Why Is It Hard to Meditate? And What You Can Do About It

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Perhaps the potential benefits of meditation convinced you to give it a try. After having thought for many days, “I should start meditating.” finally, one day you sat.

You started counting the breath. You counted two breaths and off went your mind. The 2-minute timer went off and you realized you just didn’t focus on the breath at all.

That might feel very frustrating. If you continue to push yourself, very soon it becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit.

You shuffle and shift around. Then it starts itching. First on the tip of the nose, then near the eyebrow. Then in the back.

Amidst all this, you are still unable to focus on the breath. Not even for a second.

Your frustration level just goes through the roof, you peek and look at the watch and you stop. There you go. You think, meditation is not for you.

You are not alone. Many people find it extremely difficult to meditate. And it may frustrate you even more because you could really use the benefits, but you are just unable to do it. So….

Is Meditation Really Hard or Is It Just Me?

Well, some teachers might tell you that actually meditation in itself is not hard, but it feels hard because of the way you relate to that experience. To put it in other words you expect meditation to be a certain way, which it really is not.

This argument is true not just for meditation, but anything that feels hard.

There is, at least, a germ of truth in that argument. Anything that feels hard is because of the way you relate to that phenomena without you fully realizing that relationship.

It is actually the meditation practice that helps bring awareness to how you subconsciously relate to your experience. And this very lack of awareness can become an obstacle to your meditation practice.

Conventionally you just know that meditation feels hard. But why is it so?

If I were to give you a very short answer, why meditation feels very hard, it is evolution.

Evolution

Well, evolution is responsible for pretty much anything that you feel unpleasant. Because you have evolved to survive. You haven’t evolved to feel pleasant, have peace of mind or be happy.

That may sound silly, but let’s dig deeper. If you have seen this earlier post, meditation really means attention training. And how do you train attention?

You train attention by practicing paying attention. You engage attention and you try to sustain attention. Just like lifting weights to build muscles.

You have always known that attention is a scarce resource. You are supposed to ‘pay’ it. Our language reflects this implicit scarcity of attention.


Born with ADHD

You are hard wired to not pay attention. Let me explain.

If it were easy for you to focus on something and sustain that focus, it would become very difficult for you to notice changes in your surrounding.

Imagine the African Savannah 50,000 years back. Life is way more precarious. You are surrounded by predators. You have to be on a much-heightened vigil, in order to survive.

If you happened to be that person, for whom paying attention came naturally. It can spell doom for you.

If you are stuck sustaining attention and didn’t notice what was going on on the horizon, you can easily be wiped out. Those with ADHD would have noticed the danger and would have fled.

It is just plain difficult to sustain attention. It is not that difficult to start paying attention.

You just can’t keep looking at the same object or keep hearing the same sound for a long period of time.

Before each meditation session, remind yourself that you are embarking on an inherently difficult endeavor. But it is a unique kind where you cannot fail.

Nobody fails at meditation because it is hard. You can only give up. It is by practicing what is hard, you get better at that.

Mind Wandering

To top this off, your mind continuously wanders. When a teacher in the classroom reprimands the student to pay attention, he is not just asking the student to see him or the chalkboard.

He is really asking to bring your mind over there. And guess what, just like it is difficult for you to continue to look at something for a long time, it is even more difficult to keep your mind on something for a while.

Mind wanders and that is its nature. I am not an expert in evolution, but mind wandering is also likely to be an evolutionary adaptation.

You may think mind wandering makes you not so productive. Well, evolution doesn’t care so much about productivity. Its main aim is survival.

Maybe the wandering minds are more creative and creative minds are more suited for natural selection. You don’t know.

A wandering mind is neither good neither bad, it is just wandering mind. But wandering does make paying attention and hence meditation difficult.

Before each meditation, remind yourself that the mind will wander. Try to affirm an intention to forgive yourself for wandering thoughts.

The next factor that makes meditation harder is sleep.

Lack of Sleep

Ever since Edison invented lightbulb we are all sleep deprived. At least up to some extent.

Before the artificial light people used to sleep on average 10 hours. But now it is more like 7 hours.

You are very likely to be sleep deprived even without your knowledge. And a lack of sleep is good for nothing.

When you are sleep deprived, your attention span suffers. It gets tougher for you to pay attention.

Many of you need more sleep than meditation. Sleep directly affects your ability to meditate.

This is one more of those vicious cycles. You are probably stressed and unable to sleep well. That might well be the reason why you turn to meditation.

And it is the lack of sleep which is going to make it harder for you to get going with your meditation practice.

In general, if you lack sleep, you might want to catch up on sleep before you start meditating.

Distractions of Modern Living

Although it is inherently difficult for the mind to pay attention. Your mind is also hard wired to orient to an external stimulus. This means your mind prone to distractions.

As soon as there is any change in the visual field, in sounds, in tastes or in physical sensations, your mind tends to latch on to that change.

It is just extremely difficult nowadays for you to walk into a jungle or a cave routinely. No matter where you live, there is always things happening around you.

There are people living around you, there are vehicles moving around you. Then there are distractions from technology.

Distractions make it difficult for you to meditate. In one of the earlier post, I discussed that meditation is all about understanding the nature of distractions and minimizing them.

Find the least noisy room in your home. Sit in the closet. Sit in the bathroom if you can.

See if you can close your eyes. That would take care of most of the visual distractions. If you can’t close your eyes don’t look at moving people or moving vehicles.

Don’t look at decorated or busy wall. Look down at the plain floor or at a plain wall.

Better you are able to know the distractions in your practice and better you can minimize them. And faster you will progress along your meditation  journey.

Not Enough Exercise

Meditation is not a replacement for exercise. It is just the exercise for you mind. Your body still needs exercise.

More regular you exercise, easier it becomes to meditate. The mind and the body are intricately connected.

Better you take care of one, the other automatically improves. Exercise makes it easier for you to pay attention and hence meditate.

