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How to Meditate: For People Who Can’t Silence Their Thoughts

Posted by John Johnson on

How to Meditate: For People Who Can’t Silence Their Thoughts

Some of the biggest objections I hear when I suggest meditation to someone is, “I can’t meditate, I can’t sit still for that long” and “There’s no way I could shut down my thoughts to meditate.” When I hear this, I tell everyone the same thing, because it is 100% true; I get it, trust me, I understand, because that was me. I couldn’t sit still, my brain wouldn’t stop, I was sure I was doing it wrong anyway.

Then I committed to figuring it out once and for all. I had read too many amazing things about what it can do, and I was determined. So I researched, I worked at it, and eventually I got it. Now I will share how I was able to go from unable to focus on my breath for longer than 10 seconds, to able to meditate for as long as I’d like.

Step 1
The first thing to do is understand that you can’t meditate wrong.

This was always one of my biggest issues. I was constantly trying to “do it right”. Candle/no candle, eyes closed/eyes open, focus on breathing, focus on imaginary light, focus on nothing, I wanted to do it right. There is no right.

The first definition of Meditate according to dictionary.com is “to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect.” So, as long as you are reflecting or contemplating, you are meditating.

You can meditate on something- reflect or contemplate about something specific, or you can meditate on nothing and just sit in quiet stillness- reflecting on the quiet and stillness. Meditating on quiet and stillness is what most of us are thinking of when we talk about meditation, and it scares a lot of us and feels like it’s something we couldn’t possibly do. We think we can’t sit still or that we can’t silence our thoughts. Luckily, the point of meditation is not to silence our thoughts, but to let them pass by. Meditation can help us find thoughts that live underneath the chaos of everyday.

So, step one: know you can’t do it wrong.

Step 2
I said in step one that the point of meditation is not to silence our thoughts, but to let them pass by.

In other words, don’t get angry or give up because thoughts are popping into your head. That’s normal. Of course they do. Your brain doesn’t stop because you are telling it to be quiet. Even telling your brain to be quiet is a thought!

Step two is to accept that there will not be silence in your head through your whole meditation.

This is where I often gave up, stood up and walked away frustrated that I wasn’t ever going to be able to meditate. Luckily, I did some digging and found out that I totally can. So can you.

One of the best things I ever read was to keep a notebook next to you while you meditate so you can write down any thoughts or ideas that pop up and circle back to them later. I don’t do this, but it impacted me so much because it clearly describes what to do when thoughts pop into your head while meditating. Whether you physically write your thought down or just make note in your brain, the point is to observe the thought, make note, then let it go for now. I personally focus on my breath during meditation, so after I observe the thought I go back to focusing on my breath.

It is not about having silence in your brain. It is about flow. Thought flows in, observe and make note, allow thought to flow out.

Step 3
Find something to focus on.

I focus on the sound of my breath coming in, then going out. A lot of guided meditations talk about doing it that way as well, but that is not the only thing that works. Because remember, there is no wrong way to meditate.

Some ideas if you are meditating with eyes open include focusing on a candle flame (don’t do this if you have a cat. I was recently told a story that included a candle, meditating and a singed cat… maybe try an LED flame instead.), a favorite flower, a piece of art, a written word or even just the wall or floor in front of you.

Ideas if you prefer your eyes closed include imagining a light flowing through you, either radiating out of your head in a line or radiating out all ways from your heart, focusing as if you are looking at your nose through closed eyes, or the feeling of your body touching the floor. Focusing on something helps you come back to “center” after noticing a thought, but there is no wrong thing to focus on.

Oh, and no, it doesn’t matter if you choose eyes open or shut. It’s whatever makes you most comfortable.

Step 4
Find some place comfortable and quiet.

You do not need to be sitting legs crossed, perfect posture, hands specially placed open palm up on knees, in the middle of a room on a yoga mat surrounded with essential oils and candles. (Although I do love essential oils to help with focus and calm throughout the day!) Pick a spot, get comfortable, make sure your kids or cat are not going to scream or jump on you, and get to it.

I personally sit on the floor of my bedroom against the wall or on my desk chair, which is actually an armed, stuffed, sitting room chair. I do sit cross-legged, but I am pretty sure I sit that way 85% of the time. In fact, that’s how I sit now as I type this. It’s comfortable to me. Sit however is comfortable to you.

Yes, it should be quiet. Otherwise you will be distracted by whatever noises are going on. The only exception I will give you is if you would like to put on quiet soothing music or a noise machine. Nothing that would require you to have to pay attention to it at any point. (Don’t put on the free version of Spotify with your special meditation playlist. There’s going to be incredibly loud commercials interrupting you.)

After you get more into the habit/routine of meditating and it becomes a regular practice for you, you may feel like creating a spot in your home specifically for meditating. However, this is not something you should worry about until meditating is part of your routine.

Step 5
How I was actually able to start meditating. As in, sitting still and doing it.

A timer.

I put my phone next to me with a timer on. (Phone on silent. I even did airplane mode a few times on days that it was harder to disconnect from it.) I started with just 1 minute. Once I could actually sit for a whole minute, I changed the timer to 2 minutes, then 3, etc. By the time you get to being able to sit and meditate for 5 full minutes, you are pretty much a pro and would be able to do an hour no problem.

Getting to a full minute was actually the toughest part. It feels like a really long time, especially with a timer on. I still recommend the timer if you are really trying to get to a place to reap all of the benefits of meditating.

Step 6- Final Step
Remember that it is called “meditation practice”. Keep at it.

It is not usual for someone meditating for the first time to be able to sit for a full minute, or 5, or an hour. Just like the first time you tried to walk, you fell. Just like the first time DaVinci drew something it was a scribble, or the first time Michael Jordan tried to dunk he missed. In fact, Michael Jordan missed a lot and DaVinci spent a long time perfecting his skills. Anything in life takes practice and that includes meditating.

We are conditioned to be always go, go, going. As far as I can tell, society is not letting up on that either. It takes time and reconditioning to be able to stop and sit. Especially in silence. Especially without our to-do lists. Give yourself some grace, remember you aren’t doing it wrong, and do a little bit everyday.


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