Can’t Meditate? Here’s Some Advice to Help Focus and Gain a Clear Mind

I never thought I would ever get into meditation; I’m busy, closing my eyes makes me sleepy, and I might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “easily distracted.” I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to do it, and when I first started, I couldn’t.

Part of the problem was my desperation to clear my mind, which is, of course, antithetical to the whole point of meditation. Wanting to empty your mind makes it impossible to ever really do it. Jeez, I’m already speaking in paradoxes, and I’m not even into the advice part yet. But before I go there, it’s important to discuss how meditation has helped me.

I’m a person who lives in my own head. I daydream, ruminate, surf the internet, read, play video games—anything to avoid being alone with myself and all the potential pitfalls of an unoccupied mind. The problems come when I inevitably start having problems with myself, such as in the late summer of 2017, which was when I had a meltdown so big it almost kept me from returning to college. It wasn’t until I finally confronted myself—the parts I loved and the parts I hated—that I regained my ability to live comfortably in my own skin, and meditation was what helped me do it.

So here is some advice for anyone who wants to give meditation a shot but can’t seem to get into it. This all comes from my own experience. Maybe it will work for you, maybe not, but it certainly helped me, so here goes nothing.

Find Your Focus

Virtually everyone who meditates will talk about breath. They say to use it as an anchor, something tangible to bring your focus back to whenever your mind drifts away from the present moment. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be your breath.

One reason I struggled so much with meditation at first was that I believed breath had to be my anchor. However, all you have to do is pick a sensation—any sensation—that you can consistently feel when you meditate. It could be your heartbeat, the feeling of your closed eyelids, the sensation of your body making contact with the floor. All that matters is that if your mind wanders, you have something that you can physically feel and use to return to the present moment.

Don’t Focus on the Details

This runs in a similar vein as finding your focus; don’t get caught up in the details. You don’t need a yoga mat, incense, or binaural ambient music; you don’t even need to be sitting down. This is especially important to know when you start getting used to meditation. After all, mindfulness is arguably most useful when you’re running late, stuck in line, waiting to take a test, or freaking out because you can’t find your keys. Initially, you may need space and quiet, but don’t start meditating under the assumption that there’s any sort of “standard setup” to which you have to adhere.

Be Kind to Yourself

When all you’re trying to do is find some space away from your constant inner monologue, it can be easy to get frustrated. You may ask, “Why can’t I focus? What am I supposed to be thinking about? But aren’t I thinking about not thinking? How do I clear my mind now?” Eventually, you get wrapped around the axle, and throwing in the towel seems increasingly attractive. The best thing you can do when the frustration sets in, however, is sit with it and feel it just like any other sensation. After a few minutes of being kind to yourself, it will pass, and if you can make it that far, you’ll be left with a clearer head than when you started.

Don’t Give Up

No matter how difficult it may be at first, keep trying. Nobody starts out having mastered meditation, and if they say they did, they’re lying to you. Your head will take time to clear, and there will be days when you can’t keep yourself focused for more than a second at a time. Focus, however, is a learned skill, and it takes practice. So don’t give up! Sit down once a day and do nothing, even just for a few minutes. Sooner or later, you will be on the right track.

None of this is to say that meditation is the magical solution to a cluttered mind, and the truth is that it’s not for everyone. However, sometimes these gentle pointers will help if you just can’t seem to visualize the path from where you are now to the enlightened person who sits on a mountaintop and seems perfectly at peace with the world. If you’re struggling to learn to meditate, give it another shot. Try guided meditations, experiment with your routine, and, most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a right way to do it. You never know; stillness might just creep up on you.

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Can’t Meditate? Here’s Some Advice to Help Focus and Gain a Clear Mind

I never thought I would ever get into meditation; I’m busy, closing my eyes makes me sleepy, and I might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “easily distracted.” I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to do it, and when I first started, I couldn’t.

Part of the problem was my desperation to clear my mind, which is, of course, antithetical to the whole point of meditation. Wanting to empty your mind makes it impossible to ever really do it. Jeez, I’m already speaking in paradoxes, and I’m not even into the advice part yet. But before I go there, it’s important to discuss how meditation has helped me.

I’m a person who lives in my own head. I daydream, ruminate, surf the internet, read, play video games—anything to avoid being alone with myself and all the potential pitfalls of an unoccupied mind. The problems come when I inevitably start having problems with myself, such as in the late summer of 2017, which was when I had a meltdown so big it almost kept me from returning to college. It wasn’t until I finally confronted myself—the parts I loved and the parts I hated—that I regained my ability to live comfortably in my own skin, and meditation was what helped me do it.

So here is some advice for anyone who wants to give meditation a shot but can’t seem to get into it. This all comes from my own experience. Maybe it will work for you, maybe not, but it certainly helped me, so here goes nothing.

Find Your Focus

Virtually everyone who meditates will talk about breath. They say to use it as an anchor, something tangible to bring your focus back to whenever your mind drifts away from the present moment. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be your breath.

One reason I struggled so much with meditation at first was that I believed breath had to be my anchor. However, all you have to do is pick a sensation—any sensation—that you can consistently feel when you meditate. It could be your heartbeat, the feeling of your closed eyelids, the sensation of your body making contact with the floor. All that matters is that if your mind wanders, you have something that you can physically feel and use to return to the present moment.

Don’t Focus on the Details

This runs in a similar vein as finding your focus; don’t get caught up in the details. You don’t need a yoga mat, incense, or binaural ambient music; you don’t even need to be sitting down. This is especially important to know when you start getting used to meditation. After all, mindfulness is arguably most useful when you’re running late, stuck in line, waiting to take a test, or freaking out because you can’t find your keys. Initially, you may need space and quiet, but don’t start meditating under the assumption that there’s any sort of “standard setup” to which you have to adhere.

Be Kind to Yourself

When all you’re trying to do is find some space away from your constant inner monologue, it can be easy to get frustrated. You may ask, “Why can’t I focus? What am I supposed to be thinking about? But aren’t I thinking about not thinking? How do I clear my mind now?” Eventually, you get wrapped around the axle, and throwing in the towel seems increasingly attractive. The best thing you can do when the frustration sets in, however, is sit with it and feel it just like any other sensation. After a few minutes of being kind to yourself, it will pass, and if you can make it that far, you’ll be left with a clearer head than when you started.

Don’t Give Up

No matter how difficult it may be at first, keep trying. Nobody starts out having mastered meditation, and if they say they did, they’re lying to you. Your head will take time to clear, and there will be days when you can’t keep yourself focused for more than a second at a time. Focus, however, is a learned skill, and it takes practice. So don’t give up! Sit down once a day and do nothing, even just for a few minutes. Sooner or later, you will be on the right track.

None of this is to say that meditation is the magical solution to a cluttered mind, and the truth is that it’s not for everyone. However, sometimes these gentle pointers will help if you just can’t seem to visualize the path from where you are now to the enlightened person who sits on a mountaintop and seems perfectly at peace with the world. If you’re struggling to learn to meditate, give it another shot. Try guided meditations, experiment with your routine, and, most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a right way to do it. You never know; stillness might just creep up on you.

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