Exercise is a complementary practice and you should continue to exercise along with your meditation practice.

From this perspective, the walking or jogging meditation could bring you the benefits of both worlds.

Not Finding Enough Time to Meditate

This one is probably the most common problem that you all face when you want to get started on meditation practice.

Meditation requires time. It is unlike a pill, which you can pop right away.

Your life is busier than ever. In fact, the busyness typically is the source of the stress and you are seeking meditation to relieve stress.

It is a catch 22 situation. Often it is joked in meditation classes, trying to take meditation classes with the goal of reducing stress could be more stressful.

For meditation, you have to make time. Making time is hard. But it is not impossible.

Your plate will always be full. You will always have conflicting priorities.

You always have to make time!

If you prioritize something enough, you will make time for that.

Your challenge is: How are you going to prioritize meditation?

Not Knowing the Proper Posture for Meditation

You might be thinking that full lotus cross-legged is the only real way to meditate. You have seen enough of those images in the media.

But it is not true. You don’t have to meditate in full lotus, half lotus or any type of lotus or cross-legged posture.

You can meditate sitting on the chair. You can meditate standing up. You can meditate lying on the bed or the floor.

You chose the posture of meditation in a way that minimizes distractions. Typically it is not recommended to meditate lying down.

We talked earlier that you are likely to be sleep deprived. Also, meditation has a tendency to relax you.

It might not always, but tends to. That is one of the reasons, why some scientists call it a ‘relaxation response’.

When you are sleep deprived and if body relaxes, the body thinks it is time to fall asleep. Sleepiness is very common during meditation.

Although sleep is wonderful it is not meditation. Lethargy or sleepiness is a distraction for your meditation.

Hence, you should avoid lying down in general. But if you can’t sit on the floor, can’t sit on the chair or can’t even stand up, then you meditate lying down.

If trying to sit cross legged is bogging you down, stop that. Sit the way you are comfortable.

If and when you sit on the chair, you don’t sit as if you are watching TV. When you sit on a chair, you sit with your back upright. Neither too tight nor too relaxed.

Not Knowing Your Expectations

You are primed to expect quick results. More than you realize.

You are incessantly bombarded by marketers. They are constantly telling you that you can get quick and easy results.

These messages are designed to appeal an older part of your brain that likes things that are quick and easy. With repeated exposure to such messages, you get conditioned to expect that.

Take an Advil and your headache will be gone in 30 minutes. Unfortunately, not all things in life are quick and easy. Things only unfold in their own time.

Some of the things can’t be just expedited. Trying to expedite what really can’t be expedited can only hurt.

It is like trying to break open chrysalis because you want the butterfly to come out faster.

You may not even realize that, but you might be expecting quick results when you start meditating. But meditation is not about quick results.

Of course for some of the benefits of meditation, you don’t have to wait for years. But nothing will change right away.

You will have to be patient. You will have to get to know your expectations and put them in perspective. Patience and trust are crucial.

More patient you are, more likely you are going to experience the benefits of meditation. You will have to learn to trust the process.

Of course, meditation may not work for everyone. You may have to stop chasing it after a while if it doesn’t produce enough results for you.

You are more likely to stop meditating prematurely than giving it due time. Because of your priming to expect faster results.

Doubting Too Much

Just as you are primed to expect quick results, the mind usually tends to doubt a lot. This is actually a good thing.

You don’t want to be credulous and fall for a trick. You want to have a healthy skepticism. But if you have a strong doubt to begin with that it will just not work for you, it will actually not work for you.

Because at the slightest discomfort, you will give up. And there will definitely be discomfort as you start meditating.

In meditation, you cannot avoid discomfort. It is an integral part of all meditation practices.

Doubting is normal and expected to take place. More you realize this, easier it will become for you to continue the practice.

Not Having a Good Teacher

Hiring a teacher is expensive. With the proliferation of apps and online resources, you may feel that you don’t need a teacher.

And you might be right.

It is still important to have an expert that you can reach out and discuss your problems or difficulties in meditation. Don’t try to do it completely on your own.

Summary

Meditation is hard. Meditation is also the gateway to inquiring what makes hard, hard?

The main reason why mediation is hard: Evolution.

You are born with ADHD. You are hard wired to not pay attention.

The nature of human mind is to wander. It makes meditation difficult. This may quite well be an evolutionary adaptation.

Your lack of sleep could be the reason why meditation is hard.

You may have too many distractions, which is why meditation becomes more difficult.

If you exercise more your meditation may become easier.

If you can figure out a way to make meditation a priority, it will become easier to make time for it.

Not knowing what are the appropriate postures for meditation may make it harder.

Although you need to have a healthy skepticism for meditation, a strong doubting mind can make meditation much more difficult.

Lack of a good teacher makes meditation hard.
Download a free ‘Why Is It So Hard to Meditate?’ video by clicking on the image below.

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Heal Four Times Faster and Other Benefits of Mindfulness

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Why Do You Want to Cultivate Mindfulness?

There are several possible reasons why people want to become more mindful.

Broadly there are different ways that cultivation of mindfulness can be helpful. These benefits are mainly available through the formal meditation techniques that people use to increase their mindfulness.

  • There are physical health benefits.
  • There are emotional and mental health benefits.
  • There is brain function or performance improvement benefits.
  • There are benefits of advancing along the spiritual paths.

Physical Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of practicing meditation is that it can increase healing response by up to 4 times.

This was found in a scientific study done on patients of Psoriasis. It is an auto-immune disease of the skin. The skin develops rashes and itchiness.

The standard treatment is light tanning in a booth. Over the period of time, the rashes clear with the treatment.

In a study, two groups of Psoriasis patients were compared. One group did just the standard tanning.

But the other group did regular guided meditation while tanning. They looked at the amount of clearing as a measure of healing.

If non-meditators reached a certain amount of clearing within 8 weeks, meditators reached there within 2 weeks!!

In another study, they looked at HIV patients. These patients have their immunity compromised.

