inexplicable way.

Eventually you many notice a one second pause before the next idea takes over your mind space during meditation. You may notice that you don’t follow a particular thought tangent as far or as long. Outside of meditation time, you may find that you react slightly less in a situation that would have previously pushed your buttons. Something you used to obsess over each day might occupy less time in your thoughts. You may start noticing you are uncharacteristically more content. I’m sure it’s different for different people, but those are some of the changes I noticed.)

So if you’ve ever been intrigued or felt driven to give meditation a go, please don’t make it into the big deal that I did for so many years. It takes discipline to make it a practice, yes, but in and of itself it is not difficult and it’s not possible to not be able to meditate. Perhaps it’s just not what you thought it was going to be!

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