Stop saying you can’t meditate

I keep hearing people say things like “I suck at meditation,” “My mind is all over the place.” “I can’t do it.”

If this is you, you may have the idea that meditation is easy, peaceful, instant nirvana. Well, it’s not, at least not for most people.

For most of us, we sit down to meditate and we don’t like what our mind is doing. We don’t want to spend any time with it. It is not relaxing. Damn it!

The problem isn’t meditation. It’s your belief about meditation and who gets to do it. The thing turning you off to meditation is you. You didn’t like what you found. You realize how little control you have over your thoughts. That can be frightening at first. This may be what stops you from meditating.

And if this is your experience, it’s all the more reason you should meditate.

I watched The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling on HBO last week and I was surprised to learn that he’d been meditating for decades. He would meditate before going on stage to do standup. He was also a perfectionist and someone who could hold a grudge. Through his characters he explored his own neuroticism, ego and narcissism. He admitted that life at times, even when he was successful, was difficult. “It’s a struggle for me.”images

When talking about Shandling’s spirituality, Sarah Silverman said, “He turned to Buddhism and that was what he put so much of his time and his love into but it’s not because he’s Zen. It’s because he was in desperate need of Zen…. He was always working on it.”

It reminded me of Sister Joan. I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school and Sister Joan ran the yearbook. She was smart and down to earth, very approachable. One day, we got into a discussion and I remember saying to her, “I could never become a nun, I’m not that good.” She laughed and said, “That’s exactly why I became a nun. I needed the extra help.”

If you’ve given up on meditation, it may be that you thought you should be “good” at it right away and gave up. If you have trouble sitting still or focusing or concentrating, being present for your own life, meditation could be just “the extra help” you need. But it won’t be easy. You’ll need to accept that your mind works like most every other human’s mind—it’s all over the place.

Try meditating again. When you see that your mind has wandered, remember this is what the mind does. Bring your attention back to the breath with kindness. In this way, you not only practice focusing on the breath, you practice self-compassion by letting go of the thoughts and any judgment about you or your mind. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get to practice this a lot with each sitting. And if you’re giving yourself a hard time about how much you suck at meditating, I think treating yourself with kindness over and over and over again during your mediation each day, will be good for you. You need to be nicer to yourself. It’s a good thing to practice.

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