One of the marker(indicators) of immune health is ‘T’ cell count. The standard treatment at the time of the study for HIV patients is a cocktail of medicines.

There were two groups in this study as well. One group went through just the regular treatment and another one went through an 8-week mindfulness course along with the regular treatment.

They measured the ‘T’ cell count at the beginning of the study and subsequently at 2 months.

For non-meditators, the ‘T’ cell count declined as expected. For meditators, it remained flat. The immunity improved for meditators.

Emotional and Mental Health Benefits

Regularly practicing formal meditation to cultivate mindfulness has also shown to reduce the density in a part of a brain organ called amygdala. Amygdala is a very crucial part when it comes to stress response.

The reduction of density in amygdala correlates with how much stressed you feel. This seems to be the mechanisms through which meditation reduces stress.

The part of the brain right beneath the forehead is called prefrontal cortex. The activity in different areas of the prefrontal cortex can be studied under fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

Positive and negative emotions look very different in the brain. When you are feeling happy, joyful and alert, there is more activity on the left side of prefrontal cortex compared to the right side.

When you are feeling sad, depressed and worries, there is more activity on the right side of prefrontal cortex compared to left side.

Normally this ratio of something of a trait. Which means you are born with a certain activity ratio in your prefrontal cortex.

That is why some people are just born to be more joyful and happy. While others tend to be more depressed, anxious and worried.

In psychology, it is called a happiness set point. In a sense, we are born with a fixed trait that dictates how much happiness we can feel.

Luckily in a study scientists noticed that when people went through an 8-week mindfulness course, where they regularly meditated, their activity ratio in prefrontal cortex shifted from right to left.

It is as if their happiness set point shifted. Not only that, these people felt more joyful, vital and alert and fewer worries and less anxious.

This also established that meditation is one of the ways where you can change your brain. Which was previously thought to be fixed.

When it comes to mental health, the biggest benefit of mindfulness is in the treatment of severe depression. Severe depression is the form of depression, where it tends to relapse a lot.

Mindfulness has been shown to be as effective as pill when it comes to treating severe depression.

Mindfulness has also been shown to be effective with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), bipolar disorder

As the very definition of mindfulness suggests, it is a particular way of paying attention, mindfulness is all about paying attention.

When you try to cultivate mindfulness, you practice paying attention. As our brain works, whatever you repeatedly practice you become better at that.

Performance Improvement Benefits

Participating in a mindfulness class and regularly meditating increases gray matter density. This means you improve your learning capacity, your memory, and the emotion regulation.

The gray matter which increases in density is correlated with learning, memory and emotion regulation. This means you improve your learning capacity, your memory, and the emotion regulation.

It is not difficult to understand that mindfulness improves attention. It does it in two ways.

Firstly, it improves concentration where you are able to stay focused on a single object. As you meditate more, easier it gets for you to focus and sustain attention.

Secondly, it improves your ability to pay attention to your surrounding. Because you tend to get lost a lot in your thoughts, you end up not paying attention to your surrounding.

This is called ‘attentional blink’. The extreme example is while driving if you get so much lost in your thoughts, you may not notice the car breaking in front of you and you end up rear-ending the car.

As you meditate, your ‘attentional blink’ improves. In a study, the participants had to notice two things happening in a rapid succession, just 1 second apart.

Meditation training improved your ability to notice both things happening in rapid succession.

Meditation also increases the density of the parts of the right prefrontal cortex and insular cortex. These areas are responsible for executive functions.

Such functions include improved working memory, ability to delay gratification and cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is related to the problem-solving skills.

Spiritual Advancement Benefits

For thousands of years, mindfulness and meditation have served this purpose. People of all different types of traditions have used meditation as a tool for their spiritual advancement.

In my mind, the ultimate benefit of cultivating mindfulness is the ability to see things as they are. Mindfulness allows us to relate to the reality around us in a way that is very different compared to what we are used to.

As the definition suggests, with mindfulness we learn to pay attention in a non-judgmental fashion. Or at least, we become aware of our judgments.

As you cultivate mindfulness you may realize that your view of reality is a highly distorted view. You see things not as they are but through the veil of your judgments, labels, and categories.

There are conscious labels and judgments that you use to make sense of your experience. But more importantly, there are many subconscious judgments that are present that you may not be aware of most of the time.

You might be annoyed by a person, without realizing. You might be attracted to a person, without realizing that.

You might be craving for a food item or registering the colleagues hairstyle as a weird one. All without the slightest awareness.

You didn’t see the person as just a person to begin with. But you registered as an annoying person or an attractive person.

You didn’t see the food item, just as a food item, you register it as yummy one or disgusting one. You didn’t see the hairstyle just as a particular style, you registered that hairstyle as a weird one.

These labels and categories color your world view and prevent you from seeing things as they are. This is an evolutionary adaptation. Such quick judgments at times help safeguard your well-being.

A strong or pungent odor, something that is extremely hot or cold and something that causes pain are all examples where subconscious judgment is very helpful as that discrimination can save your life.

The person who cannot feel pain has a very tough life. But the point is that, this nature becomes the habit and it triggers like a faulty circuit all the time. And most of the time, such subconscious judging is not helpful in your long term well being.

Luckily with mindfulness, we can bring such habit of mind, out of the subconscious sphere and into the light of awareness. Once you bring awareness to this phenomena there are choices that become available for you to work with.

You get the whole things upside down. You think that things that save your life are good and things that could be harmful are bad.

In reality, such judging nature of mind is an evolutionary adaptation. Because you instinctively judged things as bad and avoided and judged others as good and embraced, you are still around on the planet.

There isn’t anything particularly good or bad about human being still being around on the planet. It is just so.

Summary

Cultivating mindfulness has several benefits.

  • It improves healing response and it improves immunity.
  • It helps with severe depression, reduces stress, reduces anxiety, helps with several other mental health issues.
  • It helps with improving attention, reduces ‘attentional blink’, improves memory, ability to delay gratification and problem solving skills.
  • It helps to see things as they really are, without the filter of judgments or labels.

