Updated: May 8
How can we make space for a meditation practice in our lives, even if we think we are "no good at it" or have no idea where to start?
There is no doubt that meditation has helped me through some really challenging times and I'm so grateful for the practice in my life. I know that it's not for everyone, and some people find it really difficult to do and feel that they aren't any good at "not thinking" and can't "stop the thoughts" from coming - I've heard and read this from numerous people over the years.
The truth is, we can't ever stop our thoughts completely - telling your brain not to think is like telling your lungs not to breathe, it's kind of their job :) But like so many things (and this is something it's taken me a while to grasp), it's the process of doing the thing that counts, not doing it "perfectly" - whatever the hell that means anyway, but just doing it. The thoughts will still come, time and time again (annoyingly), but we just acknowledge them and let them go and return to the breath, however many times it takes - and this is sometimes a continuous process when meditating - sometimes it's easier than others, and sometimes you will notice that your thoughts are extra loud and incessant, almost as if they know what you're up to and are ramping it up in response!
All of this is fine, it's always fine, the practice is all that matters, and as it's often quoted - the results happen off the mat/cushion/chair (a chair is fine by the way, you don't have to sit in a lotus position on the floor - even though it looks good there are no extra points). When you get back to your day, when you face the next stressful situation that comes along, you may well find a space, a pause from your normal reactive thoughts and actions, a sort of detachment from the situation. As someone who has been, and still sometimes is a chronic over-thinker and has been very reactive in stressful and triggering situations - I can tell you that the benefits of just 20 minutes of meditation a day help so much in bringing that space and peace to your thoughts and reactions, especially when you are tested - after all it's pretty easy to be calm when things are going smoothly. And the benefits are accumulative, and the practice is ongoing...forever - eat, sleep and repeat as they say.
I must admit, I have fallen in and out of a daily practice - sometimes meditating every day for long periods, and sometimes falling out of doing it for a while, maybe only managing once or twice a week at times, if that. But I notice it, I notice when I'm doing it versus when I'm not. There is no "right" time of day to meditate, any time is better than none, but for the sake of setting you up for the day and reaping the most benefits, the morning is great, especially if you know you have a busy or challenging day ahead.
If you are a complete beginner and you just want somewhere to start then there are so many free apps and videos online these days that you could start off with, find an instructor that you resonate with and who you enjoy and listen to them for the basics. I would recommend that 20 minutes is an optimum time to aim for when meditating, you can of course go for as long as you want, you may find sometimes that you have gone deep into it and want to continue. But perhaps start off with a short duration of 5 or 10 minutes and build up gradually, as with everything, test the water and see what works best for you. You could also go along to your local Buddhist centre, who often offer meditation evenings which are geared towards beginners or are inclusive whatever your experience, and no, you don't have to be a Buddhist to attend :) Or anywhere that offers beginner's classes locally.
And if you really, really dislike meditating and just can't get into it, then why not just immerse yourself in something you really do enjoy - whether that's cooking, colouring in, doing a puzzle, or a special creative project - something you can lose yourself in completely, something that takes all of your focus away from thinking. If you've ever had the experience of doing a project or hobby that you have been totally engrossed in, only to look up and notice that hours have passed seemingly in a short space of time, then you know how good this can feel - to be in that magical non-thinking state is bliss.
Our thinking, logical mind is amazing and necessary for certain things but it also has the habit of running riot into areas that it has no business in and can make us suffer terribly if we can't find an escape from it. Even if we cannot switch our thoughts off completely, we can certainly find ways to turn the volume down and learn to not pay so much attention to them.
Why not do something today to give yourself that gift?