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Mindfulness Or Black Lab Consciousness?

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Is Mindfulness Just Being Present?

It has often been said that mindfulness means awareness.

Mindfulness = Awareness

Awareness is same as paying attention. A technical definition of attention is ‘awareness stretched outwards and onto the object’.

Mindfulness = Awareness = Paying Attention

Where else can you pay attention besides present moment? No where. You can recall past and you can think about the future, but all of that thinking or recalling has to happen in the present moment.

Mindfulness = Awareness = Paying Attention In the Present Moment = Being Present

For a beginner it is skillful to equate mindfulness with awareness or being present.

But is that all?

Not really.

Mindfulness has a very rich and nuanced meaning.

It is not just the customary ‘being present’.

At this point it may be worth investigating what it really means to be present or pay attention in the present.

Typically, you relate being present with not thinking about the future or not thinking or remembering the past.

If that is your definition of being present, mindfulness is not just that. It is more than that.

In a sense that is not an accurate characterization of being present either.

If that were the case, most of the animals would be mindful. Although it is hard to verify, they don’t seem to be remembering the past or thinking about the future so much.

Take the example of your favorite pet dog. Especially take Springer Spaniel or black Lab.

They are very playful, lively animals. They always seem to be in the present and having a great time. But are they mindful?

No, they are not. Because although they seem present all the time, they are continuously being let around by their senses, instincts and desires. Especially their nose.

This is one of those hard things to verify but they do not seem to have the ability to know what is happening as it is happening.

To help make sense of all of this, mindfulness can be thought of as a mind state. To understand it better, let’s look at the nature of mind

Different States of Mind

Your mind has three possible states:

  1. Lost state
  2. Present or Paying attention state
  3. Knowing state

Let me elaborate further what they are

Lost state

You often identify this state as ‘lost in thoughts’ state. The signature characteristic of this state is that you are not present. You are not paying attention to the external or internal senses, but you are paying attention to what is happening in your mind without realizing.

You are busy thinking, but while doing so, you do not know that you are busy thinking. That is the hallmark of this state.

You completely identify with the thoughts.

In the lost state you are not necessarily always thinking, although for a majority of the time some type of thinking is usually present.

You could also be lost in an emotional reaction.

Something happens and you react by getting angry. You can easily get under the strong grips of the angry feelings.

Usually thoughts are also present when you feel a strong emotion. But mainly you are swept away by the emotional feelings. In this case anger and you may not realize at all for a while that you are having such strong emotional feelings.

A few examples:

Your spouse is telling you something and you are thinking about your work deadline tomorrow and how you are going to make sure you meet your deadline.

You are lost in thoughts and you don’t register a word your spouse says.

You walk from your door to your car on the side of the road, but you are thinking what your spouse or your boss said earlier, “He doesn’t get it.” or “He is a total idiot.” You don’t realize that you are walking up to your car.

When you are lost in thoughts what happens to you is dictated by your thoughts.

If you get catastrophic or the worst case scenario thoughts. You will get anxious and worried.

If you get pleasant thoughts you may feel pleasant.

You spend much more time in this state than you may realize. At least more than 50% of your time is spent lost in thoughts while you are awake.

And you spend so much time in this mode, it becomes the second nature and you do not even realize that you are thinking.

Your mind is normally completely buzzing with all types of thoughts, without the slightest of your knowledge.

Present or Paying Attention State

In this state, you are not lost in thoughts or reactions. You are not lost in thoughts about past or thoughts about the future.

You are not lost in some random, day dreaming or visualizations.

You are present with what is happening. You are paying attention.

Your spouse is saying something you are totally listening.

You are watching a football game and you are totally into the game and paying attention to what is going on in the game.

You are playing your favorite sport and you are sharply focused on what is going on in the game. Watching the ball sharply and planning your return and executing it.

If you  are taking a swing in golf, you are focused on estimating the and executing your stroke.

If you are gardening, you are completely focused on loosening the soil, clipping the twigs, watering the plants. You are completely there with the activity. You are not thinking about other things while doing the activity.

Sometimes this state is referred to as ‘flow’ or being in the ‘zone’.

You may have been equating this state with mindfulness. You can be in the ‘flow’ and not be mindful.

Being completely present with the environment or the activity is not mindfulness in itself.

You may disagree. And I would encourage you to voice yourself in the comment.

It will become more clear when you go through the third state, why just being present is not same as mindfulness.

Being present can be beneficial compared to being lost.

There are two sub categories in the present state.

  1. Being present with activities.
  2. Being present with thoughts.

Being Present with Activities

Let’s first take the case of activities.

When you are present with activities, you are fully focused. Being fully focused means you can be more efficient and productive with the activity.

At work you are trying to finish a task. If you keep getting lost in thoughts about what will happen at the meeting tomorrow, what will happen when you go back to work, you can’t focus on work and your work will suffer.

In tennis, you are trying to return, but you are worried about losing and your performance. That will prevent you from clearly seeing the ball and articulating a better return.

If you are present with the activity, you can perform better at that activity.

This is still not mindfulness. It is just being more efficient or better.

Now let’s take the case of thoughts.

Being Present with Thoughts

You can either be lost in thoughts, where you don’t know that thinking is happening. Or you can be present with thoughts. That is when you are aware of the thoughts.

When you are lost you are at the mercy of your thoughts.

When lost, what happens to you is dictated by your thoughts. But when you are present, you are not at the mercy of your thoughts.

When you are present, you can still have thoughts. Being present doesn’t mean no thinking.

But when you are present, you are also paying attention to your thoughts. Or in other words you are aware of the thoughts. You know that thinking is happening.

This knowing is very crucial for mindfulness. It is the key.

Knowing that you are thinking or thoughts are crossing your mind, while you are thinking, you are getting closer to being mindful.

This sets the stage for the last mind state. The mind state of knowing.

But before we go there, let me clarify one point about being present with thinking.

Being present with thoughts doesn’t mean thoughts will not affect you. When you notice thoughts, they may still give you worry, anxiety or euphoria.

But when you are not lost in thoughts, and when you know that thinking is going on, it can help you realize that thoughts are not facts.

Thoughts are not reality. They are just thoughts. And what is a thought?

Ask yourself that question, next time you notice a thought. “What is a thought?”

Thoughts are a subtle energy and in of itself, nothing more than just a tiny blip. But they govern your whole life. Much more than you may realize.

Being present with thoughts, may help you realize the true nature of thoughts and not identify with them so much.

Now let’s talk about the last state.

Knowing State

As the name suggests, you know what is going on in this state.

If you are involved in an activity, you know that you are involved in that activity. Which is nothing else but awareness.

If you are involved in thinking, you know that thinking is going on. There is awareness of thinking.

Not only that. For each instance of experience, for everything that you:

  • see
  • hear
  • taste
  • touch
  • smell
  • think
  • feel

The mind reacts with a certain attitude, label, category or judgment.

The mind’s attitude is also present in each moment.

Mindfulness invites you to to know this mind’s reaction or the attitude as well.

When you are present with what is going on and you know what is going on including your mind’s reaction to what is going on you are mindful.

Let us take an example and compare all three states.

Say you are playing tennis.

Lost While Playing Tennis

While playing tennis, if you are occupied with thoughts about what if you lose the game, How your buddies will make fun about your abilities.

Not knowing while those thoughts are crossing your mind, because you are completely identified with the situation where you have lost and your buddies are making fun of you.

You are in the lost state.

Present While Playing Tennis

While playing tennis. You are fully focused on the game. You are not having any other thoughts.

But you are using all your mental and attentional resources to watch the ball, return it in a specific manner as well as serve in a specific manner.

You are in the present state. Because you are paying attention to the activity at hand.

But you may have no awareness that you are engaged in playing tennis, serving, returning, moving around the court. There is no knowing that you are playing tennis.

Be careful here. You can be fully engaged in an activity without knowing that you are engaged. Or you can be fully engaged in an activity while still knowing that you are engaged in that activity.

Those are two different states of mind. Mindfulness requires you to be in the latter state.

If you think it is not possible to be aware while playing tennis as it may interfere with actually paying attention. That is a separate discussion of its own, which we will cover in a separate blog spot.

Also, you don’t have to be mindful of everything.

Knowing While Playing Tennis

While playing tennis, if you are fully present in the game, which means you are not lost in thoughts. You are focused on the actual activities of the game.

Let’s say on top of that, you are also aware that you are playing tennis. Not only that, let’s say that you are losing the game and you are extremely pissed about the situation.

For sake of this discussion, assume that you are losing the game, but you are still fully focused on the activities of the game.

Not only that you are aware that you are fully engaged in the activities of the game.

You are pissed and angry. You could either be aware that you are pissed and angry or you could be not.

Mindful Tennis Play

If you are aware of your mind’s attitude or reaction to the present situation, i.e. you losing the game, that is mindfulness.

You don’t have to get stuck at the technicality of whether for each moment you should be simultaneously aware of your fully focusing on the game, being aware of that and you knowing that you are pissed an angry. That is not the idea.

You may not be aware of all of that in an instance. But in general, when you have an awareness of what is going on including the mind’s reaction, that is mindfulness.

Let’s take one more example.

Say you are eating something, a piece of an apple.

Lost While Eating Apple

If while eating that apple, if you are thinking about what you should eat for dinner later that day. What you should do about the nosy neighbor.

Not knowing that those thoughts are present, because you are fully identified with the content of thoughts. The planning of the dinner. Or the planning about the annoying neighbor.

You are in a lost state. Because you are lost in thoughts.

Present and Knowing While Eating Apple

If while eating that apple, you are not thinking about other things. But you feel the texture of the apple as you bite and as you chew. You feel the taste, or you are aware of the taste.

You are fully present with the activity of eating apple.

You are in the present and knowing state.

Is this being mindful? Not yet.

Did you notice the difference between playing tennis and eating apple example? For eating example, being present and knowing happens together.

Because eating is almost an automatic activity. Of course it is not completely automatic like breathing. You still have to use attention or mental resources to pick your food and put it into your mouth, etc.

But unlike Tennis, which is a skill and requires much more mental resources to just carry it out, eating is automatic.

For mostly automatic processes being present with the activity equates knowing the activity as activity happens pretty much automatically.

Mindfully Eating Apple

You are present and you are also aware of what is going on. But as you eat an apple, you may like the sweet taste of apple and each bite gives a small amount of pleasure and as soon as you are done with one bite, you eagerly look forward to taking the next bite.

Are you aware of the mind’s attitude to eating apple? You may like and look forward to eating more apple, or you may not like the taste of apple and may want to stop eating it. Or you might not have a specific opinion about the taste of apple.

If you are aware of the mind’s attitude towards the apple, you are mindful. But if you are not, that is not mindfulness.

Hopefully the examples make sense. If they don’t please let me know in the comment below.

I will caution you that, all the explanation and examples may point point mindfulness to be a rigid mind state, it is not. Mindfulness is all about wisdom.

It is just that in all moments, a specific reaction, judgment or attitude of mind is also present on top of the sensory stimulus and there is value in noticing that.

Summary

Mindfulness requires you to be present, but it is more than that.

Mindfulness requires you to know what is going on, while you fully engage in what is going on.

Mindfulness also requires you to be aware of your mind’s judgments or reactions to what is going on.

If you read so far, congratulations! Please let me know below, whether this was helpful or not. It would be great to hear your opinion, if you care.

 

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What Is One Way You Prevent Yourself From Judging Your Thoughts?

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One of the ways to reduce the judgmental nature of your mind is to repeatedly try to form an intention in your mind to forgive yourself and be kind and accepting of yourself when you find yourself judging.

What to Keep In Mind, When Working with the Mind

Before we try to further discuss the answer to this question, it can be helpful to recall that the human mind doesn’t work in a deterministic fashion. There are no guarantees that you will be able to prevent it from judging. It is often said that the mind has a mind of its own. Or the mind has a life of its own.

It is often said that the mind has a mind of its own. Or the mind has a life of its own.

At the same time, it is possible to influence and change the mind up to a great extent. The mind is malleable. It is definitely worth trying to change the way it usually works.

The means or tools that you employ in dealing or training the mind are not going to be always simple and easy. Normally training the mind is a slow and a long-drawn-out process.

The Default Nature of the Mind

To judge is the basic nature of the mind. It is a highly conditioned habit of your mind and hence it is a very strong habit.

In some form, judging is an evolutionary adaptation. Instinctively judging the experience that can be harmful or that jeopardizes your well-being helps in forming a strong memory for such experiences and avoid them in the future.

You might argue, then why stop judging? Well, it is not so simple.

The judging nature tends to proliferate and gets activated even when it may not be serving any useful purpose.

Instantaneous judgments can save your life when walking along a trail, you flinch at something that looks like a snake.

But when you meet a person for the very first time, forming an instantaneous judgment like ‘a pretty girl’ or ‘an ugly guy’ probably solely based on how they look is not a helpful judgment.

Flinching at something that looks like a snake or forming a quick label for a new person are not completely independent activities. The underlying mechanism is the same.

You experience a stimulus through either external senses, internal senses or mental states like thoughts, urges, and emotions. And your mind has an immediate reaction in the form of a category, a label or a judgment for that experience.

Steps to Prevent Yourself from Judging Your Thoughts

Dealing with mind’s judging nature is a three step process.

  1. Forming an intention to minimize the judging of your mind in a kind and gentle way.
  2. Bring awareness to the judging nature of the mind.
  3. Forming an intention, at least, not to judge the judgments.

Step 1: Forming the Intention to Minimize Judging

It all starts with an intention.

“Intention is the action.”

-Buddha

It is wise to know that you do not control the outcome in many of the circumstances. What you have in your hands is your intention.

Forming an intention to not be judgmental is the first step. The language that your mind understand well is the language of love, kindness, and gentleness.

If you had to choose between following either a cold, strict order or a warm gentle request, which one are you more likely to select?

It is skillful and extremely helpful, having the intention to be kinder, gentle and flexible along the way.

Before you even form an intention, you may want to contemplate why you want to prevent your mind from judging the thoughts. It could simply be that such judging feels painful to you and you want to minimize that pain.

Or it could be just an intuition. Whatever it is, generally it is a good idea to contemplate the ‘why’ of any action, goal or journey.

In this step, you form an intention to minimize judging.

Step 2: Expanding Awareness

The second step is cultivating or expanding awareness. When it comes to training the mind, the awareness is the key.

Because normally much of you mind’s activity happens outside of awareness. Many of your thoughts, urges, emotional states and mental reactions happen subconsciously.

By becoming more aware, you get to see the full size of the cloth. And initially, this could be destabilizing.

If you come to realize how much of judging that goes on in your mind, not that it is uncommon, it may hurt you even more.

Ignorance can be blissful at times. But ignorance is not a good coping strategy in the long run, although at times it could be helpful.

Although potentially more painful, there is value in being aware more of the time. Awareness is just aware and it doesn’t do anything else.

It lets you see the workings of your mind. It lets you see the reactions, thoughts, and emotions, including the ones that are judging in nature. Without awareness, you may not notice them.

You want to be able to reduce or stop judging. Unless you begin to notice when actual judging happens, you cannot stop it.

There is one more benefit to becoming aware. It helps with dis-identification.

It means, with awareness, rather than fully identifying with your thoughts, emotions, and urges, you can observe them from a distance. It works like sunlight to the fog. It tends to take the charge away from a mental reaction.

You look at a stranger’s hairstyle and in your mind goes “weird hairstyle”. If you are not aware, you are fully identified with this judgment. You really think the person has a weird hairstyle indeed.

But the moment you bring awareness to this situation, you can notice that it is just your mind’s reaction. It judged the hairstyle to be ‘weird’.

With awareness, you are not fully identified with that judgment. You realize that a hairstyle is just a hairstyle. And ‘weird’ is a label your mind came up with.

Now you can be an observer. Previously you may have thought, “that guy has a weird hairstyle” in a matter of the fact way.

Now you realize your mind judged that hairstyle with a label “weird”. And that doesn’t make it a fact.

With awareness, you catch your mind judging.

And how do you expand awareness? You do that through formal and informal meditation practices.

Step 3: Trying Not to Judge the Judgments

The third step is as important as earlier two steps in the whole process.

With stronger awareness, now you catch your mind judging. You have already formed an intention to at least minimize such judging.

Out of habit, you may find that your mind may end up judging the judgments. You notice you judged your spouse for saying something and immediately you realized you are not supposed to judge.

Guess what, it comes naturally for your mind to judge and you may find yourself having thoughts such as “I am not supposed to judge, but there I go again.” “Why did I do that again.” “I am never going to be able to stop judging.”

All of those are, judging thoughts. You found yourself judging the judgments.

What do you do? Remember, it is all about being gentle, kind and patient with yourself.

What you do is try to forgive yourself. Try to be gentle with yourself. Try to kind with yourself. All you can do is forming the intention to be gentle and kind.

If you impose upon yourself to be one or the other way, it will not help. Hence, see if you can have an intention to not judge and when you do find yourself judging, see if you can form an intention to forgive, be gentle and move on.

Although you don’t really have to go that far, but even if you were to find yourself, judging the judgment of judging, you still do the same.

This scheme will test your patience. You may find yourself repeatedly judging and your judging may not completely go away.

But this is the best that you can do.

Summary

  • Form an intention that you want to become less judgmental.
  • Form an intention to be gentle and kind along the way, as that is being skillful.
  • Also, keep at the back of your mind that judging may not stop right away.
  • Try not to judge the judgments.

What is it that you disagree? Tell me here in the comments.

 

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Simple Steps for Breathing Meditation

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What is a breathing meditation?

It is a type of meditation where the meditation object is your breath.

What is a meditation object?

Meditation object is the object to which you pay attention during meditation.

Why pay attention?

Meditation is cultivating attention skills by practicing paying attention.

Why pay attention to an object?

Can you pay attention to anything other than objects? You cannot pay attention to nothing. May be possible but hard.

Is breathing meditation same as sitting meditation?

Yes, breathing meditation is also called sitting meditation. As it is usually done sitting down. But it doesn’t have to be.

The primary objective of breathing meditation is to pay attention to the breath.

How to pay attention to the breath?

You pay attention to the breath using one of the following methods.

  1. You can count your breath.
  2. You can label or note your breath.
  3. You can actually feel your breath.

Counting the breath

In this method, you associate breathing with counting. Counting is something you are more familiar with hence it is easier for you to focus on or relate to counting.

You may argue that if you are focusing on counting, how is it focusing on the breath. You are right.

With the counting method, you are not directly focusing on the breath. You are directly focusing on counting.

But as counting is synchronized with the breathing, your focus is still on the breathing process, indirectly.

Your main focus can be either the count or the breath. But not both at the same time.

You can focus on the count during the actual breathing in or the breathing out. And you also pay attention to the transitions in the breathing process. E.g. starting of the breathing in, ending of the breathing in and the same for the breathing out.

In all breath counting methods, you never count indefinitely, because when you do that, your attention tends to lapse easily.

It is boring to keep on counting. You reset counting after a while.

There are several variations of breath counting. To name a few:

  1. Counting the passage of time during breathing in and breathing out.
  2. Only count individual inhalations and exhalations.
  3. Pseudo count inhalations and exhalations.

Continue the passage of time during the breath

In this method, you begin counting up at the start of the breathing in and you end count at the end of the breathing in.

For shorter inhalations you will end up with a smaller count and for longer inhalations you will end up with a larger count.

You repeat the same counting for the out breath.

Typically the count ranges from 2 to 10.

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The following are the steps for this method

  1. Start with the normal and natural breath. You do not have to breathe shallow, deep or any other way that is not normal.
  2. As you start breathing in start counting 1,2,3…..You stop counting at the end of breathing in.
  3. You may stop at 1 or 2 or a higher number you end up with depending upon the natural length of your breath.
  4. As you start breathing out you restart counting from 1. You stop counting at the end of breathing out.
  5. You may stop at 1 or 2 or a higher number you end up with depending upon the natural length of your breath.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 as long as you can.

As you can see, you fit count within the inhalation and exhalation. You don’t manipulate the length of the breathing to fit in a certain count.

Also counting resets at the beginning of each inhalation and each exhalation.

Only count individual inhalations and exhalations

With this method, the whole inhalation is counted just once. Same for the whole exhalation.

You don’t count inhalations and exhalations separately. There is just one counter, not two separate ones.

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Steps for counting individual inhalations and exhalations.

  1. Start with the normal and natural breath. You don’t need to breathe shallow, deep or any other way that is not normal.
  2. As you start breathing in you start counting at 1. The whole inhalation is counted just once.
  3. As you start breathing out you increment the count by 1, so it will be 2 now. The whole exhalation is counted just once.
  4. As you continue to breathe, your count increases.
  5. The recommendation is to reset the count at 10.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 6 as long as you want.

Pseudo Count

You do not actually count, but you pick a digit and you keep repeating that digit.

There is a little story behind this method.

When Herbert Benson noticed the benefits of mediation at Harvard, he set up a scientific experiment to observe some of the metabolic markers of meditators.

He normally used breath counting.  During the experiment, he instructed participants to do the normal counting. E.g. Count in breaths and out breaths up to 10 and reset.

But when participants followed counting as per the instructions, the measuring instruments didn’t register any benefits in that experiment that were observed otherwise.

It is not exactly known, why that would happen.

But when he changed instructions and asked participants (Harvard students) to just keep repeating the count ‘1’ throughout the experiment, the expected improvements were registered!!

A joke went around that Harvard students didn’t know how to count.

Steps for pseudo counting the breath.

  1. Pick your favorite digit or a number.
  2. Start with normal breathing.
  3. You don’t need to breathe shallow, deep or any other way that is not normal.
  4. As you start breathing in using your mental voice say the digit/number you picked in step 1.
  5. As you start breathing out using your mental voice say the digit/number you picked in step 1.
  6. Repeat from step 4 to 5 as long as you want.

Labeling or Noting the Breath

This process is very similar to the pseudo counting.

With this method, you label in breathing as ‘IN’ and out breathing as ‘OUT’.

The label doesn’t have to be ‘IN’ and ‘OUT’, it can be something else. For example, some people use ‘PEACE’ while breathing in and ‘RELAX’ while breathing out.

Similar to breath counting, the idea is to use the label as a crutch to help support paying attention to the process of breathing.

You can attempt to focus on the noting during the actual in breath or the out breath and pay attention to the transitions of the in and out breaths.

While breathing in, using your mental voice, you silently say ‘IN’ and while breathing out, using your mental voice, you silently say ‘OUT’.

Steps for labeling the breath.

  1. Pick your favorite label for inhalation, which is a short and simple word. Similarly, pick your label for exhalation as well.
  2. Start with normal breathing.
  3. As you start breathing in using your mental voice, silently say the inhalation label.
  4. As you start breathing out using your mental voice, silently say the exhalation label.
  5. Repeat from step 3 to 4 as long as you want.

As you can see, you can come up with your own fancy counting scheme. It is not about the counting. It is about using different means to help you pay attention to the breath.

Feeling the Breath

What do you mean by feeling the breath?

It means to pay attention to the felt sensations of the breath and not think or visualize the breath.

How to pay attention to the felt sensations of the breath?

There are several ways to pay attention the felt sensations of the breath.

Let me show you some of the common ways.

  1. Paying attention to the felt sensations of breath in the belly.
  2. Paying attention to the felt sensations of breath in the chest.
  3. Paying attention to the felt sensations of breath at the tip of the nostrils.
  4. Paying attention to the felt sensations of breath at the back of the throat.
  5. Paying attention to the felt sensations of full breath as it travels from the nose all the way up to the belly.

Let’s talk about each of these in detail.

Feeling the Breath in the Belly

This is same as paying attention to the felt sensations of breath in the belly.

If you are used to deep breathing or the belly breathing, as you inhale the lungs fill up and they press down against the diaphragm and it expands the belly.

The belly balloons out as you inhale.

Similarly, as you exhale the lungs collapse and the diaphragms are retracted and the belly contracts.

The belly shrinks back to normal.

The belly movement is prominent only with the deep breathing. If you are used to shallow breathing, the above-described belly movement may be very subtle.

The idea of this method is to feel the belly movement caused by breathing.

Remember the internal sense, interoception that I talked about earlier? It is because of this internal sense, even with your eyes closed you can actually feel your belly movement.

It is not thinking about or visualizing the belly movement. It is actually a sensation of movement that you can feel.

Of course, if you keep your eyes open and look down, you can see belly rising and falling with inhalation and exhalation.

But the recommendation is not to visually see that movement. But to actually feel the movement.

Interoception is nothing magical. As I said earlier, even with your eyes closed, if you breathe a little deep, you can feel the belly movement.

That is, feeling the breath in the belly.

Feeling the Breath in the Chest

As you inhale the lungs fill up and expand and as you exhale lungs empty and contract.

The expansion and contraction of the lungs are reflected in the form of chest expanding and contracting, or rising and falling.

With this method, instead of paying attention to the belly movement, you pay attention to the chest movement.

More of us are likely to shallow breath. With shallow breathing, the chest movement is more prominent and the belly movement is subtle.

With shallow breathing, it may be easier to feel the chest movement.

Feeling the Breath at the Tip of the Nostrils

As you breathe in, relatively cool air enters the tip of the nostrils. And as you breathe out, relatively warm air exits the tip of the nostrils.

You can feel the temperature of the air at the tip of the nostrils. Especially in the area between the nose and the upper lip.

With this method, you pay attention to the feeling of the slight coolness or the slight warmth of the air. You feel the temperature of the air.

Feeling the Breath at the Back of the Throat

As you breathe the air passes through the back of the throat. And the air rubs against the back of the throat.

You can either directly feel the friction of the air against the back of the throat surface. Or you can feel the sound of the air friction in the throat area.

You pay attention to the air friction or the sound of the air in the throat area when you use this method of breathing meditation.

Feeling the Whole Breath

This method is a combination of all of the above mentioned methods.

Basically, as you inhale the air starts at the nose, then passes through the throat and fills up the lungs and displaces the diaphragm and the belly in this process.

You can follow the breath all along from the tip of the nostril, through the back of the throat, through the chest and all the way to the belly.

You follow the full breath both with inhalation and exhalation.

Steps of breathing meditation.

  1. You pick a time and a place of your choice. You select the time and the place such that it reduces the distractions.
  2. Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend meditating.
  3. Affirm the intention for the practice. Why do you want to meditate? Perhaps you want to reduce stress or you want to improve focus or something else.
  4. You select the posture of your choice. You can either sit on a chair, on a cushion, lie down on a bed, lie down on a mat or stand up. The recommendation is to sit, but it is not mandatory to sit. You can adjust the posture for your needs.
  5. Keeping the back upright is always helpful. Upright back that is neither too stiff, nor too relaxed.
  6. Take a couple of intentional deep breaths to help you settle down.
  7. Then go back to normal breathing.
  8. Scan through the body to relax the body as best as you can. The relaxed body helps stabilize the mind.
  9. Bring your attention to the stomach. Relax the stomach as best as you can. If you are unable to relax, see if you just let the tension be there!
  10. Shift your attention to the chest, relax the chest as best as you can.
  11. Shift the attention to the shoulders. Relax the shoulders as best as you can.
  12. Check out your jaw. Relax the jaw as best as you can.
  13. Relax the facial muscles as best as you can.
  14. Relax the whole body, again, as best as you can. There is no imposition. If you can’t relax any part of the body, see if you can let the tension just be there without fighting with it.
  15. Now you will start with paying attention to the breath.
  16. Chose your favorite method to pay attention to the breath.
  17. You can start directly with feeling the breath, or you can chose to use one of the counting or labeling methods.
  18. If you are choosing to feel the breath, experiment with different parts of the body as described earlier. E.g. The belly, the chest, the tip of the nose etc.
  19. See where it is the breath feels most prominent and obvious.
  20. If more than one area feels similar, just randomly pick up.
  21. Start feeling the breath or start paying attention through counting.
  22. If you are feeling the breath, while breathing in you know you are breathing in. And while breathing out you know, you are breathing out.
  23. Feel or finish counting one complete breath and move on to the next breath.
  24. Very soon you will notice that the mind will wander away into thinking.
  25. There is nothing wrong with that. Mind wandering is completely normal. That is the nature of the mind to wander.
  26. At some point in time, you will realize that you are not paying attention to the breath. You are not feeling or counting or labeling the breath.
  27. At this moment, you acknowledge the wandering thought.
  28. You let the wandering thought or thoughts to just be. Without trying to stop them or push them away or embrace them.
  29. Then you gently but firmly bring yourself back to the next in breath or the next out breath.
  30. Even if you have to repeatedly bring your mind back to the breath so many times that is completely okay, there is nothing wrong with that.
  31. You repeat the steps 15 through 30.

Conclusion

You can pay attention to the breath as a form of meditation.

You can either count, label, note or feel your breath.

There are several different ways of counting, labeling and feeling the breath.

 

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